Last week, the Council of Saudi Ministers took some key decisions on various issues concerning Saudis and expatriates. One of them was the restructuring of visa fees. From October, fees of all types of visas issued by Saudi Arabia will be increased. That is undoubtedly an important step that will help the Kingdom boost its non-oil revenues.
The fee increase applies to work, visit, Umrah and Haj visas and the only exceptions are covered in bilateral agreements between the Kingdom and other countries.
The Kingdom will bear the visa fees only for those who perform Umrah or Haj for the first time. This is a very legitimate decision because there are certain people who have turned the Umrah and Haj rituals into mere habits and not a religious necessity.
The Haj pilgrimage is a must for Muslims once in a lifetime. But there are people who have performed Umrah and Haj several times and by doing so they deprived other deserving Muslims of their right to perform pilgrimage. Haj is only a must for those who can afford it, physically and financially.
Moreover, there are certain elements who have turned Haj and Umrah pilgrimages into an industry to make money. This has added more pressure on the Kingdom in terms of services, security and logistics, especially when the number of the pilgrims from all over the world reaches about three million during the pilgrimage season.
The Kingdom is not an exception in taking such measures, because almost all countries in the world collect fees from foreigners visiting them for tourism or business purposes. The decisions were based on a recommendation of the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Economy and Planning with the aim to increase non-oil revenues.
Another important decision is the amendment to the Saudi Development Fund system so that the authority would be linked to the Council of Economic Affairs and Development.
The fund’s chairman, vice chairman, manager and members of the board will be appointed by the prime minister. The term of office of each will be three years, renewable one time only.
This decision is an added value to the reengineering and restructuring process in the country. It sends a clear message that the Saudi leadership is determined to bring about positive changes to our overall management system so as to end the inconvenient bureaucratic system for good.
Naturally, these decisions have sent shockwaves among foreigners who make up one-third of the Kingdom’s total population.
Many expatriates wrongly feel that they are being targeted by these decisions.
Undoubtedly, the expatriates will be affected by these decisions. But, given the current economic situation, the low oil prices, high rates of unemployment and the war in Yemen, everybody should be prepared to swallow the bitter pill.
Saudis themselves have also to be prepared to change their ways and to make positive contribution to the development of the country. Their country has been generous to them for decades, and the time has come to pay it back.
The other important Cabinet decision is the amendments to traffic laws. In order to check traffic accidents, heavy fines have been imposed on violators, which is a very positive move. The fines for car drifting have been increased 20 times in order to combat the practice that presents a grave threat to the safety of motorists and pedestrians.
A recent study has predicted that deaths from traffic accidents in the Kingdom in 2019 will rise to 9,604. In 2013, the number of people who died in traffic accidents rose by 0.3 percent, up from 7,638 in 2012.
Hopefully, this decision would help reduce the number of road fatalities by checking the unruly behavior of some irresponsible adventurous young men. This decision will also help reduce the damages caused to the national economy and public properties. They are worse than external enemies and should be stopped by all means.
These are commendable decisions and the authorities should work overtime to ensure their strict implementation.
Talal al-Harbi – Arab news