DAVOS: Leading Saudi officials took center stage at the World Economic Forum on Thursday to drive home the message that a revitalized economy and increased foreign investment could not happen without the social reforms of Vision 2030.
Permitting women to drive, the reintroduction of cinemas and other entertainment, and renewed fiscal discipline were all driving foreign investors’ interest in Saudi Arabia, they said.
Economy and Planning Minister Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri said Saudi Arabia had to improve its infrastructure and provide evidence of it to warrant confidence — and he promised both.
“All you’re going to see in the next couple of years is evidence,” he said, but Saudi citizens had to feel the benefits too. “Unless we provide for the local market … our credibility is at stake.”
The minister said unemployment had been steady for the past two years, but with 350,000 people entering the job market each year the government was exploring how to convert the money spent on social protection into a job creation fund.
But it was also important to retain a diverse labor market, with the skills that expatriate workers bring, he said. “We cannot say Saudization is the solution. We need to have a labor market that is mixed.” To that end, the government had ordered a top-to-toe overhaul of the education system “from kindergarten to future jobs.”
Minister of Finance Mohammed Al-Jadaan said the Kingdom was determined to impose fiscal discipline, and its gross domestic product had grown by 2.3 percent last year compared with a 0.7 percent contraction in 2017.
He conceded there was some skepticism when the government pledged in December to reduce its budget deficit while announcing its biggest-ever spending of $295 billion.
“There were some raised eyebrows … but we ended 2018 exactly where we thought we would be,” he said.
Sarah Al-Suhaimi, chair of the Saudi Stock Exchange, echoed his optimism, and said improvements in the Kingdom’s financial system had improved its ranking as a place to invest.
“One of the main objectives was to join the global community. We do consider ourselves to be the access for international investment into the Middle East and especially the GCC,” she said.
Five megaprojects in infrastructure, water and health care had been awarded to the private sector in the past three months “and there are more to come in the next four months.”