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The practices of King Salman as Governor of Riyadh with the professionalism of an administrative leader and a practicing expert lay the foundation for local governance.

Working Paper by Prince Dr. Abdulaziz bin Muhammad bin Ayyaf (originally published in Al-Jazirah Newspaper)

Local governance represents an approach to municipal operations that relies to a great extent on decentralization and distribution of tasks and responsibilities to achieve a more effective and efficient administration. The administrative flexibility, and the comprehensive attention to economic, social and urban aspects of society demonstrated by local governance, are indispensable to promoting development.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 provides a unique approach to development. Under their current administrative style, financial capabilities and regulatory systems, however, our cities will not be able to implement this vision and bring it to fruition. Our cities will not even be able to provide the minimal required services or enhance the quantity and quality of these services to keep pace with the people’s increasing aspirations for better municipal operations.

The real challenge facing Saudi cities is finding a way to move from full financial dependence on central government to self-financing, based to a large extent on their own revenues and investments, enabling them to support their budgets without burdening the Ministry of Finance or their citizens. Our cities, particularly the large ones, will be unable to meet that challenge unless they adopt an ambitious program for local governance aimed not only at achieving financial and administrative independence, but also at improving the implementation, administration, operation and maintenance of projects and services. Such a program will enable cities to respond swiftly to their people’s needs and demands, increase their level of satisfaction and boost their constructive participation in local decision-making.

The effective administration of cities requires outside-the-box thinking to move away from the traditional philosophy of municipal work. Restructuring municipal institutions is both a challenge and a necessity. A futuristic vision for cities and their balanced development must be adopted through local governance to support the transition of large cities into financially and administratively independent entities which are not burdens to the central administration. The implementation of this vision will enable central authorities to increase the financial and administrative support offered to small cities, ensuring their representation on the Saudi development map. The fact that large cities need not derive their resources solely from the central government is borne out internationally by examples of cities that have increased their revenues without impacting their citizens, thus benefiting the state.

The Municipality of Riyadh, during my term as mayor, requested to direct the full budget of municipalities to small and medium-sized cities, leaving large cities to rely on their own finances after setting regulations and incentives to develop a balanced program to raise their revenue generation capacity and improve their services, especially given that opportunities avail for large cities to self-finance and thus reduce the financial burden on the government. Large cities can multiply their revenue through various channels that do not impact the citizens. Needless to say that it is imperative for cities and regions wishing to continue developing basic services to adopt local governance under the leadership of the Governor of the region as a practical program for managing their developmental affairs and an umbrella to institutionally re-structure their departments and units.

Local governance is no longer an option recommended in scattered writings or applied in scatter-shot manner in the hallways of administrative departments. Rather, it has become a necessity which requires a clear national program implemented within a well-timed, well-sequenced framework to meet current development challenges at the level of municipal work and city management.

Behind every success and prosperity for a region, city, program or even project stands an inspirational leader with a strong will and vision. Riyadh is known by its people and myself as the Riyadh of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman Bin Abdulaziz, who is distinguished by his brilliant personality and his innovative approach to government. King Salman Bin Abdulaziz became the Governor of Riyadh as an ambitious youth with the determination to develop the city for which God had bestowed love in his heart. He thus fought in all fields of development for the benefit of Riyadh and the country for more than 50 years through his service as an enlightened leader, expert on state affairs and administration, and trusted consultant to the country’s rulers.

The cities of the Kingdom, starting with Riyadh, for a long time kept pace with increasing populations, urban expansion and the resulting rapid increase in demand for services, infrastructure and development. Centralized administration was necessary and acceptable in the early stages of development for Saudi cities. At that time the lack of basic infrastructure Kingdom-wide required intervention by national authorities to ensure that development reached all regions, regardless of financial cost or return, similar to how a country on a war footing requires central steering mechanisms. The Kingdom witnessed waves of development which enabled the development of remote areas that could not otherwise have enjoyed such attention. The situation has now changed. A reasonable level of development has been achieved, as the population of cities continues to rise and the people’s demands for quality services change and grow, while the national oil-related income is fluctuating.

In the case of Riyadh, the leadership and guidance of King Salman Bin Abdulaziz, as Governor of Riyadh, made the difference. With his strong, inspiring personality, vast expertise in administration and development, love for work and accomplishment as a main pillar of the country’s leadership, he practiced a unique kind of local governance based on his personal experience, instincts and administrative talents. He then put into practice a unique and unconventional model for managing regions, while strictly adhering to the country’s laws and regulations. His exceptional approach to governance was clearly demonstrated in all the institutions and administrative units he supervised in the region and the city, including the High Commission for the Development of Ar-Riyadh, Riyadh’s Regional Council, local councils and other administrative departments and units, whether governmental, charitable or private. He has always been well known for good relations with, and support from, executive officials, while monitoring and assessing their performance.

What King Salman Bin Abdulaziz practiced as the Governor of Riyadh with the professionalism of an administrative leader laid the foundation for the establishment of local governance. Although the practices he pioneered cannot be considered as the fully regulated implementation of local governance, they helped overcome numerous obstacles and supported a variety of development programs and projects. They only lacked formal development into the pillars of a national institutional and administrative program.

Examples of his visionary projects include the provision of education and employment opportunities in small and medium-sized cities as a means of reducing migration to large cities, and the establishment of branches for universities, university campuses and industrial cities in governorates. He also called for the restructuring of the three councils in the region – regional, local and municipal – to ensure the enhanced inter-council relations, prevent work duplication and effect comprehensive supervision of all services. He even called for transforming the city of Riyadh with its 15 municipalities into 15 governorates, each with its own governor, mayor, chair of municipal or local council and independent budget.

Today, the situation of Riyadh and other large Saudi cities requires a futuristic vision to support them and the municipal sector as a whole in overcoming bureaucratic obstacles, fostering institutional work and adopting innovative initiatives to deal with critical development issues to ensure sustained growth. The current situation also calls for coordinating administrative relations for the municipal sector at all levels, whether intra-municipal relations or relations with other influential entities, in the planning process or urban development to ensure that the diversity of viewpoints among the concerned parties does not hinder development.

It is important to redefine the concepts of city management and municipal work in a way that ensures the adoption of local and urban governance. As noted previously, this approach fosters the principle of decentralization and supports financial and administrative independence to enhance the revenue of cities without reliance on the Ministry of Finance or the citizens. It also motivates municipalities to handle developmental issues with a new proactive approach that prevents problems instead of solving them, launches initiatives instead of waiting for reactions, and directs development instead of trying to catch up with unplanned development. Firmly applying the principles of decentralization and delegation of authority stand as the real solutions to overcoming a large number of obstacles in the way of effective urban governance. This program requires that we study similar cases in city administration around the world and, with the help of research centers and specialists, transfer and localize techniques to benefit from modern means of administration.

A number of positive examples in implementing local governance can be cited in Riyadh Municipality. Such incidents are cherished for their success. More obvious and painful are cases in which the failure to implement local governance, or the interference of the central administration in local initiatives, caused work obstructions and restrictions. A great number of initiatives have, unfortunately, failed to see the light of day due to centralization and administrative roadblocks preventing their launch or pursuance of their implementation.

The city of Riyadh can no longer be governed through centralization and it is not acceptable to treat it in the same manner as small and medium-sized cities. It is unfair to discount its character and administrative and financial independence since those aspects of governance still lack real activation. Indeed, it could be said that several programs and initiatives in Riyadh achieved success by freeing the city from central red-tape. It is beyond the scope of this paper to mention all the initiatives, programs and projects adopted by the Municipality which would not have succeeded if they not had deviated from the centralization norm and adopted some local-governance practices. These successes would not have been possible without King Salman’s understanding of the importance of the principles of local governance in municipal work and management of cities and his leadership in adopting those principles. Such initiatives could have been more successful and more widely acknowledged if they had not been hindered by centralization – if, in other words, the local-governance approach had been the dominant regulatory system. Unfortunately, the administrative environment inside and outside municipal work did not encourage new initiatives. In cases in which local initiatives were launched, this happened only after wasting much time and effort, often limiting the proponent’s ambitions in a way that would make him or her think twice before presenting a new initiative or implement it in an incomplete or distorted manner.

I will illustrate here some examples of Riyadh Municipality’s success in overcoming red tape in the municipal sector with the support of King Salman (the then Governor of Riyadh). For instance, the Municipality enhanced its collaboration with Al Muaikleyya Company to improve the city and its services, raising its ownership share in the enterprise. The Municipality increased the capital of the company from 25 percent to 50 percent in 2008 by investing some areas of land which served as a material share in the holding. As a result, the Municipality’s annual revenue rose from SR1.4 million to SR53 million.

Another success story is the collaboration between the Municipality and Al Muaikleyya Company in establishing the new Riyadh Flea Market (Al Haraj). The old market generated around SR6 million in revenue, and sometimes the Municipality had to pay more for administration, employees, supervisors, maintenance and operation, in addition to handling questions of potential administrative corruption and power abuse and deal with citizens’ dissatisfaction with the type and level of service. In addition, the market suffered from poor conditions, including a dearth of car parks and a lack of municipal and police supervision. The Municipality’s new initiative changed the situation for the better and the market’s revenue almost quadrupled, with larger returns expected in the future. Not only that, but the Municipality was relieved from all previous administrative, operational and maintenance duties, while maintaining its guidance and supervisory roles. In addition, the market’s visitors and employees experienced higher-quality service at international standards. Overall, the Al Muaikleyya Company, not the Municipality, invested more than SR200 million and used around 500,000 square meters of its own land featuring attractive architectural designs on the project, while providing sufficient parking lots and strict administrative and police supervision. The Municipality restored the land of the old flea market to use for other projects.

What has been accomplished is a success story expected to lead to further achievements in the future. The initiative would have been even more successful if several administrative obstacles had not limited the Municipality’s freedom to implement it as planned. Despite such obstacles, the Municipality, with the unlimited support of the Governor of Riyadh and His Deputy Prince Sattam Bin AbdulAziz, has adopted several more diverse initiatives which can be implemented and expanded. These initiatives, which require a period of institutional incubation to develop and grow, may later be replicated in other large cities.

Al Muaikleyya Company, and likewise Al Riyadh Development Company, are among the brilliant developmental ideas of the city. The credit goes to King Salman Bin Abdulaziz, then Governor of Riyadh, for establishing the two companies and offering them sufficient support to become the developmental and financial arms of the city’s projects. With this idea, the city of Riyadh is ahead of other Saudi cities with a minimum of 30 years. I believe that the two companies represent great opportunities in terms of their joint collaboration and their collaboration with the Municipality of Riyadh. I also aspire for those examples to be replicated in other cities, after necessary modification and development, by establishing new firms with which the Municipality will form partnerships. Each of these companies will be responsible for one of several municipal fields and activities. However, the Municipality will not be able to adopt this approach and overcome central administrative and financial restrictions without developing an approach for local governance under the leadership of the Governor of the region. The new approach will allow the city to form partnerships to improve its services and foster its initiatives to reduce dependence on funds from the Ministry of Finance and avoid burdening citizens with municipal and other fees.

Another example of Riyadh Municipality’s effort to eliminate municipal red tape is its adoption of a comprehensive developmental approach for urban planning of residential areas to replace the dominant individual development policy for residential buildings and areas. The latter approach has caused a variety of architectural problems in our cities and residential areas. Indeed, the current methods of developing lands and roads to transform vacant property into residential areas, starting with the transfer of land from public property and ending with the citizen’s or investor’s construction of residential units, is a main source of worry in our cities’ urban planning.

The current process involves a large number of steps, including complicated and repeated administrative procedures involving several parties, leading to the transfer of the land among multiple parties at long intervals while the land is still vacant and unplanned; the same applies after planning. The number of involved parties remains after the construction of residential units. Likewise, public facilities and services are provided through a slow, tedious process. Indeed, it may take more than 30 years to complete residential buildings, services and infrastructure fully, turning affected residential areas into noisy building sites. This delay causes visual and environmental pollution that makes these neighborhoods unsuitable for inhabitants from an urban, environmental and human perspective.

The Municipality persuaded an urban-development company in Riyadh to accomplish a distinguished residential-development project. Much more could have been accomplished if the administrative environment had been more progressive, offering understanding and support. The partnership resulted in the establishment of an exemplary residential area covering more than 800,000 square meters called Alqasr Plan in Al Swaidy area. It is planned at the first stage of development, which normally does not commit the developer to any developmental work or to the provision of public services, pavement, lighting or electricity. The owner is only committed to provide 33 percent of the area of the project for services and public facilities, and can start selling once the plan is approved.

In this project, unlike all other urban plans, the Municipality and the developer agreed to provide comprehensive development of the neighborhood. The developer thus provided full infrastructure, linked all areas of land to public facilities and specified sufficient areas of land for governmental services and high-quality facilities. Care was also taken to provide public parks, ample sidewalks and an area for administrative services. This initiative saved great cost for the country, time for the owner and long years of suffering for citizens waiting for the provision of services.

A direct financial benefit of the project is the Municipality’s transfer of an estimated SR150 million to SR200 million in expenses for the provision of services and facilities from the public sector, represented by the Municipality of Riyadh and other public agencies, to the private sector, represented by the investor upon his or her choice and agreement. This project is also distinguished from other plans in that it reserved more than 50 percent of its land for communal areas, whereas regulations only require this area to be one third of the total space. The additional space saved was used to expand services, facilities and parks.

This success story, representing a real partnership between the Municipality and the private sector, perfectly exemplifies indirect funding for the public sector. Of course, such partnerships carry more weight when implemented to the satisfaction of the other party (the private sector) and become more productive when other non-material positive effects, such as the people’s satisfaction with the urban environment, are considered. Success is clearly demonstrated in this example, which represents the ideas of the Municipality and encourages other new ideas by concerned parties, whether the municipal sector, the private sector or the development and construction industry. This is in addition to other benefits for the city and its people, which are beyond the scope of this paper.

Riyadh aims to make innovative new solutions part of future comprehensive plans. The new plans will allow the allocation of lands for varied services and facilities, not only mosques and parks as is the case now. Plans will also include the allocation of celebration halls, petrol stations, schools and clinics. Hence, the approval of a given plan will not encompass only the plan itself, but will also extend to relevant services, meaning that they will not need separate approvals later or require repeated consultations with the Municipality after the approval of the plan.

I understand that combating red tape and changing the prevalent culture of individual development and directing it towards comprehensive development is not easy. The Municipality in its current state cannot change the laws and regulations and, even if it could, that would not ensure their enforcement. Nor does the city have a sufficient cadre of urban developers. Most businessmen in the construction sector are involved only in buying, selling and retail. In fact, the culture of urban development and its tools are nonexistent or in their infancy. The city lacks municipal and administrative institutions to encourage this culture, as well as the specialized companies with expertise in and commitment to comprehensive development. In brief, we need to create an environment that supports the role of the private sector in providing comprehensive development and reduces the role of individual development. A great difference exists between the two approaches in all aspects; in fact, they cannot be compared in style and or final product.

Another clear example of the Municipality’s effort to implement successful initiatives within the current restrictive environment is the Humanization Program. This involved the establishment of the King Salman Science Oasis, the women’s municipal departments, municipal public spaces and pedestrian walks, the launch of the Eid celebration programs and urban care for citizens with special needs. The program also included the revitalization of Al Selay Valley, the immediate issuance of housing licenses, the initiation of decentralization at secondary municipalities and the departments of licenses, and the issuance of the food-price indicator. It also entailed the establishment of the Municipality emergency center 940, the foundation of administrative centers and relevant changes in the borders of secondary municipalities, the distribution of cleaning contracts among different companies instead of the same company for all sub-municipalities and the initiative to establish Prince Sultan University, the first private university in the Kingdom –which was was established and fostered by the pioneer of local governance, Salman Bin AbdulAziz, rather than the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs or the private sector.

These projects and programs, and many more which are beyond the scope of this paper, were never part of the programs or budgets of the municipalities, but they were accomplished in a manner that enabled the municipalities to fulfill their traditional responsibilities. They could never have been imagined or implemented without the mandate of local governance launched under the leadership, care and guidance of Riyadh’s Governor at the time. By following the philosophy of local governance the Municipality achieved several goals, such as improving the quality of services and increasing general satisfaction among the residents affected by such projects by better addressing their needs and requirements. In addition, the transfer of the provision of services to another party freed the Municipality to offer supervision, reduce expenses, increase direct and indirect revenue and decrease the number of employees in the public sector, while increasing the number of employees in the private sector and developing the private sector as an active partner for municipalities.

More research in the field of local governance is needed. My enthusiasm in 2004, as Mayor of Riyadh, to establish the (Prince) King Salman Center for Local Governance and affiliate it with Prince Sultan University was motivated by an awareness of the importance of local governance, knowledge of its promising future and understanding of the urgent need for its implementation and for research into its applications. The choice of the Center’s name came in appreciation of the pioneer of local governance King Salman Bin AbdulAziz, then the Governor of Riyadh. The Center aims to support and pave the way for the establishment and development of local governance in the Kingdom, building on the inspirational administration of Salman Bin AbdulAziz.

Indeed, local governance is no longer optional; rather, it has become an urgent necessity. It is time to move in the direction of decentralization, to adopt local decisions and to establish the concept and approach of local governance under the leadership of the Governor of the region. The regional council should be the catalyst for this change, in collaboration with representatives from governmental departments in the city and a number of elected citizens representing intellectuals, experts and businesspeople. Further elaboration on the topic of local governance will be provided in the book I am preparing and which will be published soon, God willing.