Development Should Focus On Quality, Ease Of Life For Citizens
by Amer Al-Hilal
Reprinted from ‘Arab Times’ (Jan. 6th 2011)

KUWAIT needs a development plan for citizens, one that takes into consideration the quality and ease of life for citizens – one that ties in overall human resources to skills, culture and education, augmented by the latest technologies and processes. We certainly don’t need a KD37 billion development plan shrouded in secrecy, with details constantly modified, convoluted by political trials and tribulations and government brokered ‘deals’ to augment political power, because let me tell you, if the development plan consists mainly of the Jahra Highway, Bubyan Port Phase 2, several new housing areas built in the traditional manner, the Arab-built Jaber Hospital and the Oil sector (i.e. The Fourth Refinery) then citizens are being deluded.

The above projects for example should not be under any ‘development plan’ – those types of projects, hospitals for example, are a given and should be planned and implemented for the growing population anyway. As it stands now, it’s a development plan by schmucks for schmucks.

I am not even going to bring up Silk City because I think it’s a dream wrapped up in a mirage that will take over a quarter of a century at the very least to analyze, plan, and execute. Judging by past Kuwaiti methodology it will not be built to international
specifications, and even if it is, it will undergo bureaucratic hurdles and be outdated by the time it’s built, not to mention ill maintained. This isn’t ‘Abu Dhabi 2030 Vision’ we’re talking about here, folks, so don’t get excited.

But I digress. Citizens urgently need the realities on the ground to change. So far they are not seeing anything materialize; on the contrary, services and infrastructure are regressing in all ways, whether it’s traffic, food safety, bureaucracy, state of the environment, ease of business, and so forth.

Just driving through an infested, traffic-ridden Ring Road – planned and built for a city a quarter of our population – is an indication that the state is still mired in studies, plans and empty rhetoric concerning metro plans, highways, bridges, flyovers, and road extensions, plans that should supposedly make our life easier. But probably won’t. Every year we take to the streets and the situation is grimmer.

Allow me to indulge in a few civic fantasies: Citizens want to travel through decent, well constructed roads and stroll on quality pavements, use clean transportation modes and breath fresh, clean air – it is high time development plans included strict environmental and litter laws (with soaring fines and imprisonment for lawbreakers) and also embraced alternative energies such as solar power, wind turbines, recycling plants and Waste management facilities (Kuwait currently invests less on waste management than its Gulf counterparts).

Obesity and diabetes are serious health issues in Kuwait, and are among the highest rates in the world. The state should invest in ‘green’ pathways, parks, community centers or walk areas for citizens to exercise and socialize (in the long run it will save millions in health care costs).

Additionally, what is the first image that greets a visitor upon entering Kuwait? The airport should represent modernity, efficiency, ease and comfort of travel, a pristine glimpse symbolizing a city of the new millennium; in actuality, however, Kuwait Airport is an unpleasant experience: crowded, smoky, dimly-lit, appalling parking and lackluster facilities, a truly Third World cesspool compared to other Gulf airports – citizens deserve much better. There are plans to build a new Terminal and new airports but those will take years at best due to the regular Kuwaiti methodology of management.

The state does not seem the least bit concerned in the aesthetic component of Kuwait; appalling zoning everywhere, vacant plots of land scattered around, undeveloped, neighborhoods encircled by desert land, unpaved and devoid of vegetation, bus stops so rundown they look like they were caught in a Fallujah firefight, roads with potholes and speed bumps that can gravely damage your car, diminutive, plastic garbage containers that encourage you to litter – the list is endless.

The city needs to be beautified, by competent landscaping, in a Kuwait lined with millions of trees and flora, a ‘green’ alternative: pumping oxygen into the atmosphere to dispel the Co2 and pollutants emanating from Kuwait’s ancient, ill-managed power stations and factories (which also need to be torn down and rebuilt – some date to the 1950s).

Citizens demand 21st century tools, a polished, competent, up to date infrastructure that caters to their needs, high-speed broadband internet (whose speed is not limited by feeble MoC phone lines), they require an efficient monitoring system of goods and services, including food testing labs, electronic government so citizens can finalize paperwork online, whether car registrations, license renewals and the like – as other Gulf states do (Currently, if you want to survive Kuwait’s Kafkaesque bureaucracy you need an army of ‘mandoobs’).

Unsurprisingly, many new areas such as Mubarak Al Kabeer, for example, lack basic telephone services, its citizens resorting to mobile phone lines and mobile data plans for Internet. Ask those citizens about development and they’ll respond with four letter words of encouragement at the government – a government that constantly claims to ‘safeguard the dignity of its citizens.’

What is the status concerning fiber optics plan by the Ministry of Communications encompassing all of Kuwait? The fact that copper lines are still being installed in some areas instead of fiber optics is indicative the MoC failed to execute its fiber optics infrastructure plans on time. Additionally, Bahrain, Oman and UAE are getting their own new flag cable – why didn’t Kuwait? I wonder what our friends at the Ministry of Communications have to say about this – probably an instant replay, clueless message about “MoC’s desire to live up to sublime vision of HH The Amir for Kuwait to be a financial hub.”

Citizens and businesses demand a more competent Customs Department, one armed with the latest technologies, with workers who toil in conscience – as opposed to dozens of ‘professionals’ drinking tea with one person doing his job -while others demand more bureaucratic paperwork from half a dozen ministries to clear customs. Entrepreneurs, companies and citizens in general know what used to take days to clear can sometimes take up to a week or more now (if you throw in a weekend) and people end up paying the late fees because of their inefficiency.

Now as much as I desire some of the above wish-list upgrades to occur, the cynical side is aware no matter what plans are weaved, whether it’s a new airport, terminal, metro, building a resort island in Failaka, it’s the same old song: bring in an international consultant, have them devise a blueprint and strategy, forward it to an inefficient ministry – with the bulk of employees, at best, armed with high school degrees and with technical and administrative competencies of a soiled shag carpet – have them modify and ‘supervise’ the plan, kill the plan, bring in a local contractor – whose tentacles extend into the Central Tenders Committee, therefore getting the winning bid – who eventually cuts corners with cheap materials, modifications and makes the bulk of their profits from tender ‘variations’ and presto, it’s Kuwait development served at its best!

We can only judge development by what we see and feel; by the way our lives are enhanced. For example, if we renew our registrations online next year, form a business in record time, attain swifter broadband, or drive on less congested roads, we’ll know we’re on the right track.

I am not holding my breath, however.

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