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The Cart Before The Horse: Saudi Aviation - Bureaucrat Upon Bureaucrat

12 July 2016

By Tariq A. Al-Maeena

The title of this column is a proverb that translates to mean that something is being done contrary to a conventional or customarily expected order or sequence. As Wikipedia puts it, ''a cart is a vehicle which is ordinarily pulled by a horse, so to put the cart before the horse is an analogy for doing things in the wrong order. The figure of speech means doing things the wrong way round or with the wrong emphasis.''

Now if one is to look around, he or she would not have to look too far to see that putting the cart before the horse has been an exercise that is routinely practiced by many of our bureaucracies. One such instance came to mind when I read a report last month that the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) had invited the Saudi Minister of Transport Sulaiman Al-Hamdan to inaugurate the new executive office or VIP lounge at King Abdul Aziz International Airport (KAIA) in Jeddah.

Once the customary ribbon was cut, the Minister accompanied by a high level delegation from GACA including Abduellah Al-Rasheed, director of the executive offices, visited the new facilities and was briefed at each step along the way by GACA officials on the services which the VIP lounge provided to its guests including the working procedures in place designed to provide the best comfort and services to the airport's clients.

Describing the VIP lounge in detail, Al-Rasheed said that ''the new executive office is located on a total area of 4,215 square meters, with a seating capacity of 500 passengers. It includes a passenger seating area, a commercial space, restaurants, a meeting room, a business center and a prayer area for men and women.'' He added that GACA was also ''working on the development of modernization of the executive offices in Riyadh (KKIA) and Hail Airport, while work continues on implementing executive offices projects in the remaining airports. The work will be done in stages, which include the creation of new buildings and the development and modernization of existing buildings.''

Now I have been following the developments at KAIA with much interest over the past three decades. Not so much out of simple curiosity but more so as a frequent user who has had to contend with standards of service that were often surpassed by airports in poorer and less developed countries. I know I do not speak for myself alone when I bring up the horrendous details of travelers who have had to contend with unimaginable nightmares when all they wanted to do was simply get on a flight and depart without much fuss.

In the last few decades, bureaucrat upon bureaucrat came and went, all assuring the public that the new airport with state-of-the-art facilities was going to be up and running during his tenure. This has never happened and most of these men have long since disappeared to other pastures. But passengers continue to be disgruntled. This summer there has been a surge of discontent from passengers at the Kingdom's major airports for a host of reasons. Most of these are a rehash of the same set of tribulations of years gone by, and nothing seems to have been done to address the repeated set of complaints.

Thus, when I read of so much care and commitment given by GACA to the establishment of executive lounges, I wonder. Shouldn't the authorities first be focused on providing everyday passengers who make up the majority of fliers with the basic standards a traveler has come to expect? Shouldn't they focus on the persistent problems that plague our airports and resolve to find permanent solutions to them? Or should they simply ignore all of that and herald the establishment of an improved VIP lounge to cater to a small percentage of the traveling community?

However, in all honesty, I was not surprised by the news. I have come to expect such idiosyncrasies from most of our public service organizations who seem to forget whom they are meant to serve. Had they done otherwise, I would have indeed been tongue-tied, and this column would never have made it into print.

The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena


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