Saudi Arabia, GEMS launch $800m schools drive

Saudi Arabia and GEMS have announced an $800 million schools initiative across the Kingdom. (Supplied)
Updated 24 October 2018
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Saudi Arabia, GEMS launch $800m schools drive

  • 10-year initiative could educate 130,000 students
  • Plan envisages jobs for 16,000 people in Kingdom

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has launched an $800 million, 10-year initiative for a network of modern schools across the country in partnership with GEMS Education, the Dubai-based schools group.
The ambitious plan could eventually provide education for up to 130,000 students across the Kingdom and create jobs for 16,000 people, around 40 percent of them for Saudi citizens.
The partnership was formalized at a signing ceremony on the sidelines of the Future Investment Initiative forum in Riyadh, involving executives from GEMS, and from the investment arm of the Saudi General Organization for Social Insurance (GOSI).
An official statement said: “The partners intend to develop the network by acquiring and upgrading existing schools, alongside implementing a sizable construction program of new schools.”
GEMS chief executive Majed Al-Mutairi said: “GEMS Education, which is among the world’s oldest and largest private education providers, is a strong supporter of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030. The Vision’s focus on opening up public service sectors such as education highlights a commitment to developing human capital and allowing the private sector to enable long-term positive change for Saudi citizens.”
Saad Al-Fadhli, chief executive of Hassana, GOSI’s asset-management arm, set out the rationale for the program: “This partnership is driven by our view that the education market in Saudi Arabia is one of the most attractive growth markets over the long-term.
“Benefiting from Hassana’s role as a long-term, financial and strategic institutional investor and GEMS’ international expertise, both partners expect to create a strong, innovative and successful education platform in Saudi Arabia,” he added.
The GEMS Hassana education program will play a key role in delivering the goals of the Saudi National Character Enrichment Program, with a strong emphasis on national identity, global citizenship, individual development and personal enrichment, the statement added.
The partnership is backed by the new initiative Invest Saudi, launched as part of the National Transformation Plan, to identify, develop and market the significant opportunities that Saudi Arabia has to offer for international, regional and local investors, across all sectors.
This announcement comes against the backdrop of advancing economic reforms in the Kingdom. This year Saudi Arabia achieved its best progress in the WEF Global Competitiveness index since 2012, moving to 39 of 140 economies. In addition, the World Bank ranked Saudi Arabia second amongst the G-20 countries in implementing economic reform.
“Opening the education sector for this scale of investment will ensure this progress continues at pace,” the statement added.


No need for more talks over draft budget: Lebanon finance minister

Updated 21 May 2019
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No need for more talks over draft budget: Lebanon finance minister

  • Lebanon’s proposed austerity budget may please international lenders but it could enrage sectors of society
  • Lebanon has one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens at 150 percent of GDP

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s finance minister said on Tuesday there was no need for more talks over the 2019 draft budget, seen as a vital test of the government’s will to reform, although the foreign minister signalled the debate may go on.
The cabinet says the budget will reduce the deficit to 7.6% of gross domestic product (GDP) from last year’s 11.2%. Lebanon has one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens at 150% of GDP.
“There is no longer need for too much talking or anything that calls for delay. I have presented all the numbers in their final form,” Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said.
But Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil suggested the debate may go on, telling reporters: “The budget is done when it’s done.”
While Lebanon has dragged its feet on reforms for years, its sectarian leaders appear more serious this time, warning of a catastrophe if there is no serious action. Their plans have triggered protests and strikes by state workers and army retirees worried about their pensions.
President Michel Aoun on Tuesday repeated his call for Lebanese to sacrifice “a little“: “(If) we want to hold onto all privileges without sacrifice, we will lose them all.”
“We import from abroad, we don’t produce anything ... So what we did was necessary and the citizens won’t realize its importance until after they feel its positive results soon,” Aoun said, noting Lebanon’s $80 billion debt mountain.
A draft of the budget seen by Reuters included a three-year freeze on all forms of hiring and a cap on bonus and overtime benefits.
It also includes a 2% levy on imports including refined oil products and excluding medicine and primary inputs for agriculture and industry, said Youssef Finianos, minister of public works and transport.
“DEVIL IN THE DETAIL“
Marwan Mikhael, head of research at Blominvest Bank, said investors would welcome the additional efforts in the latest draft to cut the deficit.
“There will be some who claim it is not good because they were hit by the decline in spending or increased taxes, but it should be well viewed by the international community,” he said.
Jason Tuvey, senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics, said: “The numbers will be of some comfort to investors, but the devil will be in the detail.”
“Even if the authorities do manage to rein in the deficit, it probably won’t be enough to stabilize the debt ratio and some form of restructuring looks increasingly likely over the next couple of years,” Tuvey said.
The government said in January it was committed to paying all maturing debt and interest payments on the predetermined dates.
Lebanon’s main expenses are a bloated public sector, interest payments on public debt and transfers to the loss-making power generator, for which a reform plan was approved in April. The state is riddled with corruption and waste.
Serious reforms should help Lebanon tap into some $11 billion of project financing pledged at a Paris donors’ conference last year.
Once approved by cabinet, the draft budget must be debated and passed by parliament. While no specific timetable is in place for those steps, Aoun has previously said he wants the budget approved by parliament by the end of May.
On Monday, veterans fearing cuts to their pensions and benefits burned tires outside the parliament building where the cabinet met. Police used water cannon to drive them back.