Saudi Arabia’s ‘super wasta’ paves a path for big businesses
The word “wasta” has long permeated all levels of Saudi Arabian society, painting an unflattering picture of how business used to be conducted in the Kingdom. Saudi readers of this article will know what the word means, but I would be remiss were I to leave out non-Saudi readers who have yet to be introduced to the infamous concept.
“Wasta” refers to someone who carries enough influence and clout to cut through bureaucratic red tape and get things done. This way of doing business would eventually have dire consequences for Saudi Arabia’s economy, as it encouraged those with influence to abuse the goodwill of government officials and private citizens by indirectly rewarding corruption. Fortunately for Saudi citizens, the Kingdom’s zero-tolerance policy toward corruption under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is now transforming the country’s economy into a meritocracy that rewards effort, ability and skill.
Though this transformation will prove attractive to both local and foreign investors and businesses, even the largest and most successful companies may still find it either challenging or intimidating to penetrate the Saudi economy, especially considering the speed of the implementation of the Kingdom’s economic reforms. This is where the Priority Projects Office (PPO) comes in.
Affectionately referred to as a “super wasta” by the people it serves, the PPO is a government initiative that launched in December 2017 by royal decree. Highly efficient and driven, with a dedicated sense of service, the primary objective of the PPO is to help the Kingdom reach the goals of its ambitious Vision 2030, especially with regards to the well-being of the Saudi private sector. It is doing so by facilitating strategic private-sector investment into the economy by helping investors circumvent any possible obstacles or challenges they may face.
What makes the PPO intriguing is that it has distinguished itself by having a particular focus on helping businesses or individuals with a high economic impact. This allows it to formulate a cohesive strategy around any prospective large business or high-net-worth investor, with the aim of helping them establish a solid foothold in the Saudi economy in the quickest, timeliest fashion possible. This focus not only helps the PPO separate the wheat from the chaff, but also helps prospective businesses and investors save considerable time and effort. In effect, the PPO would swiftly and strategically maximize an investor’s chances of success and contribution to the transforming Saudi economy. This is because the PPO has been granted the authority of acquiring “exceptional” approvals that will ensure the investment is executed in a successful and timely manner.
Citizens with a shared sense of responsibility and drive toward the betterment of Saudi Arabia’s private sector should be proud in knowing that such a dynamic yet strategic link between the government and the private sector exists.
Barely 18 months since its inception, the numbers that the PPO has been able to achieve are nothing short of staggering. At the time of writing, it has been able to help with the implementation of 18 strategic projects that have a high probability of substantial socioeconomic impact. It is estimated that the value contribution of these projects between 2018 and 2023 will be about SR26 billion($6.9 billion) as investment, resulting in SR27 billion as total impact on gross domestic product. This will eventually lead to an increase in non-oil exports, localization of key industries and the support of strategic sectors within the Kingdom, such as energy, housing and agriculture. It will also encourage knowledge transfer between the Kingdom and technology-driven economies, which will contribute to the Vision 2030 goal of developing a sophisticated digital infrastructure.
As the Kingdom is still actively developing its legislative framework for encouraging a thriving private sector, the PPO’s swift and efficient facilitation of strategic investment is a welcome breath of fresh air in an economic climate that has traditionally been mired in bureaucracy and lack of transparency. Citizens with a shared sense of responsibility and drive toward the betterment of Saudi Arabia’s private sector should be proud in knowing that such a dynamic yet strategic link between the government and the private sector exists.
No economic transformation is without its challenges. However, in confronting those challenges and finding exceptional solutions to paving the path for high-impact businesses and investors to become an active part of Saudi Arabia’s economy, the Kingdom will always have its “super wasta.”
• Reem Daffa is vice president and executive director of the Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee (SAPRAC).