Sunday, August 28, 2011

Responding To The Needs Of Saudis

'Immediate action' is an excuse many have to bear with when dealing with ministries and public sector officials
By Tariq A. Al Maeena
Here I am in Jeddah, grounded at home for the past couple of weeks or so and nursing an annoying head cold and a host of other allergies. And as I seethe with frustration, I suspect I know what the causes of all my maladies are.
A couple of months ago, some construction activity started on a plot just north of my dwelling. Large excavators and shovels removed earth to prepare for the foundation and piled the removed dirt and debris that was about three metres high and a football field wide adjacent to the land where I lived.
And then the equipment disappeared. My efforts to locate it have been futile, as nobody showed up after that initial activity. Nor was there any sign posted by the developer or the construction outfit.
As the wind blew, so did the top layer of this hill, and right into my family room where I spend a greater part of the time when I am at home. And no matter what precautions we took, the dust found its way through nicks and crannies and conveniently deposited itself in my nasal passages.
Figuring that my sanity and survival depended on me being more proactive, I called the local branch of our municipality to lodge a complaint. And after the process of detailing where the offensive violation was located, and assured over the phone by a municipal bureaucrat that the concerned department in his organisation would act immediately, I hung up feeling slightly better.
After a few days of nothing happening, and realising my folly in not asking how ‘immediately' translated itself in the minds of our municipality, I called again and demanded to speak to the same bureaucrat who had assured me of ‘immediate' action.
He was apologetic though, explaining this miscue due to some personal emergencies. I was willing to allow him that provided he act right away, and this time I gave him a time-frame of two days.
The two days came and went, and when I called again I was told he was busy inspecting some sites. I asked to speak to his department head, and after a question and answer session as to why I wanted to speak to a head of a department, I was grudgingly connected.
Again, I went through my spiel of neighbourhood construction violations, and this time the department head assured me of ‘immediate' action, a term I have justifiably come to dread when dealing with most ministries and public sector departments.
But this time I was prepared. "What constitutes immediately?" I asked. "Oh, it's a bit late now, but we will get to it first thing tomorrow morning," was his reply. Late? It was noon! But Municipal employees have to get home and have their lunch and siesta long before their workday is officially over, I surmised.
"And can you fax us a map of the location?" he added. "But I have already explained the location in detail to your assistant more than once, I replied. "Yes, but he is out of the office. Just do it and we'll get to it". Within minutes I had the fax sent.
Three days went by before I called them again. This time I was angry. My sinuses were acting up, my sleep was disturbed, and I was not very congenial. "Look, are you guys still celebrating the arrival of a recently appointed mayor? Is that why no action has been taken to my complaint? Perhaps I just go complain to him?" I demanded.
"The new mayor has enough on his plate already. Our engineer went to the site and took note of the violations. The problem is that we don't know who the landowner is, and we do not have enough shovels to remove the dirt. If you can find out who the land is owned by or who the developer is, and take some pictures, maybe we could act on it directly with them" was his smooth answer.
My ire rising, I burst out, "How the hell am I expected to know whom this land belongs to or what company is building on it? Am I the one with access to land deeds, or construction permits? Your office authorised the initial dredging of the plot, and you cannot retrieve that information from your own records? And Jeddah Municipality does not have a budget to own a few digital cameras? I am tired of wasting my time with you. Who is your immediate boss?"
"The new mayor," was his retort.
"Well then, there's nothing else left but to inconvenience myself and trudge to the mayor's office armed with photographs I will have taken and personally meet this recent appointee. Only there won't be any rah rahs and hoorays in what I have to say. I'll need to remind him that he is here to serve the needs of the people," I concluded.
-This commentary was published in The Gulf News on 28/08/2011
-Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

1 comment:

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