Khaled AlmaeenaKhaled Almaeena

As a society we tend to complain and gripe a lot about the shortcomings in government and private services. And very rightly so since we expect a high level of service similar to that which is found elsewhere. Saudi Arabia is a rich country and has sufficient resources to import technology and systems to cater to our needs as a developing state, but due to several constraints and an outdated mindset, we tend to lag behind. Today, however, there is a change taking place. Ministries are moving toward "smart government" that provides efficient services to people. The Saudi authorities aim to keep pace with ongoing technological development and to implement programs that will benefit the public. However, not all government departments have kept the same pace. Some have lagged behind. But one ministry has really surprised us all - the Ministry of Interior. The successful implementation of its e-government initiative deserves high marks. The ministry has made a praiseworthy transition from a paper to a paperless environment. Although more needs to be done, the ministry must be commended for its “Abshir" and other e-service programs that have alleviated the sufferings of many. E-government programs also help to reduce corruption. Money no longer needs to be exchanged for the issuing of an exit-reentry visa or for other purposes. The ministry is playing an important role in changing not only the mentality of its employees but that of the people dealing with it. The culture of Saudi ministries and government services should change and the mindset should become that of a company's customer services department. Innovation should be the key element and it is important that authorities rely on advanced systems and products rather than merely upon employees. This will help create a favorable business climate in the country. It also helps in other areas, such as decreasing congestion in government centers, reducing traffic jams and helping to eradicate many other social ills. A successful government is one that reaches out to people and does not put them through stress. This can only happen by installing and employing a high tech program. The Ministry of Interior has done this and in so doing has provided the public with a great service. I recently visited Jeddah Mall and observed how technology was used to help ordinary people and companies get iqamas (residence permits) and other documents renewed. What I also observed was the professionalism of the person at the desk and the head of the department who with full courtesy was assisting members of the public. One no longer hears "come back tomorrow” or "this document is not available". Everything is in the computer. What I saw at the mall was totally different from what was prevalent only a few years ago. Well done Ministry of Interior! And we hope for even more progress in the future. (PS: To keep up with the lightning-fast pace of technological advancement, there should be ongoing training programs for ministry staff.) — Reprinted with permission of the Saudi Gazette and Khaled Almaeena. The writer is Editor-at-Large. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter: @KhaledAlmaeena