Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
In 2015, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was appointed as Minister of Defense in Saudi Arabia, making him the youngest person in the world to hold the title. Listening to his last televised interview, it’s easier to understand the scope of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030.
Besides its direction, it appears the sheer size of the endeavour required that details be shared strategically so as not to shock. When Vision 2030 was announced in April 2016 and then quickly launched in Ramadan (two months later), it featured two programs:
“Two programs were launched, namely the National Transformation Program and the fiscal balance program,” he explains. “These programs should be achieved during 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 (…) we were racing time, we don’t want to be late and at the same time we want to deliver professional outcomes”.
Yet, speaking this May on Saudi TV channel MBC, he adds, “Last Sunday, we decided on 10 programs for 2020”.
A Diversified Saudi Arabian Economy…
The Vision he announced begins to tackle a daunting task which lies before Saudi Arabia: the job of reducing the oil-rich Kingdom’s dependence on the black gold.
“I don’t want to say that it was more that what we expected,” explains MbS, speaking on the Vision’s impact on the economy, since its implementation last year. “So, if we observe the situation from 50,000 feet, we will find that the budget deficit is less than what local and global experts have expected for 2015, 2016 and 2017. We will also find that non-oil revenues have nearly doubled during these 2 years, from SAR 111 billion to approximately SAR 200 billion.”
When asked about Aramco, the world’s largest oil company (and which is soon to be partially privatized, in what should be the world’s largest IPO for a company), he says:
“Aramco will (…) help target many sectors in and outside Saudi Arabia. One of the most important sectors that Aramco will fund inside Saudi Arabia is the mining sector. According to the 1970s survey, which was re-evaluated last year, we believe there are opportunities in mining worth $1.3 trillion. This is the value of the minerals in Saudi Arabia. Of which gold only accounts for more than $240 billion”.
… with its own Entertainment City
Alongside the multitude of sectors opening up, murmurs of granting visitors tourist visas, and of opening a Six Flags entertainment ‘city’ have been heard.
“This is the most difficult sector,” he says, “because the decision is fully taken by the Saudi citizen and not linked in any way to the Saudi government. Thus, it is difficult to invest in a sector that will require the Saudi citizen to be convinced to spend the money inside Saudi Arabia rather than abroad”.
Accordingly, he addresses a culture shock that some foreign companies fear upon considering entry to the Saudi market.
”I’ll tell you a recent incident that happened during the German chancellor’s visit,” he says. “German companies had a problem that our licenses in Saudi Arabia for (…) one year while their strategies and investments are based on four years. In this case, a change is made and the license will last for five years. Easy procedures greatly motivate the work of foreign companies in Saudi Arabia.”
The Fight Against Corruption
Corruption is not to be forgotten. A Minister, who has undertaken many bold initiatives for his country, has recently been removed due to his abuse of power. The Crown Prince thus also spoke about the role of social media in the fight against corruption.
“I reiterate that anyone who is involved in corruption will not be spared, whether he is a minister, a prince or whoever he is. Anyone whom there is enough evidence against him will be held accountable.”
However, he adds: “Documents regarding corruption must not be taken from social media networks as we do not know who is forging it and who is not, and what is real and what is fake, and who has a certain agenda and who doesn’t. Any Saudi citizen who has documents that expose corruption or information about corruption can submit them to the relevant authority, mainly to the anti-corruption commission and he must trust the relevant authorities and have confidence they will perform their role.”