Time for public servants to sit up and take notice

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While there has been some movement forward on the part of public servants and their obligations to us, the public, the move is at a snail’s pace judging from how many of these individuals are at their desk at the beginning of their work day and how many manage to stay till the very end.

Remember the nine senior civil servants working in several sectors of the government of Dubai who made headlines back in 2016? It was late August of that year when they were busted by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Al-Maktoum, Dubai’s ruler, for failure to be at their desks when he arrived for a surprise inspection at their civic offices.

It was the first day of the week and the tardiness was captured on film as Sheikh Mohammed made his way around half-empty offices with silence to greet him instead of hardworking senior officials. Within 24 hours, the nine senior heads of departments were “retired” into seclusion by the Sheikh who is admired for actions such as these. The public loves him and this is just one reason why they do. In his pursuit to provide top quality service to the public, his firing of these officials ushered in a new generation of young and ambitious Emirati leaders who will be expected to bring justice to their posts.

A Dubai media official stated that the Sheikh’s actions were intended to send a strong message to all other heads of public service departments. “Timeliness starts at the top and we won’t go after employees when their bosses aren’t there.” The Sheikh who is known for spot checks is determined to move his country forward.

Across the border in Saudi Arabia, there have been similar stirrings on the issue of tardiness and abuse by public service officials. On his ascension to the throne, King Salman vowed that “My first objective for our country is to be a pioneering and successful global model of excellence on all fronts, and I will work with you to achieve that.” He began by dismissing some long-term ministers who in the eyes of many had outlived their usefulness. Even new appointees at ministerial level were quickly dismissed when it became obvious that they were not living up to the expectations of the new challenges facing the country.

The national transformation plan, Saudi Vision 2030, has also brought with it new realities, one of them being that the old ways of doing business are simply not applicable. With the dramatic fall in oil prices and a supply glut, Saudi Arabia could no longer be wholly dependent on oil to generate its policy or look after its people. It needed to re-strategize and reform existing plans and work ethics.

Vision 2030 is a Saudi manifesto announcing a new relationship between the government and the Saudi people. Beginning with the introduction and threaded throughout is a promise of better, more efficient and more transparent government in all facets of Saudi society.

Rampant ills in the civil sectors of the country had reached unprecedented levels and were soon exposed on social media. Tardiness, nepotism and cashing in on the milk cow, a favorite of high-level officials were being exposed almost daily on social media sites that commanded large followings. The government response was also noticeably swifter in addressing and removing such shortcomings.

In 2016, alarmed at the level of tardiness within their municipality, Madinah authorities decided to enforce mandatory fingerprint registrations five times every working day for their employees. The city’s mayor told a local newspaper that “the new system of five fingerprint registrations every working day was a legal measure aimed at ensuring punctuality and productivity. The act was to ensure productivity, offer best services to customers, guarantee occupational justice to staff members, and identify those who are negligent in their duties.”

Admitting that some employees of Madinah mayoralty and municipalities were not strictly being punctual or on duty during their working hours, the mayor said that such activities were affecting the department’s services and response time to citizens and residents. He said: “In order to discipline these workers, we had to adopt a new system. We have conducted a study on the productivity of employees to improve their services. According to the new mechanism an employee has to be fingerprinted five times a day. Many important works at the mayoralty and municipal offices have been delayed due to the absence of workers and their negligence.”

Naturally, such a move did not sit well with a lot of municipal employees who urged the authorities to “review the decision”. But in their argument, these people have failed to take into account that the times are changing and there is a dawn of a new reality, one that will allow only the strong and the efficient to survive. The public is no longer willing to accommodate them.

The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena


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