5 firms to run 15 hospitals, 100 health centers by end of 2018

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Saudi Gazette report

JEDDAH – As part of its privatization program, the Health Ministry will establish a holding company and five regional companies to operate 15 hospitals and 100 primary healthcare centers by the end of 2018.

“Under the National Transformation Program, the operation of all public hospitals will handed over to companies while the Health Ministry will retain its supervisory role,” said an informed source at the ministry while speaking to Al-Madina Arabic daily.

The ministry had previously announced its plan to provide healthcare services through specialized companies. These state-owned firms will compete with one another in providing better services to citizens and residents.

The move aims at improving the quality of healthcare and productivity of workers. The ministry intends to privatize 290 hospitals and 2,300 primary health centers by 2030.

The holding company will set up subsidiaries in different regions of the Kingdom, which will in turn operate and manage hospitals currently run by the ministry.

“Every company will manage a cluster of hospitals and health centers with the same efficiency and standards like the private sector,” the source said.

Many health service providers will also be turned into companies.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry has started implementing the first phase of an electronic health program in 107 hospitals. It will be applied on all 290 hospitals in phases.

“The program includes linking of all public hospitals, primary healthcare centers and private health institutions as well as pharmacies with an electronic system,” the source said.

The ministry also plans to create electronic health files for all patients.

The government spends huge amounts of money on healthcare. The value of health services provided by the ministry exceeds SR12 trillion. Direct spending on health services takes up 7 percent of the Kingdom’s budget.

Health services in Saudi Arabia have improved tremendously over the past 10 years. The infrastructure, the number of hospitals and health centers and medical facilities have all improved, matching international standards.

The national budget allocates an average of SR80 billion annually toward healthcare. The Vision 2030 document says, “We are determined to optimize and better utilize the capacity of our hospitals and health centers, and enhance the quality of our preventive and therapeutic health care services.”

Source  :  Saudi Gazette

One accident every minute, 20 deaths daily on Saudi roads

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* No data available on causes of road accidents

* Stiffer penalties for violations of road rules

* Women drivers to be held at protection homes

By Khaled Al-Balahdi

Okaz/Saudi Gazette

DAMMAM — Traffic accidents cause an average of 20 deaths in the Kingdom daily, according to Majed Al-Arquobi, undersecretary for roads at the Ministry of Transport.

Speaking at a meeting on traffic safety in Dammam on Tuesday, Arqoubi said the Transport Ministry was making strenuous efforts to bring down the rate of fatal road accidents. The goal is to bring down the rate of deaths from road accidents to one for every 100,000 people, he added.

“This will save the lives of more than 2,400 people by the year 2020,” he said.

Arquobi said the rate of traffic accidents in the Kingdom reached 26.8 for every 100,000 people, which is a very high rate by all standards.

He said it was a difficult task to obtain a correct picture on the number of traffic accidents in the Kingdom due to a lack of a centralized center to collect data.

“There are no data on the causes of road accidents,” he added.

Mayor of the Eastern Province Fahd Bin Mohammed Al-Jubeir has said a traffic accident on the Kingdom’s roads every minute, causing annual losses of more than SR20 billion.

The meeting was also told that the Ministry of Interior would make arrangements with the Ministry of Labor and Social Development to use social protection homes to hold women detained for driving violations.

Director General of Traffic Brig. Mohammed Al-Bassami told the meeting that the traffic rules will be applied equally without distinction on both men and women drivers.

He said the department was working to make penalties violators of traffic rules harsher. He said the new rules would become effective when they were approved by the legislative authorities.

Bassami said the mobile phone usage was responsible for a majority of traffic accidents on the Kingdom’s roads and warned that the motorists who use the mobile phone for talking or texting would be severely punished.

He said foreign driving licenses would be recognized only in cases where a bilateral agreement existed between the Kingdom and the country that issued the license.

Many Saudi women hold driving licenses issued by foreign countries and they drive own vehicles when traveling or staying abroad. After the Saudi government lifted the driving ban on women in the country, many other women have obtained driving licenses in countries like Jordan and hope to use them once the decision will come into force next June.

Source  :  Saudi Gazette

Zero tolerance for corruption: Saudi King

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Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman delivered on Wednesday his annual speech outlining his government’s priorities for the coming year.

Priorities include focusing on the economy, emphasizing the government’s anti-corruption crackdown, fight against terrorism, push for the private sector, and continuing the reforms process among others.

“We have decided, with God’s help, to confront corruption with justice and decisiveness so that our country can enjoy the renaissance and development that every citizen aspires for,” the King said, inaugurating the second year of the 7th session of the Shoura Council.

“Thus was our order to form a higher committee for public corruption issues headed by the Crown Prince. We praise Allah that those corrupted are few,” King Salman said.

“And what they have done does not prejudice the integrity of honorable citizens of this country of princes, ministers, businessmen, employees, and workers at all levels, and in their various positions of responsibility in public and private sectors, as well as residents, workers and investors, whom we are proud of and wish them all success.”

He also said Saudi Arabia will work to enable the private sector to become a partner in development.

“We will empower and encourage the private sector to increase its contribution to development,” he added.

“We appreciate the role of the private sector as an important partner in development, its support for the national economy, offering employment opportunities to male and female youths, and localizing the industry.”

In a speech focused on economic issues, King Salman said the Kingdom was pushing ahead with its Vision 2030 economic reforms plan to find new sources of revenue.

“For achieving the Vision’s objectives, some government agencies have been restructured and a number of decisions have been taken to serve the interests of society, strengthen the state’s security, combat corruption, and increase the participation of male and female citizens in the national development.”

King Salman emphasized in his speech that Saudi Arabia will not contradict the principles of its faith as it “moves forward on the path of development and modernization.”

“There is no place among us for an extremist who sees moderation as deviation, or who would exploit our benevolent faith to achieve his goals,” he added.

King Salman said that Saudi Arabia plays an influential role in regional and international organizations.

The King asserted that the Kingdom will continue to play a leading role in countering terrorism and its means of financing.

On the US decision to declare Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the King said, “We renew our deep regret over the US decision on Jerusalem.”

“Palestinians have the right to east Jerusalem as their capital, he said.

“The Kingdom has called for a political solution to resolve regional crises, foremost of which is the Palestinian issue and the restoration of the Palestinian people’s legitimate rights, including the right to establish their independent state with east Jerusalem as its capital,” the King said.

King Salman also said Saudi Arabia was working with its allies to confront any “tendency for external interference in internal affairs and fanning the flames of sectarian sedition, and undermining regional security and stability.”

Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh, Shoura Council President Sheikh Abdullah Al-Asheikh, Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Saud Bin Naif, minister of interior, several princes, ministers, and members of the Shoura Council attended the function.

Source  :  Saudi Gazette

Maglev train bidding obstruction probe spreads to Shimizu, Taisei

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Prosecutors have questioned executives of major construction companies Shimizu Corp and Taisei Corp on a voluntary basis about alleged obstruction by Obayashi Corp in bidding on contracts for a massive maglev train project, sources close to the matter said Wednesday.

Those three major construction companies and Kajima Corp won contracts for 15 out of 22 construction projects involved in building an ultra high-speed train line making it possible to travel from Tokyo to Osaka in about an hour.

The special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office has already quizzed Obayashi and Kajima executives over the alleged fraud in the bidding process that resulted in an Obayashi-led consortium winning a 9 billion yen contract in April 2016 to build an emergency exit.

The prosecutors will investigate whether there was also fraud in other tenders for the 9 trillion yen next-generation high-speed train project, the sources said.

When finished, Central Japan Railway Co will operate the world’s first project using superconducting magnetic levitation technology. The train will travel at a top speed of 500 kilometers per hour, much faster than current shinkansen bullet trains.

In 2015, JR Central issued a tender to build in Nagoya an emergency exit to be used in case of accident or fire. Obayashi and its joint venture partners Toda Corp and JR Tokai Construction Co won the contract following a two-phase screening.

Obayashi secured three more contracts while Kajima won three, and Shimizu and Taisei both won four contracts to build separate sections of the maglev train project.

The prosecutors searched the headquarters of Obayashi last week on suspicion of fraudulent obstruction of business. A 66-year-old vice president, who presides over Obayashi’s civil engineering unit, as well as other executives of the four major construction companies have been questioned voluntarily.

A JR Central official allegedly leaked bidding information such as estimated construction costs and details of other companies set to join the bid. Obayashi is suspected of getting other construction companies to submit higher bids, leading them to be ruled out, according to separate sources.

An Obayashi official denied the allegations during questioning, saying that Obayashi had not received confidential information from JR Central, according to a person familiar with the matter.

At a press conference Wednesday, JR Central President Koei Tsuge said, “We would like to make efforts to grasp (the situation) and observe the progress of the investigation.” But he declined to comment on suspected bidding information leak by a company official.

Tsuge said JR Central will advance the maglev train project as planned and does not expect any impact on the overall work.

© KYODO

Source  :  Japan Today

Japan’s Constitutional Democrats: A little party with big ambition

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By Linda Sieg and Ami Miyazaki

 

The leader of the small Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, which out-performed expectations in an October vote, now hopes that by offering clear policy alternatives he can oust Prime Minister Shinto Abe’s coalition in the next election.

One key to achieving that ambitious goal, said party founder Yukio Edano, is an economic platform that puts more weight on redistributing wealth, including by raising corporate taxes to push firms to use their cash reserves to raise wages.

“Unless we have reasonable redistribution to achieve growth, domestic demand will not expand,” Edano, 53, told Reuters in an interview.

“That is a clear difference from the LDP,” he said, referring to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

The CDPJ was formed less than three weeks before the Oct 22 election, after the then-main opposition Democratic Party’s leader decided not to field candidates and encouraged them to run on Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike’s novice conservative party’s slate.

It grabbed the top opposition spot in the lower house poll, although its 54 seats are dwarfed by the 283 won by Abe’s conservative LDP.

“Since we are the biggest opposition party, we must aim at a change in government in the next election, or else democracy is not functioning,” said Edano, who said he was surprised by his party’s success. “That is our responsibility.”

The next general election must be held by October 2021.

The CDPJ opposes Abe’s proposal to revise Article 9 of Japan’s post-war constitution, which bans a standing military but has been interpreted to allow armed forces exclusively for self-defense, and unlike the more authoritarian LDP, stresses civil rights rather than obligations to the state.

The party appears to have a long way to go, given support at 7.9% against 38.1% for the LDP in a survey by NHK public broadcaster this week.

Edano’s fighting words, however, mark a contrast from the failed Democratic Party’s stance in recent polls, when it aimed only to keep Abe’s coalition from winning a two-thirds “super majority” rather than ousting it.

Edano said he would not repeat the mistakes of the Democrats, which from the start was an amalgam of conservatives, liberals and ex-socialists and ended up being plagued by infighting during its 2009-2012 term in office.

“Our positions were clear,” he said, explaining why he thought the CDPJ outperformed opposition rivals. “We must not make our ideas and policies vague just to broaden (the party).”

Edano said Abe’s biggest defect was his apparent belief that a majority entitled him to do whatever he wanted. Abe, whose support was at 49% in the NHK poll, saw his ratings sink this year partly due to perceptions he had grown arrogant.

“Democracy doesn’t mean you get a blank check,” Edano said.

© Thomson Reuters 2017.

Source  :  Japan Today

Hiroshima high court blocks restart of nuclear reactor near volcano in Ehime

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By Mari Yamaguchi

 

A court ruled Wednesday that a nuclear reactor in southwestern Japan should not operate because it is too close to an active volcano and could be affected by a major eruption.

The injunction ordered by the Hiroshima high court is likely to force the Unit 3 reactor at the Ikata nuclear plant in Ehime Prefecture to stay offline after its regular inspection ends in February.

The court said the nuclear regulators’ risk estimate for Mount Aso, 130 kilometers southwest of the plant, was inadequate, citing a past eruption tens of thousands of years ago that caused pyroclastic flows that exceeded that distance.

Judge Tomoyuki Tanoue ruled that the plant’s operator, Shikoku Electric Power Co, had underestimated the potential impact of a cauldron explosion at the volcano, and said the possibility of a pyroclastic flow and ash reaching the reactor is “not small enough.”

The judge said the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s safety approval of the reactor was “irrational” and that the lives of the plaintiffs could be endangered by radiation in the event of a major accident.

The decision reverses a lower court ruling and upholds the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction through September to protect the safety of residents while their lawsuit demanding a permanent shutdown is pending.

A higher court decision carries a greater legal weight, and the ruling could result in nuclear operators having a greater burden in proving the safety of their reactors.

Hiroyuki Kawai, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, welcomed the decision as a victory.

An extended closure of Unit 3 would be a major business loss for Shikoku Electric, and the utility said it will appeal the decision. The utility had earlier decided to decommission the 40-year-old Unit 1 reactor, while the Unit 2 reactor has been shut down since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami.

All operating reactors in Japan were temporarily stopped for safety checks after the Fukushima accident. Five reactors, including Ikata No. 3, have since resumed operation under a tougher post-Fukushima safety standard, with seven others in the final stages of restarting.

Dozens of lawsuits and injunction requests have been filed across Japan over safety concerns since the Fukushima disaster, slowing down a government push for more reactors to be operated. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s pro-business government wants nuclear power to remain a key component of the energy mix for resource-poor Japan.

© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Source  :  Japan Today