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Saudi Arabia makes a rare example out of minister

Saudi Arabia is bracing for big changes [Getty]

Date of publication: 24 April, 2017

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The Saudi government made a rare move by publicly stating the reasons for sacking the minister of civil service, but are there other reasons for the official's dismissal?

Saudi Arabia's former Civil Service Minister Khalid al-Araj was fired on Sunday, following a complaint from a member of the public over allegations of nepotism, according to state media.

It coincided with the a series of royal decrees by King Salman ordering a shake-up of government.

Officially, Araj was fired after a member of the public filed a complaint saying the minister had employed his unqualified in a high-paying position.

Riyadh took the rare step of publically stating the reasons for firing the minister, which was announced on state TV, adding that Araj would be investigated by the country's anti-corruption committee.

If he is found guilty he could face up to ten years in jail.

Rare criticism

Such public criticism of ministers by the governnment is rare in Saudi Arabia and highlights the level of anger at Araj both from the public and within government.

What was also unprecedented is that Riyadh said the minister's dismissal was directly related to a complaint issued by a member of the public.

Saad al-Thuwainy wrote a letter of grievance to the Saudi National Anti-Corruption Commission about the minister and posted a draft of the letter on Twitter, before submitting the complaint.

The commission then asked Thuwainy to speak with investigators, according to al-Arabiya. Such moves are rare in Saudi Arabia, sources have said.

Another theory for Araj's public dismissal is that he angered Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after exaggerating how much the government had saved from cuts to civil servants' salaries, a source told The New Arab.

Spending cuts

The sacking of Araj coincided a decree restoring pay cuts to civil servants and military personnel's salaries.

The decision was widely welcomed in Saudi Arabia where about two-thirds of Saudis work in government jobs and have suffered under the government's recent austerity drive.

Riyadh said that the decision to reinstate the benefits and full salaries was based on Mohammed bin Salman's findings that the economy had bounced back sufficiently to allow for the pay rises.

The extra spending power, it is hoped, will provide a boost for the Saudi economy which is still struggling with low oil prices.

Saudis welcomed the dismissal of Araj on social media, writing that the minister's downfall will be an example to others.

The Arabic hashtag #TrialoftheMinisterofCivilService has been trending on Twitter.

It is not the first time Araj has been attacked by members of the public. Last year the minister angered young Saudis - particularly in the public sector - when he said that government employees worked only one hour a day, on average.
 
Riyadh has embarked on an ambitious diversification plan called Vision 2030, heading by Mohammed bin Salman, which it is hoped will reinvigorate the economy and ween the country off its reliance on oil.

Mohammed bin Salman has placed special importance on Saudi youth in this vision and has encouraged them to look to the private sector and entrepreneurship for future employment.

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