Three headlines appeared in three different newspapers last week: “Ministry to ensure fair deal for Binladin staff”; “Quit or wait, Binladin tells 17,000 Saudi staff” and “Saudi Arabia lifts project bidding ban on crisis-hit Binladin Group”. The first one was a statement by Minister of Labor Mufrej Al-Haqbani who vowed to ensure that the Saudi Binladin Group keeps a promise to resolve wage issues, amid reports of workers at the company facing unpaid salaries and termination. This was said as reports of 10 company buses being set alight spread like wildfire through social media.
It also received foreign attention and I was the recipient of several calls from international media organizations. I refused to state anything as the issue has not been resolved and we do not want to further excite those who want, for whatever reasons, to compound this issue. However, what saddened me was the response of some economic “experts” who seemed to imply that the Binladin Group was to blame.
But let’s for history’s sake and as a decent people state the truth. The Binladin Group and the family have served this country for over six decades. As a family on a personal level, they are humble and down to earth. I have not seen them exhibit the arrogance and pomp shown by many of those in business and industry who only a decade or two ago were just petty officials!
Let the truth to be told.
All the Kings of Saudi Arabia have commended the role of this family in the economy of Saudi Arabia. As someone said, this construction giant is so big and controls so many of the state’s projects that it has become an essential component of the Kingdom’s non-oil economy.
It deals with hundred of smaller companies in the Kingdom and has banking relations with all of the banks. Of course, like all conglomerates, it has its plusses and minuses.
However, it has always remained in the forefront of business and industry.
Yes, a major crane disaster occurred and investigations are still going on and hopefully will be completed by the competent authorities. However, to jump to conclusions and play the blame game is something that I find disgusting. And this raises the question of the role being played by certain sections of the media. No one has checked into the Binladin Group’s receivables and payables, nor has anyone put a figure of how much is owed to them by both the state and private sector.
There is much international precedent for mega-companies receiving government support. In the late 1980s, the US was faced with a crisis in its savings and loans banks. The government had to step in and it has been estimated that the ultimate cost to the US taxpayer was as much as $124 billion. Then as a result of the 2008 financial crisis, the US government bailed out major automobile manufacturers for tens of billions of dollars avoiding bankruptcy and the loss of three million jobs.
It is an established fact that many Saudi companies have complained about the late payment of contract finances. The delayed payment to contractors always affects companies and I have been reading about this for ages. Yet Arabic TV channels are offering “solutions” to the beleaguered Binladin construction conglomerate.
The Saudi Binladin Group, once described to me by an American journalist as the Trammell Crow of Saudi Arabia, referring to the gigantic Texas real estate company, has faced many obstacles in the past and is going through a turbulent patch now. This is the way of life.
However, the Saudi Binladin Group will recover and all of us should wish them well.