New digital authority aims to enhance automation, reduce duplication

New digital authority aims to enhance automation, reduce duplication
Saudi Arabia is among the top 10 countries globally for digital literacy, according to a report by the World Economic Forum. (Wikimedia Commons)
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Updated 13 March 2021

New digital authority aims to enhance automation, reduce duplication

New digital authority aims to enhance automation, reduce duplication
  • Digital Government Authority will lead to the automation of government services and better coordination between ministries and other state bodies
  • Minister of Communications and Information Technology Abdullah Al-Swaha: It will enrich citizens’ experience through proactive and integrated services

JEDDAH: The Saudi Cabinet on Wednesday approved a decision to set up the Digital Government Authority, which will lead to the automation of government services and better coordination between ministries and other state bodies.

It will enrich citizens’ experience through proactive and integrated services, tweeted Abdullah Al-Swaha, who is minister of communications and information technology and chairman of the National Digital Transformation Unit.

Al-Swaha said the authority would also maximize the return on government technical investments and be instrumental in the development of technical skill sets for state employees, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The new authority aims to coordinate processes across different government entities to reduce duplication of work, cybersecurity and digital transformation, consultant Fathi Al-Wosaibi told Arab News.

“There have been a lot of investments in automation., we can see all the ministries have already deployed electronic services. However, fundamentally, these were isolated efforts,”  he said, adding that “automating public services requires a holistic approach.”

HIGHLIGHT

The establishment of a digital authority is an ‘unprecedented step,’ as no government anywhere else in the world had reached this level of technical maturity yet, especially considering the size of the country and the digital literacy rate in the community.

The Commerce Ministry could not work independently from the Foreign Ministry, which managed exports and imports, he said, and the same applied to the tourism and oil ministries.

Al-Wosaibi called the establishment of a digital authority an “unprecedented step,” as no government anywhere else in the world had reached this level of technical maturity yet, especially considering the size of the country and the digital literacy rate in the community.

He said that Saudi Arabia was now at a stage where it had the internet infrastructure to provide such a service to people. 

At the same time, Saudi Arabia is among the top 10 countries globally for digital literacy, according to a report from the World Economic Forum last December.

“Reaching this maturity level of automation means the government realizes the importance to unify all government agencies’ efforts, providing a comprehensive one-stop-shop for all the services,” according to Al-Wosaibi.

At an individual level, processing a simple service from any governmental agency usually requires visiting multiple sites and dealing with programming languages and interfaces. This will no longer be the case.

Al-Wosaibi said that users of the e-service interface would “find it more appealing, less complicated, for any individual whether Saudi or non-Saudi.”

The authority will also play an important role in issuing measurements, indicators, tools, and reports to measure government agencies’ performance.


Saudi-government Kafalah grants $115m in loans to female-led enterprises

Saudi-government Kafalah grants $115m in loans to female-led enterprises
Image: Shutterstock
Updated 17 sec ago

Saudi-government Kafalah grants $115m in loans to female-led enterprises

Saudi-government Kafalah grants $115m in loans to female-led enterprises
  • Businesses in the central region of Riyadh got the lion's share as they received the highest Kafalah support
  • The Kafalah program spans several business sectors

The Small and Medium Enterprises Loan Guarantee Program (Kafalah), a government initiative to finance small and medium enterprises, granted SR432 million ($115 million) of loans to 456 businesses led by women in the first half of 2021, according to Al-Eqtisadiah newspaper.


Businesses in the central region of Riyadh got the lion's share as they received the highest Kafalah support, with 151 establishments accounting for 33 percent of the total, taking SR178 million in financing. This was followed closely by Makkah region with 115 establishments, or 25 percent, receiving SR97 million. The Eastern Province came third, with 102 establishments, or 22 percent, receiving SR99 million.


The Kafalah program spans several business sectors including wholesale commerce, catering and hotels, manufacturing industries, and administrative and support services.


Dubai’s Amanat sells stake in Jeddah IMC hospital for $118m

IMC image: celebration of the 5th Anniversary of the pledge of allegiance
Updated 29 min 34 sec ago

Dubai’s Amanat sells stake in Jeddah IMC hospital for $118m

IMC image: celebration of the 5th Anniversary of the pledge of allegiance
  • The divestment resulted in a cash return of 100 million dirhams
  • The move is part of the Dubai firm’s strategy to exit minority investments, and pursue more specialized opportunities in health and education

DUBAI: Dubai-based investment firm Amanat Holdings has completed the sale of its minority 13.13 percent share in Jeddah hospital International Medical Center (IMC) for SR443 million ($118 million).

The transaction was done through the Saudi Healthcare and Education fund, which is indirectly owned by Amanat through its subsidiaries.

The divestment resulted in a cash return of 100 million dirhams, and is expected to report a gain of 40 million dirhams, Amanat said in a statement.

“IMC has a unique market position in Saudi Arabia and is a reputable provider of quality healthcare. We invested through the Fund in IMC nearly five years ago, with a different vision to obtain exposure across recognized assets through minority stakes,” Hamad Alshamsi, Amanat chairman, said.

The move is part of the Dubai firm’s strategy to exit minority investments, and pursue more specialized opportunities in health and education.

IMC is a 300-bed multi-disciplinary tertiary care hospital that serves the Kingdom’s western region.


Saudi mining portal received 4,073 license applications since launch

Saudi mining portal received 4,073 license applications since launch
Updated 25 September 2021

Saudi mining portal received 4,073 license applications since launch

Saudi mining portal received 4,073 license applications since launch
  • The Kingdom plans to launch a comprehensive geological survey to map the country’s mining potential

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Industry and Mineral Resources has received 4,073 applications through its online portal since it was launched earlier this year, it said in a statement on Saturday.

The ministry has issued 1,092 licenses to investors seeking opportunities in the Kingdom’s mining sector, and is processing a further 1,446, it said.

The sector is witnessing a rapid transformation and attracting investors from around the globe since the launch of a new mining law earlier this year.

According to geological surveys dating back 80 years, the Kingdom has an estimated reserve of untapped mining potential valued at $1.3 trillion.

Saudi Arabia’s mining industry has already attracted some major foreign investors. American industrial corporation Alcoa has a 25.1 percent stake in two companies, Ma’aden Bauxite and Alumina and Ma’aden Aluminum, as part of $10.8 billion joint venture with the Saudi Arabian Mining Co., Ma’aden, located in Ras Al-Khair Industrial City in the Eastern Province.

The Kingdom plans to launch a comprehensive geological survey to map the country’s mining potential.

The five-year program will conduct geophysical and geochemical surveys and create detailed mapping of more than 700,000 sq. km of the mineral-rich Arabian Shield area in Saudi Arabia.

The Vision 2030 reform plan identified the mining sector as a potential third pillar of the Kingdom’s industrial growth, alongside petroleum and petrochemicals. The country is investing SR14 billion to develop the sector.

About $45 billion in private and public sector investments have gone into the mining sector over the past decade, mainly in phosphate and aluminum production.

The Kingdom also plans to auction two major mining licenses in 2022 for commodities including gold, copper and zinc, as the Kingdom aims to triple the mining sector’s contribution to the national gross domestic product to SR240 billion ($64 billion) and double the number of jobs to 470,000 by 2030.


Egypt extends natural gas exploration auctions to end of September

Egypt extends natural gas exploration auctions to end of September
Updated 25 September 2021

Egypt extends natural gas exploration auctions to end of September

Egypt extends natural gas exploration auctions to end of September
  • Nine new exploration licence awards announced

CAIRO: Nine international natural gas exploration auctions that were announced in March have been extended until the end of September, said the Magdy Galal, chairman of the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company.

Galal also announced that nine new natural gas exploration agreements have been signed with international companies, bringing the total number to 44. The new exploration licenses will lead to investment of nearly $1 billion with signature grants amounting to $24 million, he said during the company’s general assembly headed by the Minister of Petroleum.

Last year witnessed eight new discoveries of natural gas, two discoveries in the Mediterranean and six in the Western Desert, adding an estimated 600 billion cubic feet of new reserves.

Four projects were implemented for the development and production of gas from the discovered fields with investments of more than $4 billion, and 15 new wells were placed on the gas production map, with an average daily production of 1.4 billion cubic feet of gas and more than 25,000 barrels of condensate.

The total average production of natural gas amounted to more than 6.8 billion cubic feet, covering the entire needs of the local market. The average daily local consumption of natural gas amounted to more than 6 billion cubic feet.

The electricity sector consumed the most gas, accounting for more than 60 percent of production, followed by the industrial sector with more than 22 percent and the petrochemical and gas derivatives industry with about 11 percent. Domestic home and vehicle use took and 6 percent.

Exports of natural gas were made to Jordan through pipelines, and liquefied natural gas has been exported to global markets with a total of 71 shipments from the Idku and Damietta facilities.


China crypto crackdown reveals scale of digital yuan ambitions

China crypto crackdown reveals scale of digital yuan ambitions
Updated 25 September 2021

China crypto crackdown reveals scale of digital yuan ambitions

China crypto crackdown reveals scale of digital yuan ambitions
  • All crypto trading and mining deemed illegal in China
  • China's central bank digital currency could launch as soon as 2022

LONDON: If there’s one thing the Chinese Communist Party likes it is control.

A raft of edicts from President Xi Jinping this year have asserted the government’s control over ever larger swathes of the Chinese economy and the everyday life of Chinese people.

The financial cost of these measures is difficult to accurately gauge, but billions of dollars have been wiped off the value of tech companies, including Alibaba, Didi and Tencent, following a squeeze on their activities, including limits on how long children can spend playing online games.

There have been considerable financial costs too from China’s crypto crackdown, which intensified yesterday with a blanket ban on all crypto transactions and mining. Ten agencies, including the central bank, financial, securities and foreign exchange regulators, vowed to work together to root out “illegal” cryptocurrency activity, the first time the Beijing-based regulators have joined forces to explicitly ban all cryptocurrency-related activity.

That represents a major escalation from May this year, when China banned financial institutions and payment companies from providing services related to cryptocurrency transactions. It had issued similar bans in 2013 and 2017.

Despite an initial drop in the value of cryptocurrencies on Friday, they stabilized on Saturday and most analysts don’t see the measures having a long-term effect on the value of crypto assets.

“For the institutional crypto industry, it won’t change much as those who could leave already left and those who couldn’t have either closed or gone under the radar,” said George Zarya, CEO at digital asset prime brokerage and exchange BEQUANT. “The retail market most likely has gone under the radar and will continue to support market volumes.”

The biggest financial cost is to Chinese businesses involved in trading and mining cryptocurrencies.

Virtual currency mining had been big business in China before May, accounting for more than half the world’s crypto supply, but miners have been moving overseas.

“[China] will now lose around $6 billion worth of annual mining revenue, all of which will flow to the remaining global mining regions,” said Christopher Bendiksen, head of research at digital asset manager CoinShares, citing Kazakhstan, Russia and the United States as beneficiaries.

Crypto exchanges OKEx and Huobi, which originated in China but are now based overseas, are likely to be the worst affected since they still have some China users, analysts said. Tokens associated with the two exchanges plunged over 20 percent on Friday.

Despite all this disruption and loss of wealth, there is a major upside for China.

The Chinese government has repeatedly raised concerns that cryptocurrency speculation could disrupt the country’s economic and financial order, one of Beijing’s top priorities.

Most of all, cryptocurrencies are a threat to China’s sovereign digital yuan, which is at an advanced pilot stage. The People’s Bank of China, the country’s central bank, plans an official launch of the digital yuan as soon as 2022, following testing at the Winter Olympics.

Widespread use of the digital yuan would give Chinese policy makers greater visibility into how money flows around China’s economy.

This would help them track any illicit flows of funds, such as money laundering or terrorist financing, and it would also allow them to experiment by targeting monetary policy interventions on specific economic classes, regions or other groups.

However, by killing off independent cryptocurrencies, China closes off a huge area of financial innovation and risks reducing the dynamism of its economy in the future.