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WHEN Lee Kuan Yew became Singapore’s first Prime Minister after the independence in 1959, his first statement was, “I have been deeply thinking about being one of the corrupt individuals and let the situation remain as it is in terms of corruption, crimes, bribes, backwardness and poverty; or I should side with service, make Singapore one of the best countries in the world, and earn the love of its people instead of the love of the corrupt.”
I remembered these words of the founding father of Singapore, which lies on an area measuring 600 square kilometers, when the Saudi leadership’s campaign against corruption started. The campaign was based on the principle of combating corruption from the top, not from the bottom.
“If the Prime Minister of a small country like Singapore with its diverse ethnic population managed to transform it from the third world to the first world — the country whose people believed it can never get out of poverty, how come that a country as big as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not get rid of those who took advantage of their positions, titles or lineage to practice corruption in its institutions and take public funds?
King Salman has realized this fact since he assumed power. He issued his orders, starting with the fight against corruption. Given that cleaning up starts from the top, Saudi’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman decided to start from the top.
In his response to ‘New York Times’ newspaper, Prince Muhammad said, “The Kingdom has been suffering from corruption since the 1980s and the experts’ estimate shows that 10 percent of government expenditures go to waste due to corruption. Throughout the past years, the government launched more than one war against corruption, but all those campaigns failed because the fight against corruption started from the bottom.”
The current leadership of the Kingdom avoided the mistakes that led to the failure of all previous campaigns against corruption. Thus, it started from the top and this proves that the young prince read history and experiences of other countries well. In the same manner that Lee Kuan Yew sided with his people, the young prince also sided with his people and the future of his country.
In this endeavor, the young prince is armed with the support of the royal family. Many people were delusional in thinking that the recent anti-corruption campaigns would shake the royal house due to the arrest of a significant number of princes.
They are unaware that, by nature, the royal house of Saud has never been in fear of such misunderstanding. In fact, they are convinced of their unity which is the basis of the house that separates rule and trade — the guidelines given by their founding father, the late King Abdulaziz.
King Salman has been following these guidelines since he assumed public office. These are the same guidelines that his children follow in the sense that they should not use the rule for their personal interests. Even if you lose some princes, you gain support of the people, and that support strengthens the pillars of the ruling family.
We will not be disclosing any secret if we say that in the past, the people of the Gulf, not Saudis alone, were worried about the future of Saudi Arabia since it is the movement center of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the region. This is why it seemed difficult to stop the squandering of public funds and to protect the rights of people.
However, the first sign, which many have not realized its meaning, was the arrest of the businessperson Maen Al-Sanae. Despite the arrest, some assumed that their titles and influence will protect them, but everything changed for the best on Nov 4, 2017 when the Supreme Committee for Anti-Corruption embarked on its mandate.
Here, we ought to ascertain that this tremor is not limited to Saudi borders, because the aftershock reached the entire region. It is now clear that corruption and corrupt individuals in any Gulf country have nowhere to escape to if they want to dodge accountability.
When the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia assumed his position, he discovered the absence of proper construction planning and effective way of executing such plans. Testimony to this was the aftermath of the floods in Riyadh.
He also found that about two billion square meters of State land had been grabbed; in addition to major manipulation of the costs of projects, disregard of people’s rights and many others which, if left unchecked, could cripple the Kingdom from inside.
Hence, he started his work by mending all faults based on his conviction that there is no bright future without getting rid of corruption and strengthening the country from inside for it to be able to confront external threats.
In spite of this, someone is asking if Muhammad bin Salman has not made mistakes; ignoring the fact that although the people have been witnessing the mistakes of others, they have not seen a reformist who rectifies the accumulated mistakes.
These mistakes are being resolved through the social aspect, such as removing all obstacles that used to put pressure on the economic life under the pretext of tradition and religious misconception, especially the ones which downplayed the role of women by depriving them of their most basic rights; thereby, making any attempt to reform the economy an almost impossible task lest being hurled with ready-made accusations.
Since the Crown Prince has chosen the path that Lee Kuan Yew chose, which is far from corruption; now is the best opportunity to finish building the modern State. He has in his hands all the tools needed to solve problems that emerged in the past stages.
Chunks of huge land have been returned to the State from the land grabbers. This land can be used to solve the housing crisis, in addition to laying down a modern construction plan for towns and cities which expanded randomly in accordance with the whims of influential individuals.
Due to this randomness, every city street in the Kingdom resembles a tuck-shop, let alone the fact that the ‘Saudinization’ of economic activities was not studied properly — in a manner that serves the national economy positively.
Instead, the jobs given to Saudis in various sectors are unproductive; while the productive jobs are left for non-Saudis who send their financial returns to their countries. Such returns are supposed to remain in the Kingdom by allocating productive jobs to Saudis.
The corruption clean-up operation from the top of the social ladder needs continuous hard work to rectify faults on the pillars for the Kingdom to enter its fourth State in the 21st century through the economy, establishments, education and information. This will make the Kingdom deserving of being the economic and development engine like its current status as the political engine through its determination and courageous and rigid positions.
All these cannot be achieved without stability. The first mission of a sagacious ruler is to revitalize his country by courageously presenting more schemes and for those dealing with State institutions to fulfill their obligations.
The Crown Prince touched our emotions when he explained the significance of his task. He said: “I fear the day I will die without achieving what is going through my mind. Life is very short and many things can happen. Because of that, I am very keen on witnessing it with my own eyes, so I am in haste.”
We are also praying that Almighty Allah grant you with more determination and persistence which will enable you to rejoice over what you have achieved and what you will achieve. Through this, the coming generations will also rejoice over the fruits of the major renaissance of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Undoubtedly, it is also the renaissance of the Gulf and Arab world.
By Ahmed Al-Jarallah – Editor-in-Chief, the Arab Times