“A few weeks ago, there was a miscommunication with the Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority (ZTCA) regarding my company’s tax return, which led to a problem with the authority. I called the point of contact at ZTCA to solve the problem. I was amazed at the prompt response. The PoC called me several times until the problem was fixed,” said Khalid, 39, an accounting head at a Jeddah-based company, when speaking to Majalla about VAT procedures in the Kingdom.
The Saudi business community has felt a big difference in dealing with the Saudi bureaucracy. The same is applied to ordinary citizens and ex-pats, who do not have to spend long hours at government agencies to finalize their paperwork.
The Saudi government agencies are run more like a business. Some of those agencies used to be challenged as inefficient, moribund, and bloated. The public agency management has come a long way after launching the Kingdom Vision 2030 in April 2016.
YOUNGER GENERATIONS and MORE TRANSPARENCY
“A couple of young employees from the Saudi Customs came to check the records of our company's imports. Our chief accountant was Indian, and they communicated with him in English. It was a random visit to check our accounts and make sure the company is not involved in suspicious or illegal transactions. They made it clear to us from the very beginning,” said Abdullah, 46, a clerk in an import and export company.
Younger generations of Saudi managers are taking the lead in many government agencies. More and more young government agencies' leaders are headhunted from the private sector. The requirements of employment include speaking English, a proven record of successful management, and achievements.
"It is not about filling senior managerial positions with people, who have good university degrees. The government is looking for highly qualified people, who can run government agencies with a business mentality. Productivity, competitiveness, quality, and innovation are the new criteria. The old image of the government clerks, who just finish their office hours and leave home is about to disappear," said Yaser, a retired ex-government clerk in his mid-sixties.
Each government agency is required to generate internal and external reports on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual basis. Government employees are evaluated on a regular basis and performance is becoming the only criteria when it comes to promotions and raises.
From issuing official documents to tax payments, and from stamping documents to applying for unemployment benefits, from registering a villa under your name to launching a lawsuit, all can be done with a click of a button. Government agencies' official websites and apps cover almost all aspects of life.
Investors, citizens, and ex-pats have now less physical contact with government employees to issue, renew or cancel official documents. Digitalization makes it easier for people to avoid bureaucracy and saves their time as well. With the help of technology, the whole country is well-connected, and decision-makers have all the statistics, figures, numbers, and summaries needed to run the government agencies on a solid basis.
Lack of information is the biggest barrier that prevents governments from taking the right decisions. It is like walking in the dark. However, the more digitalized the country is, the more the decision-makers can tackle the problems efficiently. Technology is playing a key role in good governance. Coupled with good intentions and a strong will of reform, comprehensive and detailed reports can help the country improve its performance on different levels.
Saudi government's dependence on the power of technology and digitalization has helped in improving the investment environment, laws and regulations, and quality of life, which put the Kingdom in better ranking across global indexes. For example, the Kingdom's rank in the World Index for Starting a Business rose from 60th rank in 2019 to 15th globally in 2020. Why? The secret is the ease of the process through digitalization. Commercial registers can be opened in just 180 seconds.
Just like private companies, all government agencies have social media channels. They are active and interact with the audience as if they were real “customers”. People complain because of delays or technical problems; they also send their inquiries to explain specific processes. The community manager is always active and guides complainants to the right solutions. For example, the Immigration Department receives inquiries about delays in passport issuance or residence permit renewal, or visa problems.
“I once had a problem with my passport delivery. I sent a complaint on Twitter and they asked for more details. My problem was solved in 48 hours. I felt like I was the Immigration Department’s favorite customer,” concluded Abdulrahman, a Saudi teacher, who believes that dealing with government agencies has never been easier.