Is Saudi Vision 2030 realistic?
Big and broad visions produce drastic change. Global experiences show us that large and complex success stories began with such visions. The experience of Singapore, for example, began with the vision of its leader who transformed a small island into a highly successful economy as well as a global commercial center.
Lee Kuan Yew, the man behind Singapore’s renaissance, once said: “Make the man before anything; secure facilities and services and then make him use them in a clean and civilized manner, and pay attention to the details of everyday life.”
Similarly, Mahathir Mohamad, the former prime minister of Malaysia who spearheaded its transformation and believed in the power of initiative to bring about change, once said: “Economic and social development does not occur overnight; people have to move to create it.”
We also know stories of individuals who had the vision to produce change. Steve Jobs, the successful founder of Apple, had a clear vision for the future and, as a result, was able to produce the most successful company of our time. As he once famously said: “Innovation distinguishes a leader from a follower.”
Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 is a comprehensive one which seeks to transform the entire state into a new country that ranks high among the developed nations. It is unfair to reduce Vision 2030 only to its economic side, despite the importance of that component, as the vision also includes social, humanitarian, developmental, military, and performance aspects.
I think there are critical aspects of this vision that have yet to gain full attention. Social values, as the vision says, “will be based on moderation, tolerance, perfection, discipline, justice, and transparency, and our focus will be on achieving growth of these values and areas.” These are important elements for the next stage as the vision seeks to achieve a productive society rather than a consuming one. The principles of tolerance and moderation are a cure for many social phenomena that arise from those whose aim is to spread extremism and radicalization.
Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the architect of Vision 2030, has revealed his expectations for the future of Saudi Arabia in several press interviews with the international media. These expectations and aspirations carry high hopes for future Saudi generations. On a personal level, I agree with most of what he proposed, but I disagree with him on the subject of women driving. That it is a social issue which the Saudi society must deal with. I believe that the time has come and is ripe for that issue to be resolved.
The vision focuses on transparency and good governance, and eliminating leniency or tolerance for corruption at any level. This is critical to defeating corruption and is being increasingly demanded by the public. The fact that the vision speaks directly about this is the first step to fighting it. As we know, recognition of a problem’s existence is half the solution.
The vision also speaks of detailed reviews of all government structures and procedures so as to ensure clear separation between the decision-making process, the implementation, and the monitoring of such implementation and performance. This is very important as it guarantees transparency in monitoring performance and achieving results.
There is the oft-repeated problem of stalled projects — not only construction projects but also administrative ones. This has been discussed widely in both the print and social media. It is evident that the vision recognizes this, and so it includes establishing an office for the administration of projects at the Council of Economic and Developmental Affairs. That will be an office to oversee project completion and, perhaps where needed, rapid intervention. This innovative approach guarantees the adoption of scientific principles in project administration.
Many Saudis complain that our many regulations and policies are in need of renewal and renovation as many are more than 40 years old. The vision introduces an initiative to review regulations and enact new ones that, in some cases, are long overdue. In reality, it is not possible to achieve true development and modernization without modern and flexible legislation, and this is the key that must be in place for the implementation of new initiatives.
It is only natural for people to have doubts about the performance of government institutions and those institutions’ ability to implement the work. Many people are in fact questioning whether the goals are realistic. This may be warranted as some earlier experiences, which did not succeed, left people skeptical of the ability to carry such goals to the end. For this reason, the vision has incorporated a program to measure performance, the National Center for Performance Measurement of Public Institutions. Indicators and regulations to measure performance have been produced with the goal of increasing accountability and transparency. I believe the responsibility of this center is essential to the vision and to translating it into reality.
There are in addition other important steps that were announced, namely the strengthening of governance of government work by establishing clearly defined terms of reference that allow for flexibility and accountability. An office for strategic management will be set up at the Council of Economic and Developmental Affairs and will work on preventing duplications or inconsistencies. A center will also support decision-making at the Royal Court and provide information and necessary data to support decision-making processes.
These two centers are critical to ensuring the success of the vision’s strategy, regardless of who the decision-makers are, and they will also ensure harmony of policies. The number of authorities that will be formed to guarantee execution and monitoring of the vision and its performance on a monthly basis will increase changes for success.
Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who heads the Council of Economic and Developmental Affairs, is a young enlightened man who is behind a project that will serve the country. I once heard him say he had the choice of living the kind of life his circumstances allowed or serving his society no matter the cost.
It is clear he made the latter and more difficult choice. As the saying goes, a vision without action is a dream; an action without a vision is a waste of time, but a vision with action can change the world. Saudi Arabia has made an appointment with its future.