Reshuffle shows new priorities

Updated 09 May 2016
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Reshuffle shows new priorities

RIYADH: With a major government reshuffle, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, his crown prince and deputy crown prince have shown their determination to move the Kingdom's economy away from oil, experts say.

A series of royal decrees announced Saturday merged various ministries to reflect new priorities under the wide-ranging Vision 2030 plan announced two weeks ago by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
"It only shows they're serious," a veteran banker in the Kingdom said of the government shuffle. "It's all going in the right direction. They are trying to change."
The world's largest oil exporter had long talked of economic diversification but plunging oil revenues over the past two years have accentuated the effort, pushed by the 30-year-old Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who heads the main Council for Economic Affairs and Development.
At the root of Vision 2030 is the sale of less than 5 percent of state oil giant Saudi Aramco in what officials say will be the world's largest-ever Initial Public Offering.
Proceeds from the sale will help create the biggest government investment fund in the world, with a value of $2 trillion, whose profits can provide an alternative to oil revenues.
"Aramco's role is key," an oil industry source said, noting that the government chose the oil company's chairman, Khalid Al-Falih, to head a new super Ministry of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources.
"I think he got this position because of his performance," the source said.
Since 2009, Al-Falih was Aramco's president and chief executive officer. Last May he joined the Cabinet as health minister while at the same time holding the Aramco chairmanship.
Al-Falih replaced Ali Al-Naimi who headed the now-defunct Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources for about two decades.
A European diplomat said the new broader ministry reflects the government's desire to develop other sources of energy besides petroleum.
The Kingdom has potential for solar and wind power. It also wants to boost industry — from petrochemicals to defense — while mining is expected to take on a greater role in the economy.
Al-Falih last month became chairman of Maaden, the Saudi Arabian Mining Company, which is partially listed on the Kingdom's stock market.
"I think that people are expecting a lot from him," the diplomat said. Among other changes, the Ministry of Water and Electricity was replaced with a Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture. With essentially no local water resources, the Kingdom has been trying to obtain access to farmland overseas.
"Definitely there will be more agricultural development abroad," the diplomat said, in keeping with Vision 2030's call for "strategic partnerships with countries blessed with natural resources."
In another merger, the Ministries of Labour and Social Affairs have been combined.
The Kingdom, which employs millions of foreign workers, is trying to improve the skills of its own citizens and create more jobs for them. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry was also renamed the Ministry of Commerce and Investment, as the Kingdom seeks to woo foreign funds while becoming a global force for investment itself. The government also appointed Ahmed Al-Khulaifi as central bank governor.
"I think it's very promising the way this vision has been structured," said Salah Saleh Sultan, head of wealth management at Muscat Capital in Riyadh.
But he said that more details are needed on how it will be implemented.
The restructuring program seeks a streamlining of government, and greater accountability, but the veteran banker who spoke to Agence France Presse said that overcoming bureaucratic intransigence will be the plan's biggest obstacle.
"It's hard to turn a ship around," the banker said, expressing optimism that the efforts will nonetheless succeed. The European diplomat cited other challenges including a lack of educational institutions to train Saudis who can replace skilled foreigners by 2030, and an over-reliance by Saudis on government largesse.
Prince Mohammed has put forward "a very modern vision" for the country, the diplomat said. "He's very determined to make a change and he doesn't accept people not working," he said.

— AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE


Hollywood star Cuba Gooding Jr. shares career at Saudi Film Festival

Updated 26 March 2019
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Hollywood star Cuba Gooding Jr. shares career at Saudi Film Festival

  • He said he hopes to support Saudi filmmakers through his recently launched production company
  • The festival, at Ithra, is part of the Sharqiah Season in the Eastern Province

DHAHRAN: Oscar-winning actor Cuba Gooding Jr. talked about his experiences in Hollywood, and the challenges he has faced during his career, when he appeared on Monday night at the fifth Saudi Film Festival, which is part of the Sharqiah Season in the Eastern Province.
Known for his roles in movies such as “Men of Honor”, “A Few Good Men” and “American Crime Story,” among others, he has appeared in more than 85 films during a 30-year career on screen and stage. He won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance in the 1996 film “Jerry Maguire,” alongside Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger.
Gooding Jr. arrived for the event, at the King Abdul Aziz World Center for Culture (Ithra), accompanied by Claudine De Niro, the estranged wife of actor Robert De Niro’s son, Raphael. They were greeted by renowned Saudi film producer and Hollywood businessman Mohammed Al-Turki.
Gooding Jr. spoke to the audience at Ithra for almost 60 minutes about his long career and the challenges and pitfalls he had experienced on the road to success in the film industry. He also offered some advice to anyone interested in following in his footsteps.
“No one prepares you for success,” he said. “That’s why you see a lot of actors that star in movies, then disappear. Or you see athletes that make a $100 million and then they disappear, too. They weren’t ready for it.
“You have to envision yourself standing on that stage, holding an Oscar over your head, saying, ‘This is for the Middle-East’. You have to envision the script that you will write and envision being on that stage, holding that Oscar.
“People asked me after I won that Academy Award if I ever thought I would be on that stage. I always said, ‘Not in a million years.’ But that’s a lie. You have to envision yourself on that stage, winning that award, so that when you succeed it will feel normal, not like it’s something special, so that you can do it again.”
The actor also said that he intends to support filmmakers from Saudi Arabia and other countries through his recently launched production company.
Asked if he had any projects planned in the region, and Saudi Arabia in particular, he said: “I do, actually. I have a couple of things. I don’t want to give it away but let’s just say that there is a lot of great literature that I’ve read, a lot of different books, including Arabian Nights. It’s hard to talk about the things in development because you don’t want to give it away but there is definitely something in development.”