Cash boost for Saudi jobs, homes and health

Mohammed Al-Jadaan pledged that there would be no more taxes or fees introduced in the Kingdom until the social and economic impact of such a move had been fully reviewed. (Reuters)
Updated 10 December 2019

Cash boost for Saudi jobs, homes and health

  • Mohammed Al-Jadaan: There will be no more fees and taxes until after the financial, economic and social impacts have been considered carefully
  • The government expects to generate about SR203 billion in taxes this year – more than 20.5 percent higher than the previous year

RIYADH: The Saudi budget announced by King Salman this week emphasizes the importance of financial sustainability and the need to increase state revenues, according to Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan. He said that the main goal is to improve the number and quality of services and ensure all infrastructure projects are completed.
Al-Jadaan was speaking at the 2020 Budget Meeting Sessions in Riyadh, which also featured a number of other ministers and officials.
The Ministry of Finance has made public expenditure more efficient and reduced public spending without compromising quality of services, Al-Jadaan said.
“There will be no more fees and taxes until after the financial, economic and social impacts have been considered carefully, especially in terms of economic competitiveness,” he said.
The Kingdom achieved some remarkable successes this year and will continue to build on them, he said. For example, the private sector cooperated in numerous projects, contributing to the reduction in public spending and creating a large number of job opportunities, he noted. The Kingdom will work to further empower the private sector as a key partner in development, said Al-Jadaan, who hopes to see more growth next year.
Ahmed Al-Kholifey, governor of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA), said that figures from October reveal a 5 percent increase in liquidity, and loans to small and medium-size enterprises grew by 8 percent. SAMA has prepared an ambitious strategy to enhance financial inclusion, to boost and support the financial sector and enhance sustainable economic growth.
“The strategy ensures that all segments of society have access to the official financial system and the number of people having bank accounts rises,” Al-Kholifey said. SAMA is also developing initiatives to fuel the move to a cashless society, he added.
Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri, the minister of economy and planning, said 2019 was an important year for his ministry because it built “an enormous database that should help enhance the process of decision-making.” There was also a major transformation in the balance of payments, he noted, one of the key instruments for economic diversification.
The 2020 budget is designed to create job opportunities and support local services, while improving spending efficiency, he said, and economic-diversification policies are beginning to show results.
The government places great importance on reducing unemployment, Al-Tuwaijri said, and his ministry is working with the Ministry of Labor and Social Development to achieve this. Unemployment now stands at 12.3 percent, down from 12.9 percent last year, and he expects it to drop further by the end of the year. There are plans to create jobs in sectors such as tourism, culture, entertainment and hospitality as part of Vision 2030.
Bandar Al-Khorayef, the minister of industry and mineral resources, said his ministry works to improve and preserve gains in the industrial and mining sectors and create catalysts for investment and sustainable growth. An export bank will be launched soon, he added, noting that the financing of export operations reached SR 5 billion ($1.3 billion) this year.
“The industry and mining sector require major capital and a long-run investment lookout,” he said. “Investment in the sector involves many risks and the ministry must take this into consideration when it passes legislation, to ensure the sector and investors make profits.”
Saleh Al-Rasheed, governor of General Authority of Small and Medium Enterprises, said the organization works to create a competitive environment that encourages new businesses, by providing innovative financing solutions and investment opportunities. As of October, he noted, there were 550,725 SMEs in the Kingdom, contributing 28 percent of GDP.
Princess Haifa Muhammad, deputy chairwoman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, said the tourism sector received a major boost from the increase in entertainment events. The special “Seasons” launched across the country created 50,000 jobs for young Saudis, and spending in the sector increased by 12 percent, she said.
The Kingdom has welcomed 115,000 since tourist visas were launched, she revealed, adding that the sector is growing at a rate of 3.9 percent, outpacing the global economy which is growing at 3.5 percent.
Justice Minister Walid Al-Samaani said the achievements of his ministry in the past few years have contributed greatly to improving the efficiency of the judicial system.
“We work to establish effective procedural governance and achieve sought-after digital transformation,” he said, adding that 15 electronic services were launched this year to expedite the processing of legal cases.
Housing Minister Majid Al-Hogail said the ministry served 300,000 families this year, providing them with housing and financing options. Of those, 165,000 received housing loans worth SR78 billion, 106,000 moved into homes and 90,000 received a land grant.
He highlighted the importance of enhancing partnerships with the private sector, which so far have helped provide 125,000 housing units in 70 projects with a total value of SR62 billion. In 2020, the ministry plans to build 100,000 housing units worth SR 65 billion.
Ahmed Al-Rajhi, the minister of labor and social development, said the ministry aims to create 1.5 million jobs by 2030. He added that the value of social financing offered to more than 60,000 citizens reached SR3.5 billion this year, and 2,462 small and medium-size enterprises benefited from SR526 million. In addition, 2843 non-profit organizations were founded, a 26 percent increase on last year.
The proportion of women in the workforce reached 25.3 percent this year, he added, and more than 175,500 jobs were Saudized.
Minister of Health Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabeeah said the ministry plans to open 10 hospitals next year and ban the use of hydrogenated fats. It will continue to focus on public health initiatives to reduce chronic diseases and conditions such as obesity and smoking, and plans to improve health care options. This year, he added, the waiting list for outpatient departments at public hospitals fell from 59 to 24 days.
 


Indonesia hails ‘historic’ $22.9bn mega-investment deal with UAE

Updated 17 January 2020

Indonesia hails ‘historic’ $22.9bn mega-investment deal with UAE

  • Leaders agree initial $6.8bn projects plan, including initiative to build a replica of Abu Dhabi grand mosque in Java

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s business community on Thursday welcomed the UAE’s pledge to pump tens of billions of dollars into a wide range of key sector projects.

President Joko Widodo and his entourage secured an overall $22.9 billion deal during an official two-day visit to Abu Dhabi earlier this week covering the fields of energy, logistics, port construction, mining, and agriculture.

It was also revealed that the delegation brokered a UAE commitment to assist in establishing an Indonesian sovereign wealth fund.

At a bilateral meeting, the Indonesian leader and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan witnessed the signing of 11 business accords between the two countries. Indonesia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi said the UAE had committed to investing $6.8 billion out of the total agreed spending package into the initiatives.

Luhut Pandjaitan, Indonesia’s chief minister for maritime affairs and investment, described the UAE’s pledges as possibly being “the biggest deals in Indonesia’s history, secured with the UAE within only six months,” referring to the crown prince’s visit to Indonesia last July.

While most lauded the deal, some Indonesian business leaders remained cautious over the long-term prospects for the projects.

Fachry Thaib, head of the Middle East Committee and OIC at the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce, said the schemes could trigger a wide-ranging domino effect through job creation and other business ventures.

“The government needs to have a strong lobbying team that can follow up these deals and push them into investment realizations. We have had such commitments from other Gulf countries, but there was no further lobbying and the pledges were hardly realized,” he told Arab News.

Zaini Alawi, a businessman who exports and imports between Indonesia and the Middle East, said: “It would set a good precedent to attract other Gulf countries to invest here if Indonesia shows it could aptly manage these investment deals.”

Director for Middle East affairs at Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry, Achmad Rizal Purnama, told Arab News that the $6.8 billion commitment from the UAE was only the first phase of a long-term program.

Widodo and the crown prince also witnessed the signing of five government cooperation agreements in health, agriculture, Islamic affairs, and counterterrorism.

Indonesian Minister of Religious Affairs Fachrul Razi said one of the main aspects of the cooperation agreement would be the promotion of religious moderation and raising awareness of the dangers of extremism.

FASTFACT

The UAE has pledged to assist in establishing an Indonesian sovereign wealth fund.

Noting that the UAE had pledged to fund the construction of a replica of the Abu Dhabi grand mosque in Solo, the president’s hometown in Java, the minister pointed out that the grant was part of a commitment by the two countries to establish a mosque that welcomed all people and served a pivotal role in promoting the middle path of Islam.

Riza Widyarsa, a Middle East expert at the University of Indonesia, told Arab News that the cooperation deal could help more Indonesians to understand that not all countries in the Middle East observed conservative Islam. “They are also very active in countering religious extremism and radicalism,” he said.

In addition to the multi-billion-dollar projects, Purnama said Indonesia had also secured the UAE’s commitment to assist in establishing an Indonesian sovereign wealth fund into which the UAE, the US International Development Finance Corporation, and Japan’s SoftBank would inject funding.

And according to Pandjaitan, the UAE had pledged to be “the biggest contributor” to the fund.

The fund would be used to finance Indonesia’s ambitious infrastructure development projects and the construction of its proposed new capital in East Kalimantan, a relocation that has been estimated to cost $33 billion and of which Indonesia could only afford 19 percent.

He said all parties involved would meet in Tokyo soon to set up the structure of the fund and to finalize the plan, which the government expected to launch by mid-2020, a year after the crown prince proposed the idea to Widodo.

“This could be the first time that big capitalists work together in a single project,” Pandjaitan added.