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Local Government History

After upgrading municipal services to a deputy ministry in the Ministry of Interior in 1963, Royal Decree No. A/276 of 1975 established the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs (MOMRA), which supervises the various units of local government. The Council of Ministers of Saudi Arabia decided in October 2003 “to broaden the participation of citizens in administrating local affairs by means of elections, and to revitalize Saudi Arabia’s municipal councils in conformity with the ruling concerning municipalities and villages issued by Royal Decree in 1977, and to ensure that one half of the members of all municipal councils would henceforth be elected.”

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Administrative Divisions

The kingdom is divided into 13 provinces (mintaqat), which are each ruled by a governor. Governors are appointed by the king and usually report directly to him. Most governors are also members of the house of al-Saud. The provincial government oversees the local offices of the central government and municipal officials. As of 2002 MOMRA was supervising 5 main municipalities, 107 other category A, B, and C municipalities, 7 regional municipalities, 64 category B, C, and D village clusters, along with water and drainage authorities and other directorates. Local units were subject to reclassification every three years, depending on population and other variables. Press reports indicated that there were 178 municipalities in 2005.

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Municipal and Local Government Budgets

The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs (MOMRA) oversees all areas of municipal governance. The ministry controls municipal administration, city and town planning, and the development and maintenance of infrastructure such as roads and sanitation. Saudi Arabia is highly urbanized with 87 percent of its people living in urban areas. Although half of the municipal council members are elected, the president is appointed and reports to the ministry.

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Local Government Budgetary Reform

Prince Mit’ib Ben Abdul-Aziz, Minister of Municipal and Village Affairs, issued a Decision on September 29, 2007 granting municipal councils the power to closely monitor the performance of municipal employees in 6 sectors that had been the subject of numerous questions and accusations, namely: sale of government land, land certificates, development projects, operations and maintenance projects, collection of revenues and municipal investments. The Decision gave municipal councils the right to receive a quarterly report from the municipalities concerning land sales; the right to receive the complete documents pertaining to any such sale; the right to question municipal executives about the financial administration of development projects; the right to investigate or review the conditions of signed contracts and determine their appropriateness; the right to review the terms of investment licenses granted to local and other investors. This new administrative Decision enhances the supervisory and monitory role of municipal councils and asserts the principle of transparency and efficiency.

There is no fiscal separation between the central and municipal governments. In fiscal year 2003, the government allocated 7.5 billion Saudi riyals for municipal services and water authorities, down from 7.9 billion the previous year. Municipalities collected 1 billion Saudi riyals ($267 million US) in taxes in 2000, which was transferred to the MOMRA. The MOMRA returns a portion of the money for general expenditures, while utilizing the rest for ministry operations. Government spending on municipal services, infrastructure development and local subsidies amounted to 7% of the government budget for 2003. The MOMRA and Ministry of Finance are currently crafting legislation to privatize municipal tax collection.

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Local Elections

In 2003, the King approved the creation of consultative councils on the municipal level, with half of the officials in these bodies to be elected by popular vote. Every municipal council includes 14 members, 7 of whom are elected and 7 are appointed.

The first municipal elections were conducted in 3 stages: on February 10, on March 3, and on April 21, 2005. Seventy percent of an electorate of 330,000 registered male voters participated in the elections. They chose 244 municipal council members out of 4600 candidates. The elections were monitored by 700 local observers in 258 electoral centers. Official results showed that candidates close to or affiliated with Islamic circles won the majority of municipal seats. They won all 7 seats in Jeddah and Mecca, 6 out of 7 seats in Al-Madina and 5 out of 6 seats in Ta'if. In Tabook 3 mosque preachers won half its municipal seats while 2 seats were won by tribal candidates and one seat by a real estate businessman. In Brida Islamic candidates won only 2 out of 6 municipal seats, and in Anaiza town they won 2 out of 5 seats. Most Islamic candidates were highly qualified technocrats and moderate Islamists. Saudi liberal intellectuals said that candidates close to Islamic circles and inclinations would naturally win in the first municipal elections to take place in 40 years in a conservative Muslim country. Other intellectuals gave weight to the efficient organizational capability of Islamic candidates.

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