RIYADH, 8 February 2005 — Many candidates contesting the landmark municipal elections have voiced concerns about the plight of expatriate workers, and called on the government as well as employers to improve their living conditions.

At the same time, the candidates have called for reducing reliance on foreign workers in a phased manner. They have also stressed the need for a cleaner environment, especially in certain neglected districts of the capital city where expatriates live in large numbers.

“Providing municipal services for maintaining health and hygiene is our priority — for Saudis or non-Saudis alike,” said Dr. Ahmed Badr ibn Hamoud Al-Otaibi, a candidate contesting from second electoral constituency (Al-Naseem Area). Dr. Ahmed, a dermatologist at the local Armed Forces Hospital, wants authorities to address problems related to potholes, sewage and strewn garbage commonly seen in certain districts of the city. Some candidates also complained about narrow streets and poor living quarters, which have become breeding grounds for mosquitoes and insects.

Most of the low-paid foreign workers have been living in such districts which have less garbage bins than required and no safety barriers between the roads and the concrete drainage ditches. Pavements in certain areas have been either encroached by vendors or are being used for parking vehicles.

Some of these districts have a number of dilapidated residential buildings and safety norms are violated in new constructions, candidates point out.

Asked how he will serve the expatriate workers in his constituency, Dr. Ibrahim ibn Hamad Al-Quayid, a candidate from sixth constituency, said, “We, once elected, will hear complaints of expatriates and address their grievances”.

Dr. Al-Quayid, a former assistant secretary-general of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), backed the government’s move to cut reliance on foreign workers in a manner which should not affect the country’s economy adversely. He, however, acknowledged the valuable contributions rendered by expatriates in transforming the country into a modern state with world-class infrastructural facilities.

Saudi Arabia is home to over 7.5 million expatriates, representing roughly 35 percent of the total population. The municipalities across the country serve this huge foreign population and they are responsible for a number of basic services like water supply, sewage system, public health and hygiene.

Al-Quayid, who is a member of the Saudi Arabia’s Human Rights Association, said “there will be no difference between services rendered for expatriates and Saudis”.

Similar comments were made by a local businessman, Ayman Al-Seraj, who is running for public office from fourth electoral constituency. Ayman, who owns and operates Al-Etqan Group, said, “My objective is to streamline the operations of various municipal departments to ensure that all necessary services are rendered for everyone including expatriates.”

The elections in Riyadh on Thursday will mark the first round of a nationwide ballot to fill half the seats in the 178 municipal councils. Only 37 percent of over 400,000 eligible voters have reportedly registered to vote in the capital city and the surrounding regions — an area with about five million inhabitants including expatriates. The number of candidates exceeds 1,800 with 646 in the Riyadh region alone to fill just half of its 14-seat municipal council.

Voting in the Eastern Province and the southwest is set for March 3, while the Western provinces of Makkah and Madinah will vote on April 21.

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