Saudi reforms are farsighted and expat-friendly, says Indian leader


By Hassan Cheruppa

Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH – Indian expatriates can continue to play a vital role in Saudi Arabia’s nation building process at a time when the Kingdom is witnessing breathtaking social and economic transformation, according to a prominent Indian leader.

In an interview with Saudi Gazette, Ramesh Chennithala, Leader of Opposition in the southern state of Kerala and former member of the Working Committee of Indian National Congress party, hailed the farsighted reforms of Saudi rulers, saying that this has contributed to further improve the Kingdom’s image worldwide. “I am extremely happy to see a fast transforming Saudi Arabia when I visited the Kingdom after a gap of 13 years. The changes are dramatic with more opening up of the society with tapping huge potential of tourism and economy,” he said hoping that the three-million strong Indian workforce can also be beneficiaries of the vast opportunities available in the country.

“There has been huge tourist inflow with the government’s top priority on tourism with introducing a new visa regime. I have witnessed tremendous positive changes in the attitude of people with the opening up of the entertainment sector, initiatives for women empowerment with allowing them to drive and easing restrictions on dress code,” he said.

Chennithala said his talks with Indian Consul General Mohammed Noor Rahman Sheikh figured mainly on the comprehensive reforms in the Kingdom and the Indian community’s contributions in nation-building with the effective use of the trust reposed in them and the opportunities offered to them by both rulers and business leaders. He also underscored that Indian expatriates should seize the opportunity to find new avenues of jobs available in artificial intelligence and other technologies with fully cooperating with the Saudi government’s initiative to find jobs for its growing number of educated young men and women graduates.

Chennithala also underlined the need for tapping the huge potential of Kerala’s tourism with attracting tourists and investments from the Kingdom and other Gulf countries. “Even though every inch of Kerala is a tourist spot with the presence of 44 rivers, two monsoon seasons and moderate climate, the vast tourism potential is yet to be tapped effectively due to several handicaps. These include poor infrastructure in terms of road connectivity, accommodation, hygiene and waste management,” he said.

Chennithala, the former home (interior) minister of Kerala, said that there should be an exclusive expatriate problem solving online mechanism in all the 14 districts of Kerala apart from an exclusive expatriate investment zone with full protection, fair treatment and friendly approach. An expatriate can set up an enterprise in his homeland while working in the host country. There should be a foolproof mechanism to facilitate an expat undertaking within 15 days of procedures where there should not be any more bureaucratic bottlenecks. “While I was the home minister, an expatriate commission had been set up as a quasi-judicial body, headed by a retired judge of the high court to address myriad issues and legal hurdles faced by expatriates during their absence from homeland. It tends to help solve disputes, grievances of encroachments of land and farms and exploitation,” he said underlining the need to attract expat investments with creating reliable, dependable and responsible government mechanism for this.

Chennithala also emphasized the need to transform Kerala as an educational hub for students from Gulf states. “We have to take advantage of the new Saudi rules, allowing off campuses of our universities and distance education centers for the benefit of both Saudi and Indian students. There should be widening of knowledge transfer with inter-university collaboration with a focus on artificial and robotics that have immense potential for a plethora of job opportunities,” he added.

Chennithala, who holds the record of being the youngest minister in the state, served as Member of Parliament for four terms. He held several key posts in the Indian National Congress, including its Kerala state president, general secretary of all India committee and all India Youth Congress committee and president of the National Students union and Kerala state Youth Congress committee.

During his three-day visit to the Kingdom, Chennithala addressed several gatherings of Indian expatriates in Jeddah and Riyadh, organized by the Saudi chapters of Overseas Indian Cultural Congress (OICC), an affiliate of Congress. In Jeddah Chennithala had an interaction with prominent members of the Indian business community and spoke on “Future of Kerala: Vision and mission”. Also on Thursday, he addressed separate meetings of community leaders and OICC workers. Chennithala was the chief guest at the inauguration of the one-year long activities of “Snehasparsham” (Touch of Compassion) program held at Impala Garden, Sharafiyyah, on the occasion of the 36th anniversary of the overseas outfit of the Congress party.

Those who attended the events included Chairman of Global Bridge Company Sheikh Abdurahman Abdullah Yousuf Malaibari, Managing Director of MOSACO Muhammad Saied Malaibari, Abeer Medical Group President Mohammed Alungal, Jeddah National Hospital Chairman V.P. Mohammed Ali, Raheem Pattarkadavan of Zahrani Group, V.P. Siyas, Hamza Thachankodan, Arshad Noufal, Karnataka Congress General Secretary Muhiyaddeen Bava, OICC leaders –K.T.A. Muneer, Zakeer Hussain Edavanna, A.P. Kunhali Haji, Mohammed Iqbal Pokkunnu, Abdul Majeed Naha, Mamadu Ponnani, Abbas Chemban, Shukoor Vakkam and Joshi Vargeese.