JEDDAH: ARAB NEWS
Published — Tuesday 27 November 2012
Last update 27 November 2012 3:23 am
Investing in solar energy, boosting the education process and diversifying national revenues are the three main concerns of Usamah M. Kurdi, member of Shoura Council and chairman of Saudi Arabia Philatelic Society.
The Kingdom should find a new source of energy alternative to oil, Kurdi told Diana Al-Jassem of Arab News in an exclusive interview. He emphasized that the Kingdom’s reliance on oil could be reduced by further developing national human resources and increasing dependence on SMEs. He stressed the need to strengthen SMEs adding that speedy solutions are needed for housing problems to improve the Saudi lifestyle and tackle employment.
What, in your opinion, are changes that would have a major impact on the lives of Saudi nationals?
The most important issue affecting the people of Saudi Arabia is related to the economy. This is the element that affects people worldwide. Economic changes or structural changes will impact the life of Saudi nationals. There is a need to reduce the dependence on oil exports as the major source of revenue. We need to increase government support to manufacturing. We saw new sectors such as tourism taking roots in the Kingdom’s economy. We have seen a lot of investments in tourism. Mining, aluminum, cement, precious stones and steel are also some of the other good economic sources. Creating economic and industrial cities is a major economic development. The Knowledge City in Madinah and economic cities in Hail are also tools to create competitive economic advantages in favor of Saudi Arabia.
Curriculum development and changes in the education system will have a positive impact on Saudi nationals. Expansion of universities and diversification of education to include relatively new areas and training will help diversify the list of professions for young and aspiring Saudis. From the political perspective, I think introducing elections at the municipal level is the cornerstone for the Kingdom’s ongoing development. It will positively impact the livelihood of Saudi nationals. When we put together economic and education diversification plus the municipal elections in Saudi Arabia, the result will be obvious on society.
Role of leadership
What do you think of the leadership roles regarding organizations in the Kingdom? What are the factors/reasons for their current state?
Many different organizations, both in the government and private sectors, are created to support the economy and its growth. For example, we saw the creation of the Supreme Economic Council, which is a very important tool to speed up the economic decision process, and follow up the implementation of major economic policies like Saudization and privatization. There are other organizations that have been created to improve the decision-making process and support the private sector. These include Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) and Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA). Furthermore, I believe that the partnership between government and the private sector is playing a major role in developing the Saudi economy. The expansion of industrial projects and establishment of telecommunication companies have confirmed the government’s plan to achieve sustainable development in Saudi Arabia.
What are the most difficult decisions that need to be applied in the Kingdom within the next 20 years?
That is a difficult question, but I think an issue that needs to be addressed very carefully and closely is one of housing. There is a housing shortage, which is why the Ministry of Housing was created in Saudi Arabia. As the number of houses is still limited, I wonder how we can handle this issue within the next 20 years and how it will impact Saudi Arabia. We have quite a few indications to show that housing requirements have to be met for both Saudis and expatriates.
What goals would you set for the Kingdom’s development and how do you think these goals can be achieved?
The goals of Saudi Arabia are very clear in the five-year development plan. Each different development plan has certain requirements for execution. This time I believe that my role as a member of the Shoura council is to follow up the implementation of the five-year development plan. I cannot say anything about the goals because they are enormous. My role is to assist the execution of five-year development plans and ensure that these goals are achieved.
Give us an example of the most creative project that you wish to establish in the Kingdom.
I think part of the Kingdom’s progress is linked to reducing its dependence on oil as the main source of energy. Sustainable energy is important to be on Saudi Arabia’s agenda. This will protect the environment. There is a huge program for using nuclear energy. I would like to support this plan and be part of it.
KSA in three words
What three words would you use to describe the Kingdom within the coming 20 years?
Progress: Progress in many different areas.
Economy: Continuous economic development.
People: Major human resource development.
How can we all improve human rights in Saudi Arabia? What are your expectations regarding human rights practices in the coming 20 years?
Because human rights are a basic Islamic requirement, the government has created important organizations for human rights. One is a government organization while the other is a civil society for human rights. These two departments work hard for developing human rights from the perspective of government and civil society. I am satisfied with what all they do and I hope they continue with their work and improve further. My suggestions for these two organizations are to include in their agenda the dissemination of the human rights awareness in Saudi Arabia and to inform the world more about how the Kingdom is focusing on human rights.
What are the challenges facing the Kingdom today?
Housing, diversification of the economy, developing and streamlining education are our three main challenges that we have already started addressing. By giving more attention to these three issues, we could resolve the issue of employment.
Prominent economic activities
What are the most prominent economic activities in the Kingdom?
I think we need to see more preparedness for adopting the latest and upcoming information technology. We are developing in this sector, but we need to do more in terms of legal and practical aspects. In addition, we need to pay attention to alternative energy and support the private sector participation in that. This will help us to boost our electricity needs.
There is a huge demand for housing in the Kingdom because of the ever-increasing young population. The government has also put an emphasis on this sector as it allocated SR 250 billion in this year’s budget for housing. Do you believe housing sector needs much more attention from the government and private sectors?
The housing community in Saudi Arabia is enormous. The government recently issued the bylaws of mortgage law, which is a very important step. The investment interest in housing will dramatically increase once the bylaws come into effect and the basic operating principals are determined. The ability of this sector to provide housing will increase. I am making this statement based on what has happened in the insurance law. There were not as many companies interested in insurance in Saudi Arabia until the insurance law came into existence. I believe the housing needs in Saudi Arabia can be met through cost reduction. Affordability will benefit both Saudi nationals and expatriates.
Role of SMEs
There is a need to boost small business enterprises (SMEs) sector in the Kingdom as it creates various jobs. What role do you see for SMEs in Kingdom’s ongoing economic development?
The participation of the SMEs in Saudi Arabia is smaller than what it is in other countries. This has happened because of our major dependence on oil as a contributor to the GDP. If we are serious about SMEs, we should keep in mind the importance of SMEs as a major player in the economy in terms of creating many job opportunities. SMEs’ participation in the GDP in some countries is as much as 80 percent. I wish to see the same participation here in Saudi Arabia. I also would like to see more organizations to promote the activities of SMEs in Saudi Arabia. Some organizations are paying attention to SMEs like Shoura Council. There are also activities of chambers of commerce and industry to support SMEs. Furthermore, we need to support SMEs financially. More coordination among organizations and the Ministry of Commerce and Industry is needed for promoting SMEs.
Education is always a top priority for the Saudi government. What are the changes do you envisage in the education system so that Saudi youth gain more from a knowledge-based economic system?
For a long time, I believed that education is required only for boosting our knowledge. Recently, I changed my mind. I want to see education addressing the labor market needs. This is of utmost importance and I want to see the government doing more for achieving that.
How do you see Saudi women’s contribution in the labor sector and social and political areas in the next 20 years? What is required in order for Saudi women to actualize your future vision?
I am very happy that the government of Saudi Arabia issued the resolution decision No. 120. This decision is about five years’ old. It talks about employment of women, women’s business, creation of women’s departments in all government agencies, and creation of a national committee of women at the various Saudi chambers of commerce and industry. I have seen progress in these matters; more jobs are being created for women, law is being changed enabling women to obtain license for doing business or working in different sectors. In addition, we see a large number of higher education institutes for women, at universities and colleges, both in the government and private sectors.
What is required in order for Saudi women to actualize your future vision?
Saudi women should get their education, pursue jobs, be an integral part of the business community, and participate in the activities of different women’s organizations.
What measures and standards are yet to be introduced to Saudi media, and what are your expectations in the next 20 years? What impact will social media have on traditional media?
There is no doubt that all media is moving toward the modern media format. I think traditional media are trying to be a vital part of modern media.
Learning from the past
What are three or four mistakes that have been repeated in the Kingdom during the past 10 decades and how could we eliminate them in order to develop the Kingdom?
This is a very challenging question that needs a lot of thinking. We have noticed in discussions how corruption needs to be addressed, tackled and rooted out. I would like to suggest expansion of the anti-corruption department in Saudi Arabia.
Message to youth
Given that the youth make up the majority of the Saudi population, what message would you want conveyed to them? What else would you say to the rest of the population?
For youth, education is very important, especially as competition for jobs is getting tougher by the day in Saudi Arabia and overseas. My advice to young Saudi nationals is never put a full stop to education, as that’s the key for self-development and the country’s progress. Education is the backbone of the nation’s onward march. Saudi Arabia has created an extremely conducive environment for creating jobs and doing business. It is important for citizens and residents to make use of this environment and contribute to the development and progress of Saudi Arabia.
KURDI'S TOP GOALS:
Major changes required:
- Developing alternative source of energy
- Diversification of the education system
- Solving housing problems
Solving the housing problem for both Saudi nationals and expatriates
Creative project he dreams to see:
- Investment in nuclear energy
He describes the Kingdom in three words:
He believes biggest challenges are:
- Diversification of the economy
- Development of education
He says neglected sectors are:
- Information industry and technology
Requirement for housing development:
- Speeding up mortgage bylaws
The role of SMEs in the economy:
- The SME sector should be expanded more for the benefit of the economy
Major changes in education:
- Higher education to address Saudi market’s needs
Saudi women’s role:
- They should be more active in compliance with changing Saudi laws
Mistakes could be avoided by:
- Expanding the role and effectiveness of anticorruption authority
Message to Saudi nationals:
- Education is the only key to achieve development