Pace of Saudi Arabia’s private sector sell-off accelerates

Saudi Arabia's aim is to increase the private sector contribution to gross domestic product from 40 percent to 65 percent by 2030.
Updated 26 April 2018
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Pace of Saudi Arabia’s private sector sell-off accelerates

  • Aim is to increase the private sector contribution to gross domestic product from 40 percent to 65 percent by 2030
  • The NCP said that the privatization program would save the government around SR35 billion.

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s ports, hospitals, desalination plants, schools, and even its sports clubs, are among the candidates for early transfer to the private sector in a program that the government hopes will generate up to SR40 billion ($10.6 billion) in revenue over the next two years.
The National Center for Privatization (NCP), the body responsible for implementing the big state sell-off program, released details of its privatization plan after the Council of Economic and Development Affairs, chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, approved the proposals to increase private sector involvement in the economy — a vital part of the Vision 2030 strategy to reduce oil dependency.
The aim is to increase the private sector contribution to gross domestic product from 40 percent to 65 percent by 2030.
The NCP said that the privatization program would save the government around SR35 billion, add SR14 billion to gross domestic product, and generate up to 12,000 new private sector jobs in the Kingdom by 2020 — the initial phase of the sell-off.
“The scale is very realistic given that privatization is a complex and time-consuming process from a host of perspectives, including regulatory, governance and legal,” said John Sfakianakis, director of economic research at the Saudi Arabia-based Gulf Research Center.
“The estimated amount is equally pragmatic at this stage. These numbers change both due to valuations and appetite as well as economic conditioning with time.”
Other parts of the national economy are also earmarked for some form of privatization under the Delivery Plan 2020. Transport, the renewable energy industry and flour mills are all scheduled in an NCP report that lays out the structure and conditions of the state sell-off program.
“The most important characteristic is the commitment to push ahead with privatization as well as do it in a phased way over the next few years that involves a number of different sectors. There is an evolutionary phase to any privatization process that involves multiple phases over time,” said Sfakianakis.
The King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center, the Riyadh facility regarded as the jewel in the crown of Saudi medical facilities, is named as a subject for incorporation as a prelude to becoming a non-profit organization “to become financially independent and a role model in the health sector and help in achieving its leadership position through focusing on innovation.”

Other hospitals will be privatized by the handing over of medical facilities to private operators and the creation of new medical cities, as well as primary care facilities, the provision of rehabilitation services, radiology and laboratory
upgrades.
In a statement, Turki Al-Hokail, chief executive of the NCP, identified other sectors that would be the focus of the privatization plan, including agriculture, housing, energy and Hajj and Umrah services.
“The privatization program aims to enhance competitiveness, elevate the quality of service and economic development, and improve the business environment through privatizing government services,” he said.
The privatization program has been an element of the Vision 2030 strategy since it was launched two years ago, but the latest document sets out a firmer timetable for the sell-off. It identifies “game changers” — businesses that will “receive special attention from the leadership to ensure their successful completion.”
The first three “game changers” are Saudi Arabian ports, the Saline Water Conversion Company at Das Al-Khair and what the NCP calls “opportunity explorers” — structures aimed at facilitating partnership opportunities between the public and private sectors.
The NCP makes clear it is keeping its options open in choosing what kind of privatization is appropriate for a sector: “Full or partial asset sale, initial public offering, management buy-out, concessions or outsourcing” are all under consideration.
Some 100-plus privatization initiatives have been identified across 10 ministries, of which some (including sports clubs, grain silos and desalination) are expected to be completed by 2020.
Jason Tuvey, Middle East economist at Capital Economics, said that the estimate of selloffs were lower than what was possible given the “vast number” of companies that the Saudi state wholly owns or has a controlling stake in.
“Excluding the Aramco IPO, we’ve previously estimated that the government could raise around $25-50 billion from privatizations,” he told Arab News.
The document also makes clear that foreign participation will be allowed in some parts of the program.
The NCP program does not include any assets owned by the Public Investment Fund, the body which is intended to become the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund with assets of $2 trillion by 2030 and which will retain the right to sell the assets it owns in partnership with the government.
The NCP program also does not include residential real estate assets which are unlocked for private sector usage by contractors and real estate developers, and which are covered by the national housing program.
Ministers have said that the overall privatization program could raise as much as $200 billion in sell-of proceeds in the years running up to 2030, but there is no certainty as to how that figure will be reached. In Riyadh last week government officials gave a more conservative estimate of between $50 and $60 billion.
The plan also makes it clear that there is still work to do on the legislative and regulatory framework within which privatization will be pursued. The first of the three “strategic pillars” of the Delivery Plan is the creation of such structures “to enable privatization processes and governance by setting clear and specific procedures that increase the level of preparation and execution of privatization.” Key initiatives remain to be fulfilled in this respect, the document says.
Al-Hokail added: “The privatization program is in the interests of Saudi citizens, will bring many benefits, and improve the investment climate. The program’s strong governance foundation will be a strong pull factor for global investors and large corporations because it sets the guidelines that will make the program attractive.”


UAE to loosen visa rules for investors and innovators

Updated 21 May 2018
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UAE to loosen visa rules for investors and innovators

  • UAE cabinet announces the launch of an integrated visa system to attract talent and talent in all vital sectors of the national economy
  • The Council also announced changes in the system of foreign ownership of companies in the country, which allows the acquisition of 100% of the global investors by the end of the year

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates, home to financial hubs Abu Dhabi and Dubai, is loosening its residency laws and will grant long-term visas for up to 10 years to investors and highly-skilled professionals.
The 10-year residency visas will be granted to specialists in science, medicine and research, and to “exceptional students.” The state-run WAM news agency says the plan aims to attract global investment and innovators.
The UAE Cabinet approved the new rules on Sunday, saying plans are also on track to allow foreign investors 100 percent ownership of their UAE-based companies this year.
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum affirmed that the UAE will remain a global incubator for exceptional talents and a permanent destination for international investors. “The UAE has been open, governed by tolerance and contributed to by all who live on its land.
“Our open environment, tolerant values, infrastructure and flexible legislation offer the best opportunities to attract international investment and exceptional talent in the UAE,” he said. “Our country is the land of opportunity, the best environment for realizing human dreams and unleashing their extraordinary potentials.”
The new regulations include raising the percentage of global investors’ ownership in companies to 100% by the end of the current year. He directed the Ministry of Economy in coordination with the concerned parties to implement the decision and follow up on its developments and submit a detailed study in the third quarter of this year.
The new regulations approved by the Council of Ministers and the authorities concerned have also set the procedures for implementing them to grant investors residence visas of up to ten years for them and all members of their families, as well as granting residency visas of up to ten years for specialized competencies in the medical, scientific, research and technical fields.
The new regulations also include visas for students studying in the country for five years and a 10-year residency for exceptional students.
Under current laws, foreign companies must have an Emirati owning 51 percent of the shares, unless the company operates in a free zone. Major brands Apple and Tesla are believed to be exceptions to the rule.