E-Government Development: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Subject: Politics & Government
Pages: 16
Words: 4489
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18 min
Study level: PhD


The growth of information and communication technology [ICT] has greatly influenced human life in a number of ways. ICT has also affected public service sectors. Rokhman (2011) argues that numerous changes have occurred with reference to the provision of government services due to the ICT development. Subsequently, the level of rigidity and bureaucracy in the provision of government services has reduced significantly (Wimmer 2002).

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One of the ICT dimensions that have improved significantly relates to ‘electronic government’ or the e-government. Palvia and Sharma (2006, p. 1) assert that e-government ‘is a generic term for web-based services from agencies of local, state, and federal governments’. On the other hand, the World Bank defines e-government as the use of information technologies, for example mobile computing, the Internet, and wide area network by different government agencies (Matayong & Mahmood 2013).

Most public administration sectors have incorporated the concept of e-government due to its effectiveness and efficiency with regard to the decentralization of public services (Altameem 2007). Integration of e-government can enhance the level of flexibility in government operations, hence improving the level of user satisfaction. The information technology is mainly used in engaging the public, supporting different government operations, and in the delivery of different government services.

Different governments appreciate the significance of e-government in the delivery of services to the public, which explains the development of different e-government policies. Shuler, Jaeger, and Bertot (2010) argue that the perception towards e-government has changed remarkably over the past few years. Governments perceive the concept of e-government as an avenue towards achieving macro and micro development through effective information exchange and service delivery. In line with this argument, the Indonesian government formulated an e-government policy in 2003, which is commonly referred to as the Presidential Instruction Number 3 (Rokhman 2011).

Similarly, the Saudi Arabian government has also implemented an e-government program, which is referred to as the ‘YESSER’ in an effort to improve its effectiveness and efficiency in service delivery. Despite its significance, Safeena and Kammani (2013) are of the opinion that its implementation is faced by numerous challenges. This paper evaluates e-government in Saudi Arabia.

Characteristics of Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia [KSA] was formed in 1932 by King Abdi-Al-Aziz. The country underwent remarkable transformation during his reign, which was passed on to King Abdallah bin Abdi-Al-Aziz in 2005. Since taking over the country’s leadership, King Abdallah has stimulated the country’s transformation greatly. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is considered as the origin of Islam and home of two of the holiest shrines in the Islamic religion, viz. Medina and Makkah (Al-Sowayegh 2012).

Population, location and size

The KSA covers 80% of the Arabian Peninsula and it borders the Arabian Gulf to the East, the Red Sea to the West, and the Indian Ocean to the South. The country borders Yemen, Qatar, Jordan, Oman, the United Arabs Emirates, and Iraq. The country is located strategically, hence acting as a bridge between Asia and the Western countries. The KSA occupies approximately 2,250,000 km2. Moreover, it is estimated that the country’s population will be 27,345,986 by July 2014 (Central Intelligence Agency 2014). Forty five percent (45%) of the total population is comprised of citizens aged between 25-54 years, 0-14 years [28%], 15-24 years [19 years], 55-64 years [3.2%], while 3.1% is above 65 years (Central Intelligence Agency 2014).

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The country’s population growth rate is estimated to be at 1.5%, hence ranking the country at 81st in the world scale. This aspect presents an opportunity for the country to adopt technological solutions due to the high rate of acceptance of information technology amongst the youth (Shanks, Bekmamedova & Johnstone 2012). On the other hand, the birth rate and death rates are estimated to be 18.78 births per 1,000 population and 3.32 deaths per 1,000 people. Islam is the official religion in Saudi Arabia. However, other monotheistic religions exist, which include Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Jews (Central Intelligence Agency 2014).

The culture of Saudi Arabia

Obeidat, Shannak, Masadeh, and Al-Jarrah (2012, p. 513) define culture as ‘the fundamental values, attitudes, beliefs, and patterns of thinking which are rooted in view of a region or society of how the world works and how individuals or groups can and should operate’. The national culture is one of the dimensions of culture and it entails the collective mental programming of individuals in a particular nationality. Subsequently, national culture varies across countries. Culture constitutes a critical component in a country’s economic growth.

According to Lee-Post (2007), the shared values and norms in a particular society have a significant impact on the process of implementing change. Al-Sowayegh (2012) asserts that the implementation of different government policies is subject to the existing diverse cultural barriers and drivers. Saudi Arabia is characterized by a conservative culture, which is based on the Islamic religion. The country’s culture has a significant impact on the citizens’ lives. The management of different national issues is based on the Arabian cultural values and the Islamic religion. Al-Sowayegh (2012, p. 33) further contends that the ‘role of Islam is echoed in the social norms, patterns, traditions, obligations, privileges, and practices of the society’. Therefore, Islam is regarded as a system of life in the KSA.

Furthermore, the Saudi culture is male-dominated and socio-centric. Subsequently, the male gender dominates the female gender in all aspects of life in accordance with the country’s traditions and customs. Additionally, the segregation of the female and male genders is a critical characteristic in the KSA. Al-Shehry (2008) asserts that the country’s culture is also characterized by a tribal system despite the new socio-economic developments. The Saudi government has also incorporated the element of modernization within the national culture. In an effort to transform the country, the KSA government is increasingly outsourcing expertise from the international market.

The economy of Saudi Arabia

The KSA is primarily an oil-based economy, which is largely controlled by the government. Despite the existence of the private enterprises, their operations are under the government’s regulations. It is estimated that the country accounts for 25% of the total crude oil reserves in the world. Subsequently, the KSA is the largest crude oil exporter. It is estimated that petroleum accounts for 45% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product [GDP], 90% of the total export earnings and 80% of the total budget revenue (Alsheha 2007).

The Saudi government is focused on diversifying its economy. One of the avenues adopted by the KSA entails promoting the growth of the private sector in an effort to enhance economic growth by reducing over-dependence on oil by the country’s population. The Saudi government is encouraging foreign investors in its quest to diversify the economy. Its commitment in promoting economic growth is evidenced by its policy to allow foreign investors and private sectors to invest in the telecom and power generation industries, which were previously controlled by the government. Moreover, the country acceded to the World Trade Organization in 2005.

The economic reforms and liberalization of some economic sectors have greatly stimulated the country’s GDP by a record-breaking 1,858% during the 1970s, which was further stimulated by the oil boom. In line with its economic growth, the KSA has commenced the process of establishing six economic cities in different parts of the Kingdom. The government plans to spend $373 billion during the period ranging between 2010 and 2011. By the end of 2013, the country’s purchasing power parity was estimated to be $927.8 billion. Furthermore, the GDP per capita by the end of 2013 was estimated to be $ 31,300. On the other hand, its real GDP growth rate was estimated to be 3.6%.

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The country’s labor force is estimated to be 8.412 million (Central Intelligence Agency 2014). In a bid to stimulate economic growth, the KSA government is planning to incorporate different information technology solutions within its economic system. However, the government is very cautious in implementing new information technology because of the countries conservatism culture (Al-Shehry 2008).

Information and communication infrastructure in Saudi Arabia

Information and communication technology is a fundamental element in the economic growth of a particular country (Shareef, Kumar & Dwivedi 2011). Subsequently, the KSA has prioritized the implementation of ICT. The country has undergone remarkable changes over the past five decades, as evidenced by the high rate of adoption of ICT by different economic sectors.

Despite its commitment, the level of development with regard to Information Technology is relatively lower as compared to other developed economies such as the UK, Canada, the US, and Japan (Al-Maliki & Williams 2012). Subsequently, the usage of ICT in the KSA in both the private and the public sectors is relatively low. Al-Shehry (2008, p. 68) asserts that the ‘introduction and development process of IT systems in the KSA has concentrated on three dimensions’. These dimensions include computerization of different private and public organizations, establishing Information Technology training institutes in order to develop the necessary human capital, and building the fundamental infrastructure to support IT.

Al-Shehry (2008) is of the opinion that diffusion of ICT in the KSA is very complex. One of the fundamental aspects in the diffusion of ICT in a country is its national infrastructure, which refers to the essential facilities and structures such as the social, economic, educational, health, telecommunication, and scientific facilities (Zafiropoulos, Karavasilis & Vrana 2012). Al-Shehry (2008, p. 68) is of the opinion that if ‘any country lacks an adequate telecommunication infrastructure, its economic, IT, and social development will be either weak or progressively low’. This assertion highlights the importance of IT infrastructure.

The KSA’s initial attempt to develop an effective ICT infrastructure occurred during its rapid economic growth phase. However, the KSA government has renewed the efforts to develop the ICT infrastructure (Obeidat et al. 2012). The government’s quest to improve the ICT infrastructure is evidenced by its commitment to liberalize the telecommunication sector, as evidenced by the high rate of privatization from 2007.

Secondly, the KSA government has established special organizations, which are charged with the responsibility of controlling and monitoring the delivery of ICT services to citizens. In line with this aspect, the KSA government formed the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology. Additionally, the government established the Communication and Information Technology Authority, which is charged with the responsibility of monitoring developments in the ICT sector.

The KSA government’s effort to improve ICT infrastructure in the country is also evidenced by its ‘computer for each house’ initiative, which was established in 2005. The objective of this initiative is to provide citizens with computers at low cost. Furthermore, the Ministry of Education integrated ICT in the school curriculum in an effort to impart ICT knowledge on pupils. The government also announced its plan to establish computer laboratories in all public schools. The chart below illustrates Saudi Arabia’s national ICT scene timeline.

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Information and communication infrastructure in Saudi Arabia

E-government initiative in Saudi Arabia (YESSER)

Al-Nuaim (2011) asserts that governments around the world are facing challenges arising from the emergence of new standards of governance. Furthermore, citizens in the developing economies are increasingly demanding effective government services and a high level of accountability. This trend has arisen from an increase in knowledge with regard to the level of corruption and poor management of the economy by some of the leaders (Al-Nuaim 2011). This extent of increase in knowledge with regard to levels of corruption and poor governance is evidenced by the various uprisings and riots that have been witnessed in some of the Arab nations over the past few years.

The KSA government is focused to successful implementation of e-government concepts in its operations. Al-Nuaim (2011, p.4) asserts that the ‘majority of citizen services in the KSA are provided by government offices with the same office hours as educational institutions and private companies’. Subsequently, citizens are forced to queue for long hours waiting for services. However, the KSA government has promised its commitment to eliminate this dilemma by incorporating e-government.

Heeks (2001, p.46) emphasizes that there are four main categories of e-government, which include ‘government-to-government [G2G], government-to-business [G2B], government-to-employee [G2E], and government-to-citizen [G2C]’. The various categories are characterized by diverse level of involvement. For example, G2E and G2C refer to the engagement between the individuals and the government. On the other hand, G2G and G2B refer to the engagement between government and various public and private institutions (Fadel 2012).

The Information Technology National Plan is one of the key initiatives in the KSA’s government effort to adopt e-government. The plan is commonly referred to as ‘YESSER’ and the government in 2005 established it. In addition, its core emphasis was ICT as an avenue towards reforming the public sector. In establishing the program, the KSA government intended to offer all citizens in the Kingdom an opportunity to enjoy different government services in a seamless, secure, and user-friendly manner at any place and any time. The government targeted to achieve this goal by 2010 (Al-Maliki 2013).

The national e-government program [YESSER] was designed in such a way that it would promote the country’s continuous growth and development. The decision to formulate the YESSER program was informed by the need to ensure effective and efficient provision of government services to the public. Additionally, the government also intended to improve the level of productivity and accuracy with regard to delivery of the necessary information to the public (Sahraoui, Gharaibeh & Al-Jboori 2006).

The plan focused on three main aspects, which include information technology training, e-society, and e-readiness. The e-readiness aspect was aimed at ensuring that the country’s IT infrastructure is effectively developed in order to support the effectiveness with which IT supports the country’s economic growth through diverse aspects such as e-health, e learning, and e-government. A report released by the United Nations shows that the level of e-readiness in the KSA is relatively low. Al-Nuaim (2011, p. 5) asserts that the ‘UN Telecommunication Infrastructure Index for the KSA for the 2003, 2004, and 2008 were 0.119, 0.139, 0.145 and 0.2110 respectively’.

Furthermore, the report showed that the usage of ICT in the KSA s relatively low, as compared to that of the UAE, which is estimated to be approximately 70% (Al-Nuaim 2011). The YESSER program is a critical vehicle in transforming the KSA’s public sector into being a part of the global information society. The program intends to facilitate e-government by supporting different government departments and agencies with the necessary knowledge, data, methodologies, and standards as illustrated by the figure below.

E-government initiative in Saudi Arabia (YESSER)

Moreover, e-readiness also entails different aspect aimed at improving the level of productivity at a relatively low cost. Beaudry and Pinsonneault (2005) further assert that the e-readiness aspect also took into account the establishment of the necessary security frameworks. Implementing effective security measures is vital in implementing e-government considering the information security threats presented by the emergence of the digital age.

The KSA effort towards e-government is evidenced by its commitment to enhance computer literacy levels amongst the through the ‘one computer for every home’ initiative. Additionally, the KSA, through the Ministry of Education, has incorporated computer courses in all public schools.

Public services in Saudi Arabia

According to Alzahrani (2011) public service is one of the most important components in governments’ effort to deliver services to the public. The KSA government appreciates the importance of public service in fulfilling its mandate to the public. Subsequently, the Saudi government provides public service to citizens through a number of public service entities, which include the Saudi Telcom, the National Guard Health Affairs, King Fahad Hospital, the Directorate General Health of Affairs in Riyadh, King AbdulAziz University Hospital, Directorate General for Passports, and King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center.

Saudi Telecom is a public limited company that deals with the provision of telecommunication services such as the Internet, fixed line, and mobile services. The institution was established in 1998 through the Council of Ministers’ Decree and its headquarters are located at Riyadh. Saudi Telecom has managed to position itself optimally in the Arab region and it is the biggest telecommunication company with regard to revenue, market capitalization, and human resource base. In an effort to maximize profitability, Saudi Telecom has expanded into the international market and it is currently present in a number of Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Africa, and Asia.

General Directorate of Passport in Saudi Arabia

Historical review

The Saudi Government is committed to ensuring the security of its citizens within the national borders. Additionally, the government is focused to nurturing effective diplomatic relations with other countries on diverse social, economic, and political activities. Considering the view that Saudi Arabia hosts millions of Hajj pilgrims every year, it is imperative for the government to ensure that the pilgrims are served seamlessly in their quest to visit the Holy Cities. In order to achieve this goal, the KSA government has established a fully-fledged Ministry of Interior. One of the responsibilities of the Ministry of Interior entails ensuring effective issuance of passports to local citizens and foreigners.

This task was assigned to Makkah Police Department, which is under the Ministry of Interior in 1343H (General Directorate of Passports 2014). Subsequently, the department became responsible for issuing resident permits and passports, which are commonly referred to as IQAMA. According to General Directorate of Passports (2014, par.15), on 17/11/1348H ‘the Department issued the Majlis Al-Shura Decision No. 344, which outlined the passport system that the government should follow and decision outlined various aspects in the application of passports such as entry and exit conditions and the procedures to be followed in the process of issuing passports’.

In an effort to improve the passport application procedure, the Saudi government issued the Al-Shura Decision Number 178 on 20/10/1353H, which focused on identification system. Another order No. 57/3/12 was issued on 12/8/1356h and it focused on improving the resident permit system (General Directorate of Passports 2014). The Saudi government has also been committed to nurturing effective e-governance system by improving the passport system.

Subsequently, the KSA government formed the Passports and Citizenship Department on 5/11/1380H. The Passports and Citizenship Department received Cabinet Order Number 1001, whose objective was to establish a Deputy Assistant within the Department.

On 24/10/1391, a ministerial decision number 90 was made. The decision led to militization of the passport s process following years 1392/1993. Another Cabinet Order Number 1195, which is dated 10/5/1393H, was formulated. The order was aimed at ensuring a high level of organization with regard to the issuance of passports. This move led to the establishment of Passports Institute.

On 27/7/1395H, another Cabinet order number 894 was released. The order led to the establishment of a Deputy for Passports and Civil Affairs, which is under the Ministry of Interior. General Directorate of Passports (2014, par.11) posits that the KSA government issued another ‘Cabinet Order, number 1039/T dated on 9/10/1395 H, which led to the transfer of the citizenship and passport departments to the Ministry of Interior Agency of Passports and Civil Affairs’.

The KSA’s commitment to establish the general directorate of passports is also evidenced by other orders such as the royal order number 12, which was issued on 28/03/1396. The royal order certified Cabinet Order number 462, which was issued on 21/03/1396 (General Directorate of Passports 2014). The royal order led to the amendment of article 18 of the passport system. General Directorate of Passports (2014, par.12) adds that another order, which illustrates the governments’ pursuit for improving the passport system, ‘is Approval Order no. 21633 and it was issued on 15/9/1402 H with the objective of separating passports from the Civil Affairs agency, hence leading to the formation of the General Directorate of Passports’.

A high level of synergy has been established between the General Directorate of Passports and the Minister of Interior and the Deputy. On 01/07/1403, the KSA government through the General Directorate of Passports restructured the country’s passports organizational structure by focusing on a number of dimensions, which include administrative, qualitative, and geographic.

Tasks of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia General Directorate of Passports

The General Directorate of Passports is charged with a number of responsibilities. Some of these responsibilities are highlighted below. One of the department’s roles entails receiving all passport applications in Saudi Arabia. This aspect requires the Directorate to evaluate all the applicants who satisfy the passport application requirements. The department has the responsibility of ensuring that Saudi citizens travelling within and outside the country do not experience challenges (General Directorate of Passports 2014). This goal is achieved by organizing the departure and arrival of citizens through various ports in the country.

The Directorate is also charged with the task of organizing effective arrival and departure of expatriates from different parts of the world. However, only the expatriates who have satisfied the statutory and legal requirements are allowed into the country. The department also issues residence permits to all expatriates who have met the legal requirements. The permit is issued under the residency system and it is mainly applicable to citizens who have come to work in different economic sectors of the KSA. Additionally, the Directorate is required to ensure that expatriates apply for exit and reentry visas efficiently and subsequently the final exit visas.

As aforementioned, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is home to two of the most Holy Cities according to the Islam religion. Subsequently, the KSA receives thousands of pilgrims every year especially during Hajj (General Directorate of Passports 2014). In order to promote effective and efficient entry and exit of pilgrims, the Directorate ensures that the passport application process does not hinder their visit to the Holy Cities. Furthermore, the Directorate tracks all the movements of pilgrims who prefer to stay behind for other personal reasons after the end of the Hajj season.

Considering the view that the department receives millions of expatriates every year, the Directorate has to ensure that the country is safe, which is achieved by conducting a follow-up on expatriates’ status. Some of the aspects evaluated entail assessing whether their residency within the country is aligned to the residence system (General Directorate of Passports 2014). Additionally, the Directorate also assesses whether their passports are interim. This move enables the Directorate to identify violators, hence improving the effectiveness with which it is in a position to penalize violators of the KSA residency system.

Development in information communication technology has presented governments with a challenge in their quest to maintain the national security. Both the developing and the developed countries are experiencing an increment in the number of illegal immigrants. The rate of immigration has been enhanced by the ease with which it is easy to forge travel documents. In order to deal with such issue, the General Directorate of passports in the KSA is charged with the responsibility of combating counterfeiting of documents.

One of the ways through which this goal can be achieved is by improving the security system in the development of passports, visas, and residence permits. Moreover, the department is charged with the duty of implementing the travel document law under the Royal Order Number M/24, which was issued on 28.05.1421H (General Directorate of Passports 2014). Moreover, the directorate is charged with the responsibility of implementing the Executive Regulations, which was under the Ministry of Interior Decision number 7/OZ.

These regulations were formulated on 23/9/1422H. In line with improving the country’s interior security, the Directorate has an obligation to implement effective monitoring system in order to identify citizens who are banned from travelling outside the country. Moreover, the identification process entails determining the category of restriction and the action that should be taken in the event that they successfully enter the KSA. The KSA government recognizes the importance of assessing traffic in and out of the country. Subsequently, the Directorate is required to prepare statistics indicating the travel patterns.

The KSA government appreciates the importance of developing effective internal relations. In order to achieve this objective, the government liaises with other government agencies and departments, which enhances the level of coordination. The KSA government has also provided the General Directorate of Passports with a number of powers. Some of these powers entail the power to investigate, detain, and extradite individuals based on the residency regulations (General Directorate of Passports 2014).

Furthermore, the department ensures that the residents understand the importance of cooperation with regard to passport issues, which is achieved by ensuring effective communication to the public through periodic bulletins. The KSA government appreciates the importance of an effective human resource in implementing e-government. Consequently, the government, through the General Directorate of Passports, undertakes continuous training of employees in the Ministry of Interior. The objective is to equip them with sufficient knowledge on how to deal with different passport issues. The directorate operates as a fully-fledged office. Subsequently, the department is responsible for its own budget and other financial aspects.


The high rate of innovation with regard to the information communication technology (ICT) sector has led to a remarkable transformation in the private and public sectors. Developments in ICT have led to improvement in the level of effectiveness and efficiency with regard to knowledge sharing, and hence the emergence of the information age. Citizens have become knowledgeable in different governance aspects such as the need for accountability and transparency. Furthermore, citizens are increasingly demanding effective and efficient services from different government institutions. This aspect underscores the importance of incorporating the concept of e-government in the delivery of services to citizens.

Most developed economies have successfully implemented the concept of e-government. However, the emerging economies are experiencing a challenge in their quest to implement the e-government. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is ranked amongst the developing countries that are in the process of implementing the e-government. The significance of e-government in the KSA’s quest to deliver services to citizens effectively and efficiently is subject to a number of aspects.

First, the country has a rapid growing population, which is increasingly demanding efficient government system. Currently, the delivery of most government services through various offices is characterized by a high level of bureaucracy. The KSA’s efforts to implement e-government may be hindered by a number of aspects such as the poor ICT infrastructure, the country’s conservatism culture and other social aspects such as the tribal systems.

In an effort to improve service delivery, the KSA has implemented a number of initiatives over the past few years. One of these initiatives entails liberalizing the information communication sector in order to provide private investors with an opportunity to enter the market. The government formulated the YESSER program in 2005, which was aimed at ensuring that Saudi citizens receive government services efficiently.

One of the areas that the KSA government has focused is its quest to implement e-government related to the issuance of passports, which is evidenced by the establishment of the General Directorate of Passports. The Directorate is established under the Ministry of Interior. Additionally, the Directorate has adopted information communication technology, which has remarkably improved its effectiveness in executing its duties and responsibilities as illustrated in this paper.

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