SAFE unveils expansion plans to transform aviation security: CEO

Special Turki Matooq Al-Thonayan, CEO of the National Security Services Co. AN photo by Huda Bashatah
Turki Matooq Al-Thonayan, CEO of the National Security Services Co. AN photo by Huda Bashatah
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Updated 22 May 2024
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SAFE unveils expansion plans to transform aviation security: CEO

SAFE unveils expansion plans to transform aviation security: CEO

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s aviation sector is set for substantial safety and security enhancements as the National Security Services Co. prepares to embark on an ambitious expansion plan, its CEO told Arab News.

Turki Matooq Al-Thonayan explained how the company, also known as SAFE, already has operations spanning multiple countries and a workforce exceeding 10,000 employees.

The comments came on the sidelines of the Future Aviation Forum, which saw over 5,000 industry experts and leaders from more than 120 countries gather in Riyadh to discuss issues facing the sector.

In his interview with Arab News, Al-Thonayan emphasized the strategic integration of SAFE’s plans with the aviation sector, aligning with broader transportation goals, saying: “The plan of expansion is totally integrated with aviation. Why we are here is because of transportation, talking about aviation, land, and maritime.”

Al-Thonayan went on explaining that the company is also targeting Saudi Arabia’s giga-projects like NEOM, the Red Sea and Qiddiya.

“We are targeting the mass event in VIP protection, industrial facilities. And moreover, we are trying to support the government and their initiative to privatize the security services,” he added.

SAFE was launched in 2021 and is totally owned by the Public Investment Fund.

According to the CEO, the company was initially focused on security services but has since added firefighting, safety, and critical facility management to its remit.

“We are working in more than 37 governments within the Kingdom, we are working in Bahrain and we launched our office in the UAE, and we are planning for more expansion in the future,” Al-Thonayan said.

The focus on customer experience is at the heart of SAFE’s operational ethos. “Because if we are providing the services like the firefighting, the facility management, the security, this affects the passengers and the customers and the airports,” he said.

“The engagement between the passengers and the services is going to be for security and verification. Our goal is how to make this experience excellent, how we address the goal of the passengers,” Al-Thonayan explained.

Understanding the needs of passengers and ensuring their swift and efficient movement through airports is a priority for SAFE. “Sometimes their goal is to move as fast as possible to their businesses, to their collaboration within the Kingdom. So we would like to enhance the process. We would like to improve the efficiency of the services within the airport,” the top official noted.

“Our goal is to be the ultimate security, safety, firefighting partner,” he emphasized.

Al-Thonayan outlined the firm’s key objectives, which revolve around enhancing service efficiency and generating revenue, and said: “Our success is to be a reliable enabler. So how we can enable the ecosystem of aviation to move faster toward their targets, how we can make them do more.”

He highlighted that SAFE aims to offer comprehensive solutions that streamline services and ensure reliability, saying: “We are planning to offer and make a commercial offering for a total solution. So instead of having scattered services among these suppliers, we will have one quality service provider that is reliable from the ecosystem, from the government, from the client, from the service provider.”

The concept of integration is central to the company’s approach, as Al-Thonayan noted.

“Being in Bahrain or being in the UAE, or being in Saudi Arabia, the added value here is to have an integrated service. Door to door, which enables the network to do the business and do smooth and efficient logistics where it contributes and operation excellence, and cost efficiency,” the CEO explained.

Al-Thonayan stressed the importance of global operations and the role SAFE plays in facilitating seamless travel experiences. “Our target is to make smooth, excellent, and efficient operations with our destination all over the globe. Today we are talking about the globe coming to Saudi Arabia. How can I enhance this process to make their life easy? How we can contribute and the quality of the lifestyle. This is our role,” he said.

Highlighting recent partnerships, Al-Thonayan mentioned significant agreements aimed at enhancing the aviation network within the Kingdom.

“The ecosystem in aviation consists of airlines, logistics, and airports. So we have signed (an MoU) today with Dammam Airport Co., DACO and Cluster 2, which is another 22 airports,” he added.

These collaborations are going to enhance the network within the Kingdom, according to the CEO. “Our role here is to provide security solutions for our safety solutions, and how can we succeed to transform the model and the business operation from scattered business to a total solution business,” he added.

Al-Thonayan underscored the significance of accredited training and technology integration to enhance services. By shifting security’s role from a cost center to a value generator, SAFE aims to cultivate data networks for expanded services. This vision was demonstrated through recent agreements that are viewed as a starting point for further success and collaboration.

 Al-Thonayan reiterated SAFE’s commitment to setting high standards in the aviation sector and ensuring an exceptional customer experience.

“We would like to say to our colleagues in the sector, we are the front or the national front. Passengers, travelers, airport companies, airline companies, will see first our employees, the security, the customer service, and they will make the impression,” he said,

“We are obligated and committed to deliver the best customer experience for the globe,” the CEO concluded.

With these comprehensive strategies and partnerships, SAFE is poised to play a pivotal role in the future of aviation security and customer experience, both within the Kingdom and beyond.


Saudi Arabia and Switzerland strengthen economic ties at 4th Financial Dialogue in Zurich

Saudi Arabia and Switzerland strengthen economic ties at 4th Financial Dialogue in Zurich
Updated 20 June 2024
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Saudi Arabia and Switzerland strengthen economic ties at 4th Financial Dialogue in Zurich

Saudi Arabia and Switzerland strengthen economic ties at 4th Financial Dialogue in Zurich

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and Switzerland are poised to deepen cooperation in finance and economics as top officials convened for the 4th Saudi-Swiss Financial Dialogue in Zurich.    

The event, inaugurated by Saudi Arabia’s Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan, focused on enhancing macroeconomic outlooks, fostering international multilateral cooperation, and advancing specific bilateral economic initiatives.    

It comes against the backdrop of a robust trade relationship between the countries. In 2023, Saudi Arabia exported $810.67 million worth of goods to Switzerland, while Swiss exports to the Kingdom totaled $6.77 billion, according to the UN’s international trade database.   

“The Saudi-Swiss relations have been growing for more than six decades, and our meeting ... for the 4th Saud-Swiss Financial Dialogue in Zurich embodies the two nations’ keenness to deepen cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Switzerland in various fields, most notably in finance and economics,” Al-Jadaan said in a post on X a day before the event.   

“Today, I was pleased to inaugurate the 4th Saudi-Swiss Financial Dialogue with the participation of the Head of the Federal Department of Finance & Vice President of the Swiss Federal Council, Ms. Karin Keller-Sutter. I emphasized on the Kingdom’s aspiration to explore new areas and markets that would deepen the existing cooperation between the two nations,” the minister added in another post.

In February, a high-profile delegation of Swiss business leaders visited Saudi Arabia to explore burgeoning trade and investment prospects in the Kingdom.   

Guy Parmelin, a Swiss Federal Councillor and head of the Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research, led the delegation at the time.  

In an interview with Arab News during his visit, Parmelin highlighted the robust growth in trade between Switzerland and Saudi Arabia in recent years. “Swiss companies are very interested in investing in the Kingdom,” he added.   

He emphasized the eagerness of the accompanying business delegation to capitalize on Saudi Arabia’s rapidly transforming economic landscape.   

In November 2022, during an official visit to Riyadh, Swiss Finance Minister Ueli Maurer met with his Saudi counterpart, Al-Jadaan, and they signed a cooperation agreement to inaugurate the third Saudi-Swiss Financial Dialogue.   

Lauding the strength of the Saudi economy, Maurer stressed the importance of bilateral dialogues in developing economic activities in both countries and strengthening Switzerland’s role as a strategic partner for the Kingdom in achieving the goals of Vision 2030. 


Pakistan stocks hit record high on budget, IMF optimism

Pakistan stocks hit record high on budget, IMF optimism
Updated 20 June 2024
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Pakistan stocks hit record high on budget, IMF optimism

Pakistan stocks hit record high on budget, IMF optimism
  • Pakistan released tax-heavy budget last week which investors believe will strengthen case for new IMF bailout
  • Market breached 78,000 level for first time during intraday trade as it reopened after five-day break on Thursday

KARACHI: Pakistan’s benchmark share index rose 2.8 percent to a new record high on Thursday, driven by expectations last week’s budget will strengthen the case for a new bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

The government’s budget was welcomed by investors as it avoided an anticipated increase in capital gains tax, despite an ambitious tax revenue target.

The market extended its post-budget rally on Thursday when it reopened after a five-day break, which included a public holiday, and breached the key 78,000 level for the first time during intraday trade.

Foreign portfolio investment in the market is at the highest in almost ten years, with inflows of $83 million as of June 14, data compiled by Topline Securities and JS Global Capital showed.

Sohail Mohammed, CEO of Topline Securities, said that a statement from credit rating agency Fitch that the budget would strengthen the prospects for an IMF deal would help to bring more foreign inflows.

The benchmark share index is up 26.2 percent year to date and has almost doubled since Pakistan signed a nine-month standby arrangement with the IMF last summer.

“Pakistani equity investors are driving the PSX higher, continuing to unlock valuations on better sentiment, which is a trend that began when Pakistan signed its last IMF deal last summer,” said Amreen Soorani, head of research at JS Global Capital.

“The trend paused briefly on anticipation of stricter capital gains taxes, which did not materialize,” she said, adding that the index is trading at a four times price to earnings ratio despite the recent rally and offers attractive dividend yields.

The financial sector was up 4.4 percent, with banks like UBL, HBL, MCB, Bank Alfalah, Habib Metropolitan Bank, Allied Bank, up more than 4 percent.

Adnaan Sheikh, assistant vice president of research at Pak Kuwait Investment Company, said that foreign investor interest and the central bank’s decision to cut its key rate by 150 basis points last week — its first rate cut in nearly four years — had pushed the market up.

Apart from the capital gains tax, analysts said the budget and other revenue measures were in line with expectations and key to sealing a new IMF program. This will include a challenging tax target of a near-40 percent jump from the current year and a sharp drop in the fiscal deficit to 5.9 percent of GDP from 7.4 percent for the current year.

Sheikh said the strict budgetary measures to secure new IMF funding will be likely to attract more foreign investors to the market, in addition to the current inflows.

Pakistan’s lower house of parliament is set to meet later on Thursday to debate the budget that the government presented last week. 


Giga-projects propel Saudi Arabia’s construction boom amid global interest, study says

Giga-projects propel Saudi Arabia’s construction boom amid global interest, study says
Updated 20 June 2024
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Giga-projects propel Saudi Arabia’s construction boom amid global interest, study says

Giga-projects propel Saudi Arabia’s construction boom amid global interest, study says

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s state-backed initiatives, including NEOM and Vision 2030, are driving growth in the construction sector, attracting substantial domestic and international investments, an analysis showed.    

In its latest report, global consultancy firm Turner & Townsend highlighted that the construction activities are also driven by the Kingdom’s preparations for EXPO 2030 and the 2034 FIFA World Cup.   

This comes as Saudi Arabia emerged as the leader in global construction activity for the first quarter, with the Kingdom having $1.5 trillion of projects in the pipeline, according to a report released earlier this month by real estate services firm JLL. 

The JLL analysis further highlighted that the Kingdom accounted for a 39 percent share of the total construction projects in the Middle East and North Africa region, valued at $3.9 trillion. 

“The stand-out story is the accelerated development of Saudi Arabia, where vast ambitions are being realized via projects like The Line, King Salman Park and Diriyah Gate,” said Mark Hamill, director and head of Middle East real estate and major programs, at Turner & Townsend.   

The Line is a linear smart city currently under construction in Saudi Arabia’s $500-billion megacity NEOM, while King Salman Park is a 4102-acre large-scale public park and urban district which is being developed in Riyadh.   

The report highlighted that despite political uncertainties, substantial investments are driving growth in the Gulf region as countries seek to diversify beyond traditional energy sources.  

This occurs against the backdrop of Turner & Townsend ranking the Kingdom as the 19th most expensive country for construction globally, contrasting sharply with the US, which dominated the top 10 list. 

The report further noted that construction cost inflation in Riyadh is easing from the highs of 7.0 percent seen in 2023, but is forecasted to remain high at 5.0 percent through 2024.   

The analysis also highlighted Saudi Arabia’s efforts to attract global corporate occupiers through its Regional Headquarters Program.  

It added: “This scheme encourages companies to launch offices in Saudi Arabia and there are cost advantages to office investment with an average high-rise central business district office in Riyadh costing a relatively low $2,266 per sq. m.”   

The UK-based company also pointed out that Saudi Arabia is also facing a shortage of skilled labor which is crucial to materialize and fulfill construction activities as planned.   

“Skilled labor shortages are also keeping costs elevated as Saudi Arabia suffers from a distinct shortage of skilled labor that is vital to deliver its most ambitious programs. The talent and resources needed for giga-projects in the country are also stretching overall supply chain capacity across the Middle East,” said the report.     

Regional insight  

According to the report, Qatar’s capital city Doha is the second most expensive market in the region at $2,096 per sq. m.   

However, following the high output in the lead-up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, construction cost inflation is projected to fall from 3.5 percent in 2023 to 2.5 percent in 2024, the study said.   

On the other hand, Dubai has an average cost to build of $1,874 per sq. m., supported by high tourism activity and residential sector development.  

“The UAE has been a hotspot for tourism in the region in recent years and its relatively low cost of construction, when compared with Western markets, still makes it an attractive place to build the hubs and amenities for international visitors,” said the report.     

It added: “In Dubai, residential development is buoying the local market as the city aims to support its growing population. Its attractiveness as a market is bolstered by its comparably low cost of construction.”   

On the other hand, Abu Dhabi is the fourth most expensive market in the Middle East at $1,844.2 per sq. m.   

Hamill noted that there are considerable real estate opportunities in the UAE and Qatar as inflation cools.   

He added: “Nevertheless, with labor capacity being stretched across the region, clients will need to review their procurement and contracting models to help mitigate supply chain disruption and maximize the potential opportunities on offer.”   

Global outlook  

The report revealed that construction pipelines globally are set to grow this year, but skill shortage could remain a major concern.   

“The global real estate market is emerging from a challenging period of inflationary pressures, volatility and disruption. Our sector has proved resilient, and a focus on building new approaches to procurement and supply chain development to drive efficiency and productivity is opening new opportunities across many markets,” said Neil Bullen, managing director, global real estate at Turner & Townsend.   

He added: “Clients need to understand where labor bottlenecks may constrain their capital investment programs and work collaboratively with the supply chain to understand how best to mitigate the risk to delivery.”   

The US dominated the rankings of the most expensive places to build, with six cities from the country grabbing their spots in the top 10 list.   

New York retained its position as the most expensive market to build in for the second year running at an average cost of $5,723 per sq. m., closely followed by San Francisco at $5,489.   

Zurich came in the third spot as it surpassed Geneva in the ranking with an average cost of $5,035 per sq. m. Geneva, which came in the fourth spot, averaged $5,022 per sq. m.   

US cities Los Angeles, Boston, Seattle and Chicago came in the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth spots respectively in the list.   

From Asia, Hong Kong came in the ninth spot with an average cost of $4,500, followed by London at $4,473.   

The report also highlighted that implementing technology in the construction sector could help overcome various challenges faced by the industry.   

“Accelerating digitalization also presents a huge opportunity, but this requires us to keep up with the demand for skilled labor, and persistent shortages risk constraining potential growth,” said Bullen.   

He added: “As interest rate cuts become an increasing possibility for many markets, and pent-up investor appetite can be unlocked, capacity could be tested still further.” 


Credit facilities for UAE’s business and industrial sectors exceed $206.2bn

Credit facilities for UAE’s business and industrial sectors exceed $206.2bn
Updated 20 June 2024
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Credit facilities for UAE’s business and industrial sectors exceed $206.2bn

Credit facilities for UAE’s business and industrial sectors exceed $206.2bn

RIYADH: The cumulative credit balance in the UAE’s business and industrial sectors rose to 757.4 billion dirhams ($206.2 billion) in the first quarter of the year, up from 741.8 billion dirhams at the end of 2023.

A release from the Central Bank of the UAE showed that credit facilities extended just by the country’s national banks to these sectors reached 15.6 billion dirhams in the three months of the year.

Comparing month-on-month figures, the credit balance saw a rise of 9.3 billion dirhams in March compared to the previous month, reflecting a steady upward trend in lending activities, the Emirates News Agency said.

Year-on-year, the sectors experienced a substantial 3.02 percent increase in credit availability, amounting to 22.2 billion dirhams from 735.2 billion dirhams in March 2023, showcasing sustained financial support over the past year.

National banks emerged as the primary financiers, contributing 841.7 billion dirhams or 90 percent of the combined credit balance for these sectors by the end of the first quarter of 2024, according to WAM.

In contrast, foreign banks held a smaller share, providing 84.3 billion dirhams, highlighting the dominant role of domestic financial institutions in driving economic growth.

Geographically, Abu Dhabi-based banks played a significant role by extending credit amounting to 374.1 billion dirhams, while Dubai-based banks provided 363.3 billion dirhams. 

Additional Emirates banks collectively contributed 104.3 billion dirhams to support business and industrial activities during the same period, underscoring the balanced regional distribution of financial resources.

In terms of banking preferences, conventional financial institutes continued to be the preferred choice for credit financing, accounting for approximately 694 billion dirhams or 82.5 percent of the total credit extended to the trade and industry sectors by March 2024. 

Islamic banks, reflecting their growing influence in the financial sector, contributed approximately 147.7 billion dirhams, constituting 17.5 percent of the financing provided, reflecting their expanding role in catering to diverse financial needs.

In 2023, the UAE’s industrial sector alone contributed $54 billion to the country’s gross domestic product, up 9 percent compared to 2022 figures.     

The boost was attributed to four main pillars, including providing a business-friendly environment that supports the growth and attractiveness of UAE firms, the Emirates News Agency reported.


Saudi Arabia leads emerging markets in bond issuance, surpassing China

Saudi Arabia leads emerging markets in bond issuance, surpassing China
Updated 20 June 2024
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Saudi Arabia leads emerging markets in bond issuance, surpassing China

Saudi Arabia leads emerging markets in bond issuance, surpassing China

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has emerged as the top issuer of international bonds among emerging markets, surpassing China with $33.2 billion in bond sales to date, according to a new report.  

This marks the first time in 12 years that China has been displaced from the top spot, thanks to an 8 percent growth in Saudi Arabia’s bond sales this year, Bloomberg reported.  

The Kingdom’s record pace of borrowing is driven by increasing support from global debt investors for the nation’s Vision 2030 plan which aims to diversify the Saudi economy away from oil dependence and transform the country into a global business hub by the end of the decade.  

In contrast, Chinese borrowers are experiencing a significant shift in their financing strategies. A surge in demand for local-currency bonds has slowed China’s international bond issuance to one of its lowest levels in recent years.   

“Sentiment for Saudi bonds is very healthy,” Apostolos Bantis, managing director of fixed-income advisory at Union Bancaire Privee, told Bloomberg.  

“It’s not a surprise that the Kingdom has become the largest EM bond issuer given its large funding needs for large infrastructure projects,” he added.  

Saudi Arabia’s ascent is particularly notable given its relatively smaller economy compared to China.   

With a gross domestic product only 1/16th the size of China’s, the Kingdom’s ability to attract substantial international investment is a testament to the growing confidence in its economic reforms and strategic vision.  

The surge in bond issuance across emerging markets reflects a broader trend of falling borrowing costs and a robust appetite for higher yields among global investors.   

This favorable environment is enabling countries like Saudi Arabia to secure funding for ambitious projects aimed at economic diversification and enhanced global connectivity.  

In addition to boosting its bond issuance, Saudi Arabia is actively seeking alternative sources of funding to address an anticipated fiscal shortfall of approximately $21 billion this year, the report stated.  

The Kingdom expects its total funding activities for the year to reach around $37 billion to help accelerate the Vision 2030 initiatives.

The substantial turn to the bond market is partly a response to shortfalls in foreign direct investment and constrained oil revenues due to supply cuts.