Saudi Arabia offers options to commercial concealment violators
Commercial concealment is a disturbing phenomenon for any government because it has a negative impact on the economy and overall business trading conditions. It is also detrimental to society, job creation and the national security of a country.
Additionally, commercial concealment has also proven to be linked to money laundering operations since the revenue generated is considered illegal and needs to be cleaned through the economy. Commercial concealment is also a violation of the country’s laws and regulations governing legal residence and work permits.
Among the main reasons for the spread of commercial concealment activities in Saudi Arabia is the fact that the Kingdom is a huge economy that has massive commercial potential, especially in the retail sector.
It is estimated that the size of commercial concealment in the Kingdom is about SR300-400 billion ($80 billion-107 billion) annually. Therefore, the Ministry of Trade and the National Anti-Concealment Program is aiming to clamp down on the shadow economy, punishing violators with heavy penalties such as up to five years in prison and a fine of up to SR5 million ($1.3 million).
It is worth noting that the figures show that 40 percent of commercial concealment activities in Saudi Arabia are practiced by women.
The National Anti-Concealment Program is one of the Saudi government’s many initiatives to combat commercial concealment. The program aims to combat the issue by enforcing the use of electronic payment for all trading activity.
Recently, the Ministry of Commerce and the National Anti-Concealment Program issued new regulations designed to rectify the status of those violating the Kingdom’s anti-concealment laws.
The regulations include a corrective period, starting from Feb. 28 and lasting until Aug. 23, 2021. During this period, violators of the National Anti-Concealment Program can correct and legalize their status.
The corrective period provides multiple options for violators, whether they are Saudi or non-Saudi, to apply to the Ministry of Commerce to legitimize their business practices and avoid penalties.
The regulations offer violators a number of options: Violators can allow the entry of a non-Saudi partner into a business, or correctly register the ownership of an existing non-Saudi partner once all parties have fulfilled all the necessary legal requirements.
Another option is to introduce a new partner — a Saudi or licensed foreign investor — and register the change with the Ministry of Commerce.
Additionally, a Saudi violator can sell the business, while a non-Saudi violator can complete a correction of status by taking advantage of the benefits through the iqama residency system.
Finally, a non-Saudi can leave the Kingdom permanently by applying for a final exit visa, after submitting a pledge to abandon all rights to the business and declaring this with the ministry within a period not exceeding 30 days.
In my opinion, the Saudi government, represented by the Ministry of Commerce and the Anti-Commercial Concealment Program, is doing a great job in combating commercial concealment, in a bid to avoid damaging the national economy and to legalize all commercial activity.
I believe that the launch of the new regulations is a great opportunity for violators to rectify their business activities in the Kingdom and avoid being subjected to a heavy penalty or arrested for a crime.
• Talat Zaki Hafiz is an economist, financial analyst and a board member of the Saudi Financial Association. Twitter: @TalatHafiz