Vision 2030: Dawn of a new era

Updated 28 April 2016

Vision 2030: Dawn of a new era

Change that is rooted in the past always has greater chance of success. Evolution has stood at the center of development in Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom has embraced the new but has also taken care of the old. Lasting societal change is not a matter of fashion.
At first sight, the Saudi Vision 2030 plan, unveiled this week by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, seems to break with the Kingdom’s evolutionary approach. The implications of a radical realignment of the economy are profound. The move away from a rentier model in which oil exports dominate national income is a major change. The Kingdom will operate the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund. This will generate income that could rival that of oil. It will be complemented by a strengthened manufacturing base. The reorientation of the economy will mean that the price of oil will no longer be a key consideration.
The deputy crown prince explained his plans in detailed briefings with journalists. The frankness and depth of these two meetings in Riyadh were unprecedented. This clearly added to the perception that Saudi Vision 2030 was a revolutionary plan. The deputy crown prince’s youth and relaxed style seemed to underwrite this view.
The biggest headline change is the part-privatization of Aramco. The money raised will form the basis of the $2 trillion sovereign wealth fund. Other than this, the deputy crown prince’s plan in fact takes forward initiatives that have long been recognized. He has given concrete form to long-held ambitions.
Saudi Vision 2030 continues the Kingdom’s traditional evolutionary approach. It has long been government policy to boost the non-oil sector. Even when oil prices were high, it was seen that virtually-total financial dependence on oil was not the way forward.
Efforts to drive the non-oil sector have been considerable. Huge sums have been invested. But the results have been patchy and generally disappointing. It has become clear that the program needs re-configuring. This the Saudi Vision 2030 plan will address.
Likewise bureaucracy. The Kingdom scores extremely highly in terms of the speed and procedural efficiency for foreign investors. But foreign direct investment is a special case. Bureaucracies everywhere are regularly a brake on society. Unfortunately the Kingdom is no exception. The promise of e-government is still largely unfulfilled. Doing away with the unnecessary bureaucratic red tape is one of the targets in the new plan.
In explaining Saudi Vision 2030, the deputy crown prince also spoke about the underused potential of the female half of Saudi society. The inevitable issue of women drivers came up. It is clear that he wants a rethink of the role of women. But he has not pulled this issue out of the air. His analysis is built upon a great deal of debate and heart-searching over the last decade.
Saudi Vision 2030 also tackled unemployment head on. By some measures 30 percent of Saudis are without work. Yet young people have been given a good education. The particularly gifted have studied at universities, at home and abroad. By far the largest employer is the Saudi state. The deputy crown prince wants to mobilize young people. The so-called “millennials” have grown up in a high-technology world. They are well-equipped to play key roles in the modern, advanced society that Saudi Arabia has become.
The Kingdom has reached its current fortunate state of development through a conservatism that has exasperated some. Yet by building incrementally, in line with the pillars of the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah, the long journey has been a safe one. Yet every journey has a turn in the road. This offers a fresh view.
This is what Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed’s Saudi Vision 2030 is set to achieve. It looks back to the road that has been traveled. It remembers to way-marks that have been passed. It benefits from lessons learned. Its next steps are informed by all that has gone before.
The deftness of all these proposals is that they have the excitement of an apparent revolution, but with the sturdiness of a clear evolution.
The Kingdom has always been changing. But these changes have been the more notable in recent months. The military actions against terrorists in Yemen, Syria and Iraq are a high-profile projection of Saudi military power. But they came about as a result of consistent policies that have always sought regional peace and security. Foreign observers would do well to remember this. Likewise Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed’s Saudi Vision 2030 is a careful advance on all that has gone before.

EDITORIAL: Jeddah floods a reminder of why we need the anti-corruption drive

Saudi drivers take a flooded street in Jeddah on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 22 November 2017

EDITORIAL: Jeddah floods a reminder of why we need the anti-corruption drive

It has happened again. The roads, streets and many underpasses in Jeddah were flooded with rainwater on Tuesday. Many areas were turned into lakes because of the heavy, though forecast, downpour. In some areas, water was knee-deep while in others it was chest-deep. People were stuck in their vehicles and many were seen pushing their vehicles to the side of the roads with great difficulty. In low-lying areas, citizens struggled to remove their belongings from flooded houses.

For the residents of Jeddah, rain has, more often than not, brought trouble and devastation. Whenever the skies open up, thoughts go back to that “Black Wednesday” of November 25, 2009, when more than 100 people lost their lives and property worth billions of riyals was destroyed. An investigation was opened into the disaster and some of the guilty were taken to court and tried; some of the small fry were even jailed. As has been the case in the past, the mighty arm of the law could barely touch those at the top who enjoyed immunity from prosecution.

And so it was business as usual until the rain began to wreak havoc again, reminding us that the laws of nature take their course and that hiding your head in the sand does not chase the clouds away.

Having said that, it must be admitted that, yes, lessons were learned. A disaster management team was set up. The weather forecast department became active in issuing alerts. In fact, Tuesday could have been far worse had it not been for the timely alert from the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment (PME) and a prompt decision by the Ministry of Education to suspend classes, schools and universities in and around Jeddah. That helped in keeping people and vehicles off the streets. At noon on Tuesday, it looked as if the city were under some kind of curfew.

The questions that are on everyone's minds right now are: Why is it that rain renders the city helpless and immobile at this time every year? Why have efforts to create effective rainwater drainage systems not borne fruit despite pumping billions of riyals into new projects such as dams and canals? Why is it that the authorities are found wanting whenever heavy rain occurs? More importantly, what is the solution?

Here is the answer. These floods are a stark reminder of why the current drive against corruption is so essential. It is required in order to instill the fear of law into high-ranking officials and heads of construction companies and civic bodies who have failed in their responsibilities. Those who have cut corners and have pocketed public money, those who have not delivered on the projects and who have provided substandard services must pay for their sins of omission.

This is exactly what is happening. No one is above the law. The guilty, whoever they are, however high up they are, will have to pay — and they are. In this new era of transparency and accountability — initiated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — word has gone down from top to bottom that no one is immune. If you are guilty you will be punished. Those responsible for the havoc of the floods on Tuesday will have no rest either.