Saudi is currently on a path of rapid transformation: Austria’s former federal minister for digital and economic affairs

Special Saudi is currently on a path of rapid transformation: Austria’s former federal minister for digital and economic affairs
Margarete Schramboeck, board member of Aramco Digital. (AN)
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Updated 15 September 2023
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Saudi is currently on a path of rapid transformation: Austria’s former federal minister for digital and economic affairs

Saudi is currently on a path of rapid transformation: Austria’s former federal minister for digital and economic affairs

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is currently on a path of rapid transformation with so many Saudi women engaging in various critical jobs. 

“What I saw in Saudi is this big transformation going on. And I’m highly impressed by so many Saudi women in different functions; in journalism, in tech functions. I heard that 58 percent of Saudi engineers are women. I was highly impressed because this is still an issue in Europe and you have more women in tech than we have,” according to Margarete Schramboeck, Austria’s former federal minister for digital and economic affairs and current board member of Aramco Digital. 

In an interview with Arab News, Schramboeck said Saudi Arabia has advanced in the digital infrastructure realm over the past few years with the rollout of 5G and the implementation of advanced technologies like Artificial Intelligence. 

Strengthening digital infrastructure is crucial to reduce poverty in all nooks of the world, especially in African countries. 

“Today, it is about digital infrastructure. This is the key factor for success for companies and countries. If we take a global approach to it, we can see that this is the basis for opening up new businesses, learning, and teaching. If you look at Africa, it means, for a family, they can earn a living. So, a digital infrastructure is a key factor of reducing poverty all around the world,” said Schramboeck. 

During the talk, Schramboeck noted that digital education is very much essential as Saudi Arabia leapfrogs in the technological sector. 

“A key factor is digital education. That is one of the key factors. And here, each investment is paying off 10 times, or 20 times. And here, what we all need is that we take our youth from consuming to creating. So, the digital world is not just for consuming news, but it is for being creative in this world. And if we manage this, then we are going to be even more successful,” added Schramboeck. 

It was in January 2023 that Saudi Arabian Oil Co. launched Aramco Digital to accelerate the company’s digital transformation journey. 

After the launch of the company, Saudi Aramco’s president and CEO Amin Nasser said that Aramco Digital is planning to invest $1.9 billion over the next three years, making it the biggest investment from the energy giant in digital to date. 

According to Schramboeck, further strengthening the digital infrastructure is required in Saudi Arabia as the Kingdom is currently on the path of economic diversification. 

She added: “The digital sector is key, and it is in each of the other sectors. So, it is not only a sector of itself, but it is enabling all the sectors, it is enabling energy with a smart grid, it is enabling education, it is enabling other sectors like automotive. A car today is a piece of software and a batter, and soon it is also going to be built in Saudi.” 




Margarete Schramboeck speaking to Arab News. (AN)

Schramboeck went on and said that technologies like AI and the Internet of Things will form the basis for our future, and the advancements of these technologies will have direct impacts in all other sectors. 

She added that bolstering the digital infrastructure will help Saudi Aramco help increase efficiency, along with reducing carbon dioxide emissions. 

“CO2 reduction is a key target and Aramco is doing here a lot. The company has done a lot of investment. It is working together with startups in the startup scenes to bring in new ideas,” said Schramboeck. 

She continued: “With the power of the company and the budget that has been allocated to Aramco Digital, we can help industries to transform. And in this way, we can reduce CO2 emissions, improve process, and develop jobs from blue-collar work to white-collar work.” 

FASTFACT

Career Highlights

1995: Head of new business sales Head of Technical and Service Departments,

Nokia 2002: CEO NextiraOne 2014: CEO,

Dimension Data Austria 2016: CEO,

A1 Telekom Austria AG DE. 2017: Federal Minister for Digital and Economic Afairs,

Austria Oct. 2019 – Jan 2020: Member of the National council,

Austria Jan 2020- May 2022: Federal minister for Digital and Economic Affairs,

Austria 2023: Board member of Aramco Digital, Saudi Arabia

Schramboeck added that the widespread embracement of digital technologies in the energy sector will help women enter the scene, as there is no need for hard physical training and instead, operations can be carried out from a remote-control center. 

“You can chat with your friends, and you can have a community. So, not sitting on the crane alone in the heat which is a classical blue-collar job, very tough and physical. It is transforming into a new type of job, which a lot of Saudis can do, women can do,” noted Schramboeck. 

She went on and said that public-private partnerships are crucial to elevating economic development and innovation. 

“This (public-private partnership) is key. During my time in Austria, we had created for platform for digital learning. It was a platform for both government and companies. And this, I can also see here under Vision 2030, it is a common target, and it is companies and public sector aligning,” noted Schramboeck. 

She concluded: “The role of public sector is always to be ahead a little bit, to be an innovator. And there is a great potential in this form of cooperation, which has been proven successfully in both in Saudi and in Europe.” 


New SAMA platform Naqd to facilitate easier account access for agencies 

New SAMA platform Naqd to facilitate easier account access for agencies 
Updated 14 July 2024
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New SAMA platform Naqd to facilitate easier account access for agencies 

New SAMA platform Naqd to facilitate easier account access for agencies 

RIYADH: A new digital platform will allow government agencies to access their accounts in the Saudi Central Bank easily and conveniently. 

The central bank, also known as SAMA, has announced the launch of Naqd, a platform for government banking services. The service is designed to provide government entities with easy and secure access to their accounts at the central bank and to conduct financial transactions through a trusted digital platform. 

The initiative is part of SAMA’s strategy to offer banking outlets to government entities and support digital transformation. 

The central bank is fostering digitalization across the spectrum with the launch of several initiatives. 

In May, SAMA announced the launch of a new undertaking — “View My Bank Accounts” — for individual bank account holders. The service enhances reliability and reduces the risk of suspicious transactions, unauthorized account use, and impersonation.  

The Naqd platform aims to digitize financial transaction services for government entities, providing a unified and secure platform. 

It facilitates round-the-clock access to account information, account management and real-time monitoring of transactions conducted from and to government accounts. 

The platform is intended to deliver electronic banking services that support government financial transactions, enhance user experience, and increase efficiency and productivity in financial dealings using the latest technologies.

Additionally, it aims to reduce the time required to execute government banking procedures. 


Saudi environment minister launches financial support program to propel fisheries sector

Saudi environment minister launches financial support program to propel fisheries sector
Updated 14 July 2024
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Saudi environment minister launches financial support program to propel fisheries sector

Saudi environment minister launches financial support program to propel fisheries sector

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s fisheries sector is set to receive a boost thanks to a new direct financial support program launched by the Kingdom’s minister of environment, water and agriculture.

Abdulrahman Al-Fadhli will oversee the financial support for the Reef Saudi program, which aims to open new horizons for the development of the fisheries sector and stimulate the industry, according to a statement. 

The Sustainable Agricultural Rural Development Program, or Reef Saudi, seeks to improve the rural agricultural sector to raise the standard of living of small farmers and rural families, increase efficiency and productivity, and improve lifestyle and food security.

This move falls in line with the objectives of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, as the program is an important step toward achieving several strategic goals, including strengthening the nation’s local economy.  

It also aligns well with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture’s continuous efforts over the past years to boost the fisheries sector, including establishing a national program to protect fish stocks and the industry as a whole, the provision of concessional loans to assist small-scale fishermen with the purchase of boats, and initiatives to modernize ports in the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf.

Moreover, the program requires that fisherman wishing to obtain support must have a fishing license, in either the Saudi artisan category or Saudi sailor category. 

The fisherman should also not be an employee in the public or private sector, be no younger than 18 years old, and be based within the Kingdom during the period, in addition to the duration of each fishing trip being no less than six hours.

Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia highlighted its role in leading and unifying international efforts to develop the fisheries sector during its presidency of a special UN committee dedicated to the industry. 

This came during the conclusion of the 36th session of the body, which was held at the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome and was chaired by the Kingdom’s permanent representative to the FAO, Mohammed Al-Ghamdi.

During the meeting, Saudi Arabia reviewed its most prominent efforts to promote and develop the fisheries sector and achieve its sustainability during its two-year presidency, the Saudi Press Agency reported at the time.


Closing Bell: Saudi main index rose to close at 11,881

Closing Bell: Saudi main index rose to close at 11,881
Updated 14 July 2024
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Closing Bell: Saudi main index rose to close at 11,881

Closing Bell: Saudi main index rose to close at 11,881

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index rose on Sunday, gaining 89.14 points, or 0.76 percent, to close at 11,881.55.

The total trading turnover of the benchmark index was SR6.36 billion ($1.69 billion) as 154 of the stocks advanced, while 68 retreated.  

On the other hand, the Kingdom’s parallel market Nomu slipped 79.18 points, or 0.31 percent, to close at 25,696.86. This comes as 34 of the listed stocks advanced while 36 retreated. 

Meanwhile, the MSCI Tadawul Index gained 15.65 points, or 1.06 percent, to close at 1 1,488.02.

The best-performing stock of the day was Miahona Co. The company’s share price surged 9.96 percent to SR37.00.

Other top performers include MBC Group Co. as well as Al Taiseer Group Talco Industrial Co.

The worst performer was Al-Rajhi Co. for Cooperative Insurance, whose share price dropped by 7.27 percent to SR209.20. 

Other worst performers were Saudi Advanced Industries Co. as well as Arabian Pipes Co.

On the announcements front, ADES Holding Co. has announced that it has amended its existing syndicated facility, securing an additional equivalent to $3 billion, with the majority of existing lenders participating along with new, leading local and regional financial institutions.

According to a Tadawul statement, the new upsized financing is divided into the equivalent of a $2.7 billion standby term tranche to finance the group’s expansion plans and an additional $300 million revolving credit facility tranche to be applied toward the general corporate purposes of the company.

While the financing duration of the standby term tranche is eight and a half years, with a final maturity in December 2032, that of the RCF tranche is eight years, with a final maturity in June 2032. 

The financing entities include Saudi Awwal Bank, Riyadh Bank, Al Rajhi Banking and Investment Corp., and Arab National Bank, as well as the Saudi National Bank, Alinma Bank, Banque Saudi Fransi, and Aljazira Bank. Arab Petroleum Investments Corp. and Commercial Bank of Dubai PSC are also included.

The bourse filing also revealed that the guarantees offered for the financing entail mortgages over offshore rigs, share mortgages or pledges over entities that hold onshore or offshore rigs as applicable, and security over the collection accounts and debt service accrual account. 

They also include assignment of receivables under client contracts, assignment of receivables under insurance contracts in respect of financed rigs as well as promissory notes.


Saudi Arabia and Thailand strengthen economic ties with new investment office in Riyadh

Saudi Arabia and Thailand strengthen economic ties with new investment office in Riyadh
Updated 14 July 2024
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Saudi Arabia and Thailand strengthen economic ties with new investment office in Riyadh

Saudi Arabia and Thailand strengthen economic ties with new investment office in Riyadh

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is set to enhance private sector cooperation with Thailand as the Southeast Asian nation opens its first Board of Investment office in Riyadh, a top official announced. 

On the sidelines of a business forum in the Saudi capital, Minister of Investment Khalid Al-Falih highlighted that this marks Thailand’s inaugural office in the Middle East, encouraging stronger bonds and new investment opportunities in both countries. 

This came as the minister lauded the steady trade relations, that saw business soar to $8.8 billion in 2023, up from $7.5 billion following the nations’ restored ties in 2022. This represents nearly 22 percent of Thailand’s total trade with the Middle East, underscoring a flourishing economic partnership. 

 

 

Addressing the business delegation at the Saudi-Thailand Investment Forum, Al-Falih said: “Representative offices from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and your country will do a great deal of facilitating private sector to private sector cooperation and allowing us to reach the potential that I mentioned.”  

He added: “I believe it will continue to grow at double digits as it has been the last couple of years. In investment, we’ve also seen growth, although from very small numbers, with FDI (foreign direct investment) stock doubling since 2019 in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”  

The minister added that travel and tourism are returning to previous levels, with close to 200,000 tourists and visitors traveling from Saudi Arabia to Thailand. He also noted that over 30,000 Thai visitors had come to the Kingdom the previous year to experience Saudi Arabia. 

The Thailand BOI office will cover a total of 13 countries in the Middle East, including Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Turkiye, and the UAE. 

The Riyadh headquarters is Thailand BOI’s 17th overseas office, with two additional locations in China and Singapore set to be added soon.  

“We hope investors from Saudi Arabia and the Middle East will consider making Thailand an investment base to expand business in ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and take advantage of Thailand’s membership in the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) agreement, the world’s largest free trade area,” said Narit Therdsteerasukdi, secretary-general of the Thailand BOI. 

He added: “We believe there is a strong potential for investment and cooperation in several key sectors, including agriculture, processed food, renewable energy, healthcare and medical services, as well as automotive, especially electric vehicles.” 

Additionally, Al-Falih explained that the Thailand BOI office will boost areas of cooperation between both countries in several areas. 

“Before I do that, let me assure you — and this is not just me, not our Ministry of Investment, not the government, but the entire Saudi Arabia — we are very bullish on Thailand and indeed very impressed with your achievements,” the minister said.  

He continued: “Your GDP (gross domestic product) per capita has tripled in 20 years, while your export structure has evolved significantly into increasingly sophisticated products in the same time frame.” 

Furthermore, the minister recognized Thailand as one of the founding members of ASEAN, a significant economic alliance that holds importance not only in Asia but globally. 

Due to Thailand’s strategic location and economic strength — the second-largest economy in ASEAN with a GDP exceeding half a trillion dollars — it is a crucial partner for Saudi Arabia.  

“Especially as you are bolstered by ASEAN free trade agreements with most major economies, as you outlined to me this morning. These agreements include big economies in East Asia, as well as South Asian economies. Of course, anchored by India,” Al-Faih said. 

The minister stressed common parallels between the two countries, noting they share a “great deal of complementarity.” Thailand has its National Strategy 2037, whereas Saudi Arabia has its Vision 2030. 

“Which naturally leads me to emphasize the energy sector, including its multifaceted branches downstream: biofuels, biochemicals and CCUS (carbon capture utilization and storage), hydrogen, and renewables,” he said. 

Al-Falih added: “This is obviously an area where we share common ambitions, and the Kingdom has unique capability, creating numerous investment opportunities for both countries in terms of supply chain products as well as project development.” 

Saudi Arabia’s demand for agricultural and food processing products is expected to reach over $130 billion by 2030, with a compound annual growth rate of 7.5 percent.  

Meanwhile, Thailand’s agricultural and food processing sectors were robust in 2022, with exports totaling $45 billion. 

“This presents a huge area of complementary that would boost trade and investment as well as enhance food security in both nations,” Al-Falih underscored. 

Moreover, during the event’s opening speech, Thailand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maris Sangiampongsa, underscored the robust private sector collaboration between both countries, noting the success of the International Mega Fair organized by the Thai Chamber of Commerce in Saudi Arabia. 

This event featured over 30 Thai businesses showcasing 1,000 products from 200 brands, significantly boosting Thailand’s presence in Saudi Arabia. 

Looking ahead, Sangiampongsa announced the upcoming International Mega Fair 2024 in Riyadh, scheduled for November. This event aims to promote trade across diverse sectors, such as construction materials, hospitality, and defense technology. 

The minister expressed confidence in Thai investment representatives’ readiness to strengthen cooperation with their Saudi counterparts, building on the momentum of past successes.  

“As both our nations are located strategically at the crossroads of continents, we recognize that connectivity and efficiency are part and parcel of any feasible development strategy,” Sangiampongsa stated. 

He continued: “That is why, as part of our plan, Thailand launched our flagship Landbridge Project, which will connect the Gulf of Thailand with the Andaman Sea and the Indian Ocean. This bold initiative will reduce commuting time and costs by 15 percent.” 

The forum saw the signing of 11 memoranda of understanding between Thai and Saudi companies, covering cooperation in areas including energy, infrastructure, engineering, agriculture, and forestation. 

The event also featured bilateral meetings and discussions between private sector representatives, which reviewed developments in the investment environment in Saudi Arabia and Thailand. 

Additionally, Saudi Assistant Minister of Investment Ibrahim Al-Mubarak met with Therdsteerasukdi to discuss ways of cooperation and developments in the work of the Saudi-Thai Coordination Council. 

Further, a meeting was held between Saad Al-Khalb, CEO of Saudi EXIM, and Senior Executive Vice President of Export-Import Bank of Thailand Benjarong Suwankiri, discussing areas of cooperation aimed at enabling promising investment opportunities. 

In 2023, Thailand’s applications for investment promotion surged to a nine-year peak of 848.3 billion baht (approximately $24 billion), marking a 43 percent increase from the previous year. 

This growth was driven by significant foreign direct investments primarily in five key sectors outlined in the BOI’s new Investment Promotion Strategy: green industries, automotive (including electric vehicles), and semiconductors. Additionally, investments in advanced electronics, digital and creative industries, and international business centers contributed significantly.  

These sectors accounted for more than half of the total investment pledges. Leading sources of investment included China, Japan, Singapore, and the US. 


NWC initiates $150m in projects to enhance water services in Qassim region 

NWC initiates $150m in projects to enhance water services in Qassim region 
Updated 14 July 2024
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NWC initiates $150m in projects to enhance water services in Qassim region 

NWC initiates $150m in projects to enhance water services in Qassim region 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Qassim region is set to see improvements in water services, with the National Water Co. initiating 14 projects valued at over SR561 million ($150 million). 

The state-owned firm announced that its Northern Cluster has initiated the implementation of water and environmental projects across various parts of the region. These initiatives aim to enhance water and wastewater services, improve their quality, and meet the growing demand. 

Saudi Arabia ranks among the world’s largest water consumers. With limited natural resources, the country continues to rely on the construction of desalination facilities to meet its increasing water demands. The Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture has announced several investments in water projects scheduled for the coming years. 

These projects are part of its strategic goals to expand water and environmental services, meet growing demand, and enhance the quality of life and services for the population in line with the Kingdom's Vision 2030. 

The Public Investment Fund-owned company noted that the initiative includes seven projects worth about SR283 million. These include sewerage channels and networks totaling over 329,000 meters and the construction of a lifting station capable of handling 1,350 cubic meters per day. 

Additionally, the company outlined seven water projects valued at over SR278 million. These initiatives involve networks and pipelines spanning more than 833,000 meters and the establishment of a water distribution system for the Al-Mukharram and Umm Hazm well areas. 

On July 10, the company announced that its northern cluster had initiated 12 water and environmental projects across various parts of the Hail region, amounting to over SR531 million in total costs. 

Five of these projects, totaling about SR238 million, will focus on pipelines and networks spanning more than 226,000 meters, alongside the construction of a lifting station capable of handling over 3,900 m3 per day. 

Also, the NWC has commenced seven water projects aimed at supplying regional customers, involving the construction of reservoirs, water pipelines of various diameters, and water pumping stations, totaling more than SR293 million. 

The network lengths exceed 374,000 meters, complemented by 56 operational reservoirs with a combined capacity of 33,500 m3.  

The projects also include three pumping stations with a total capacity exceeding 53,600 m3 per day, along with multiple water tanker filling stations, as reported by the NWC.