To steer the Chamber through testing times


I think that the Gulf chambers of commerce should take a look at what is happening here in Jeddah Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber of Commerce in Jeddah is now preparing for a change. Elections are only a corner away and already many businessmen young and old are preparing themselves for the election battle. Faxes are being sent to all members of the chamber.

I have received faxes and letters from some who have ignored me for years. In fact there were some who did not even bother to offer greetings. Apparently they now are in need of our votes. We therefore have become important.

However this is not the issue. The main point I wish to stress upon is that this is the most important election in the fifty odd years of the Chamber. It is crucial because we are living in trying times. We are both as a nation and as a people facing serious challenges in an ever-changing world fraught with dangers and challenges that will test our readiness, ability and skill. 

I am not a pessimist by nature. But I am somewhat alarmed by our initial lack of preparedness to contain these challenges, if not to overcome them.

With the advent of GATT and the WTO and the imposition of new rules and regulations enforced by mighty economic powers and regional economic blocs, it is imperative that our captains of business and industry rise to the occasion. It is also important that our small business people be aware of the in flow of these new concepts and ideas and learn how to chart their course within the parameter allowed. However the question arises who is going to fix these parameters and who is going to lay down the rules.

In the light of these facts it becomes very important to all - both the private sector and the government - that eternal vigilance be maintained.

That is why the Chamber of Commerce elections should be viewed with seriousness. A positive feature of the forthcoming elections will be the staying away of some past members who's names we have become very familiar with. It is time for them to be thanked profusely for the contribution, and to leave. Equally important should be the fact that office bearers of the chamber also resign or be relocated. This. in no way, will diminish their positive contribution. On the contrary, it will make the work of the new members easier. There will be no more finger pointing.

A disturbing piece of news was that of serious financial irregularities. If these allegations are proved, then all former office bearers, from the top to the lowest, should be held accountable. Enough! we say to them. Nobody can be absolved of blame.

The Chamber of Commerce in any city, especially like that of Jeddah's stature and importance, is a living organism. It should remain healthy. Any disease or sickness will cripple the city. The Saudi Ministry of Commerce should also see to it that in the present circumstances, past employees of the chamber should not be nominated. The Minister of Commerce Osama Jafar Faqeeh is a wise and honorable man. He is holding office at a time of very troubling and uncertain world trade situation. It is needless to say he has other major issues on his mind. 

We need honest and God-fearing people to steer the chamber through the shoals and reefs of these challenging times.

I have attended several informal meetings by different groups. I was impressed by those who were honest to accept criticism and offer solutions. Their feelings for the country and the city moved me. One such group, Al-Taawun, focused on the global society, speedy changes in communication technology, training for Saudization, helping increase female participation in commerce. I listened as these honorable gentlemen talked. Their vision for a better tomorrow based on new work ethics, loyalty and love for our country as envisaged by our Islamic ideology affected me.

I say to all these people: God has been kind to us. He has blessed us with a leadership that has provided security and stability; He has provided us with natural resources which are the dream of many other nations. However, in His Infinite Wisdom, God has also given us the brains to choose the right path. Therefore all of us have to be honest with ourselves. Those who are contesting for the Chamber of Commerce seats should view their participation against this background.

They should not cater only to the high and the mighty, the rich and the super rich. They should look at the hundreds of the smaller business people, evaluate their present situation, open a dialogue and build bridges of confidence and cooperation. Small businesses have been ignored for years. It is time to take stock of their situation. 

The government is planning a privatization drive. All help should be extended and all hands should be on deck. The Chamber of Commerce can offer these hands. Let us all hope they are clean, cooperative and productive.

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