Membership for expats urged in cooperatives

JEDDAH: An expert has called on allowing expatriates in the Kingdom to become members of local cooperative societies. Khalil Abu Hazza’a, representative of Social Affairs at the Gulf Cooperation Council’s Council of Ministers of Labor and Social Affairs, said having cooperative societies in the Gulf region is something recent, and that membership is usually restricted to nationals.

“It would be better to invest in expatriates living in GCC countries, in view of their large numbers,” he said, adding that there is a need to have women in leading positions in such societies instead of forcing them into women-only cooperative societies. The four-day forum was inaugurated on Saturday by Minister of Social Affairs Yousuf Al-Othaimeen.Al-Othaimeen criticized the low number of cooperative societies in the Kingdom, which currently stands at 165. He added that the Kingdom needs 165,000 cooperative societies. Speakers talked about the need to ease restrictions and establish cooperative societies, which would help development. Khaled Al-Mohaidab, a legal consultant and former board member of the Water Conservation Employees Cooperative Society in the Eastern Province, said local cooperative societies have not been successful, even though some have been operating for 50 years. “For the Ministry of Social Affairs, cooperative societies are financially exhausting and are considered a waste of time,” he said, adding that the failure is because these societies operate in rural areas and hardly noticed.

Al-Mohaidab added that the societies are only joined by 0.25 percent of the Saudi population while in other countries the figure ranges from 40 to 60 percent. Mohammad Othman, an Egyptian and head of the Arab Center for Administrative and Cooperative Development, called for the creation of unified laws targeting cooperative societies. He also stressed that the relationship between these societies and the government should be based on “support and care, and not control.”

Othman also differentiated between cooperative societies and charity organizations, both of which have been misleadingly identified. For him, charities are nonprofit bodies, while cooperative societies are meant to generate revenue. The Kingdom has 165 cooperative societies with 50,000 members and a capital of SR157 million – Arabnews