Bahrain opens giant residential town, to house 90,000

His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa last night opened the biggest residential town in Bahrain – the Northern Town – in the presence of HRH Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa and HRH Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Crown Prince, Deputy Supreme Commander and First Deputy Premier.

He announced that the new housing project would be named “Salman Town”, in tribute to HRH the Crown Prince for his dedicated efforts and outstanding contribution to the nation’s progress and prosperity, reported BNA.

The new housing town will boast all major amenities including health, educational, religious and sport and transportation facilities in addition to modern road network and developed infrastructure for more than 90,000 residents.

UAE-based Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) has allocated Dh2.6 billion ($700 million) towards the project. It has been developed as part of the Dh9.175 billion ($2.5 billion) UAE grant for Bahrain being managed by ADFD within the GCC development programme for Bahrain.

HM the King was greeted by school students on his arrival at the site of the ceremony. He was also welcomed by Housing Minister Basim bin Yacoub Al Hamer and Northern Governor Ali Abdulhussein Al Asfoor.

Speaking at the inaugural ceremony, HM the King said he was delighted to launch the landmark model Northern Town, taking pride in Bahrain’s successive development achievements.

“By good fortune, the opening of this modern milestone comes as part of a massive urban and civilisational stride that meets the needs of all region and consolidates the standing of each governorate to play its role in supporting the national economy for Bahrain to be a model of modernism and development.” he remarked.

He lauded the Bahraini nationals for their crucial contribution to the landmark march of development, hailing citizens’ enlightened thinking and firm belief in their ability to brave all challenges and seize all opportunities for positive change – all for the sake of he nation’s progress and prosperity.

“These lofty qualities, which long marked the people of Bahrain since olden times, is now leading them towards more security and stability”, said HM the King, commending all enterprises for supporting the completion of the project – adding that the Northern Town would rank among the cities of the future. At the end of the ceremony, HM the King handed over the first two units to eligible recipients.

In his address, Al Hamer paid tribute to HM the King for patronising the inauguration of the landmark development. The housing minister hailed the string of remarkable achievements and outstanding strides in the prosperous era.

Al Hamer cited the royal order to construct 40,000 units, describing the move as a quantum in the housing momentum which spans up to 60 years, during which towns and blocs were construction countrywide.

He underlined various stages in constructing the model town, ever since HRH the Crown Prince laid the foundation stone, including reclamation, engineering blueprints in cooperation with the French Urban Authority, reported BNA.

He said work on more than 3,000 housing units had already been completed, pointing out that the Northern Town would have eventually the capacity to accommodate more than 90,000 people.

The Northern Town features all amenities, including health, educational, religious and sport and transportation facilities and services, in addition to modern road network and developed infrastructure.

He commended the support of the government, chaired by HRH the Premier, as well as HRH the Crown Prince through the Executive Committee. He also commended the ministerial committee for urbanization and infrastructure, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Abdulla Al-Khalifa, said the report.

ADFD Director General Mohammed Saif Al Suwaidi said: “We have actively supported Bahrain government over the past years in achieving its sustainable development objectives. These ADFD funded projects have translated into profound benefits for Bahraini society and accelerated the country’s economic growth.”

ADFD, he stated, is committed to stepping up collaboration with the Bahraini government and moving ahead with the implementation of several vital development projects in the country that serve key sectors including housing, water, health, transport and communications.

Spanning an area of nearly 740 hectares, the city was built after filling about 37.5 million cu m of land in the shallow part of the Bahrain Island with a depth ranging from half a metre to two and a half metres over the past two years.

In addition to housing, the project involves the construction of roads and two dedicated pedestrian and vehicular bridges, as well as the provision of sewage services.

Later a documentary film which showcases the construction of the multi-phased Northern Town was shown, highlighting cooperation between all parties and different amenities and facilities – including beaches, mosques, schools, universities, and nurseries, in addition to hospital, health centres and clinics and sport city which includes a football stadium, it added.


UAE’s VAT move has gone well, inflation to moderate- IMF official

DUBAI- The United Arab Emirates’ introduction of value-added tax has gone smoothly and inflation, having jumped in response, will moderate, the head of the International Monetary Fund’s mission to the country said on Thursday.

Natalia Tamirisa said the 5 percent VAT rate imposed at the start of this year was a big cultural and administrative shift in a country that has traditionally had minimal taxation.

“Given the challenges, VAT introduction has been well managed and relatively smooth,” she told Reuters after a visit to the UAE for talks with authorities.
Annual consumer price inflation jumped to 4.8 percent in January, the highest since 2015, but dropped back to 3.4 percent in March. Tamirisa said the latest data suggested the impact of the tax would be short-lived, partly because inflation had dropped in areas of the economy not covered by VAT.

Slumping real estate markets in Abu Dhabi and Dubai have pulled down residential rents, which are heavily weighted in consumer price indexes.
Inflation is expected to average 3.5 percent this year, up from 2.0 percent last, but will ultimately settle around 2.5 percent, Tamirisa predicted.

She said the new tax was expected to lift revenues by 1.5 percent of gross domestic product in the long run.

Tamirisa said property market weakness was having a significant economic impact and authorities needed to monitor this carefully. Average rents sank 10.2 percent in Abu Dhabi in 2017 and 5.2 percent in Dubai, according to the central bank.

“There is persistent supply coming into the market so at least for this year, the balance between supply and demand is likely to keep prices soft,” Tamirisa said.

But partly because authorities had taken steps to limit speculation, the weak property prices did not pose a systemic threat to the economy as they did almost a decade ago during the Dubai financial crisis.

Tamirisa said it was too early to assess the impact on the UAE of the U.S. pullout from the Iran nuclear deal, partly because the impact on Iran itself was not yet clear.

The UAE could benefit if Iran found it harder to sell its oil, giving Arab oil producers more room to boost their crude exports at higher prices. But Dubai has close business links with Iran and these could suffer, economists say.

By Andrew Torchia, Reuters News
(Reporting by Andrew Torchia; editing by John Stonestreet) ((; +9715 6681 7277; Reuters Messaging:

King Salman launches Qiddiya project near Riyadh

Riyadh — Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman officially launched on Saturday Qiddiya, the entertainment, sports and cultural destination that will be the first of its kind in the Kingdom.

Spanning an area of 334 square kilometers, the new destination is just 40 kilometers west of the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

The ground-breaking ceremony was conducted in the presence of Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Defense and Chairman of the Public Investment Fund, as well as several princes and ministers and an audience of 300 dignitaries from around the world.

King Salman placed the last baton of the Qiddiya logo, triggering a spectacular firework show that lit up the sky outside the capital and dramatically illuminated the Tuwaiq Mountain cliffs overlooking the site.

The Public Investment Fund (PIF), which supports the project, affirmed that Qiddiya is a cultural, recreational and social achievement that strengthens the rich fabric of Saudi Arabia and meets the growing needs of Saudi citizens to develop their hobbies, test their talents and enjoy domestic tourism and leisure activities.

Qiddiya will also be a significant addition to the Saudi economy, and will enhance national income sources. More importantly, it is the center of a completely new economic sector that will also lead to the emergence of additonal sectors and services as it develops.

PIF has announced Qiddiya and other major projects aimed at diversifying the national economy to overcome oil price fluctuations and avoid relying on a single major source of income as outlined in Vision 2030.

The Ground-breaking Ceremony included the national anthem at the arrival of King Salman at the ceremony site, followed by a recitation from the Holy Quran, and then by an opening address from the CEO of Qiddiya, Michael Reininger.

Saudi rising talent then took the stage with Aa’ed Yousef performing a song with lyrics written by Prince Bader bin Abdulmohsen as a present to King Salman.

The display of Saudi talent highlighted the opportunity that Qiddiya will present to develop the abilities of young Saudis.

The Ceremony included a three-act show that took the audience through time, examining Saudi Arabia’s past, present and future growth.

The first act began with a story about an elderly man’s memories of Saudi Arabia as he reflected on what life was like for him as the country developed. He then moved on to his thoughts about the present day, the changes that are taking place, and then to the future, the country’s wise leadership and the direction the country is now moving in, as it realizes its potential and works to realize the goals of Vision 2030.

The second act featured a video focusing on the tourist attractions that visitors will find at Qiddiya, from theme parks and nature encounters to sporting activities. The audience was immersed, through a spectacular visual presentation projected onto the walls of the venue, in a display of what will be offered at Qiddiya.

The show ended with Act 3 as King Salman placed the last piece of the Qiddiya logo, which will be the inspiration guiding the project.

The CEO of Qiddiya, Michael Reininger, commented: “In creating Qiddiya, we are building a brighter future. One filled with culture, sports, entertainment, and the arts that responds to the Saudi people’s desire for new and accessible activities that enrich their lives.”

Reininger added: “Qiddiya will also create a self-sustaining ecosystem. Based on our five cornerstones, which are parks and attractions; motion and mobility; nature and environment; sports and wellness; and culture, arts, and education, our development will be supported by retail, residential, and hospitality offerings to form a fully-integrated entertainment destination.”

Reininger invited investors and operators from around the world to explore what a one-of-a-kind project like Qiddiya has to offer. He pointed out that the project will seek out the best as they create a new entertainment experience for all residents and visitors of Saudi Arabia.

“With nearly two thirds of the Kingdom’s population under 35 and over 7 million people residing within 40 kilometers of this location, international investors are taking note of this powerful, untapped market, right here, on the doorstep of Riyadh,” he said.

Reininger also noted that Qiddiya – with a land area that is 2.5 times the size of Walt Disney World, or 100 times the size of Central Park in New York – aims to attract 17 million visitors by 2030.

Visitors to Qiddiya will have access to groundbreaking entertainment, sporting, and cultural attractions across innovatively designed facilities focusing on: theme parks and entertainment centers; sports amenities capable of hosting international competitions, and training academies; desert and asphalt tracks for motorsport enthusiasts; water and snow-based recreation; outdoor and adventure activities alongside nature and safari experiences; and an array of historical, cultural and educational activities and events. There will also be malls, restaurants, cafes, hotels and real estate projects, and services to cater for all segments of society.

The project will allow the domestic economy to recapture billions of dollars spent annually by Saudis on foreign tourism, by providing world-class entertainment options to the Saudi people. These funds will remain in the Kingdom to be reinvested for the benefit of citizens.

Saudi Gazette report

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Dubai among world’s top 3 model smart cities

Emirate has been taking a pioneering role in self-driving cars, automated ports, testing of delivery robots and drones and social robots among others.

Dubai has been chosen among the world’s top 3 model smart cities, pioneering in different public and private services for the betterment of its residents. This thanks to a host of initiatives adopted by the government which are aimed at not just robotising the public services but also to make the emirate the happiest city on Earth.

As part of smart city initiatives, Dubai has been taking a pioneering role in self-driving cars, automated ports, testing of delivery robots and drones and social robots among others.

Mateja Kovacic, visiting research fellow, University of Sheffield, has picked Tokyo, Singapore and Dubai as model smart cities.
She said Dubai is an emerging prototype of a smart city.

“Rather than seeing robotisation simply as a way to improve the running of systems, Dubai is intensively robotising public services with the aim of creating the ‘happiest city on Earth’,” she said in the note.
She pointed out that national governments are in competition to position themselves on the global politico-economic landscape through robotics, and they are also striving to position themselves as regional leaders.

“This was the thinking behind the city’s September 2017 test flight of a flying taxi developed by the German drone firm Volocopter – staged to ‘lead the Arab world in innovation’. Dubai’s objective is to automate 25 per cent of its transport system by 2030,” she noted.

Though the emirate has been crowned the regional leader in the smart city, however, analysts believe that there is still a long road ahead for the city to become global leader despite major advances and achievements acquired by it over the past few years.

Frederic Paquay, senior consultant, MEA, public sector and government, Frost & Sullivan, said Dubai has the ambition to become the smartest city in the world and the emirate announced the launch of the Dubai Smart City Project in 2013.

“In this context several initiatives have been planned and some are already implemented or conducted: establishment of Smart Dubai and Dubai Future Foundation as the government agencies leading the revolution, the world’s first blockchain-powered government by 2020, the world’s 3D-printing hub, 25 per cent of all rides in Dubai to be driverless by 2025, etc. However, the city still faces some challenges with regard to regulations, infrastructure, the entire approach of the government, homegrown tech innovation, etc. It is therefore our opinion that Dubai still has to work on various action items to meet its futuristic vision,” opined Paquay.

Citing examples, he said Dubai ranks 37 in Easy Park’s 2017 Smart City Index, 28 in 2thinknow’s 2016-2017 Innovation Cities Index and 29 in the Startup Cities Index. “If the city remains first in the region, it can still improve various parameters to take over the lead from Western and Asian competition.”

According to a Frost & Sullivan report, global smart cities to raise a market of more than $2 trillion by 2025 with artificial intelligence, personalised healthcare, robotics and distributed energy generation among technologies that will drive growth, efficiency, connectivity and urbanisation.

By 2050, over 80 per cent of the population in developed countries is expected to live in cities and 60 per cent from the developing world. The Asia-Pacific region is anticipated to be the fastest-growing region in the smart technology space by 2025.

In Asia, more than 50 per cent of smart cities will be in China, with smart city projects generating $320 billion for China’s economy by 2025.

“Currently most smart city models provide solutions in silos and are not interconnected. The future is moving towards integrated solutions that connect all verticals within a single platform. Internet of Things is already paving the way to allow for such solutions,” said Vijay Narayanan, visionary innovation senior research analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

Paquay noted that Dubai is a young city and the smart city initiatives are still recent. However, Dubai has been evolving quite rapidly compared to the rest of the world and is today leading the way in the GCC and Mena region. The vision developed by Dubai government is, in this case, an important enabling parameter and most of international experts today see Dubai as a leading actor in the smart economy.

“Nevertheless, Dubai still remains at an emerging stage and we believe it should undertake a comprehensive future economy strategic plan involving all government and private stakeholders to become one of the smartest cities in the world. Several initiatives must be developed today to prepare the future in the next 15-30 years, some of them being, educating and training the human capital to improve access to the right talents, developing R&D programmes and incentives to create homegrown tech innovations, preparing the market ecosystem and the business community to the future smart economy, creating a holistic regulatory framework towards sustainable acceleration, etc.”

Today, Dubai is not the smartest city in the world, but with the work conducted by all government agencies including Smart Dubai and Dubai Future Foundation to build the right blocks for the future, there is no doubt that the emirate will become one of the smartest of all cities in the world in the years to come, he concluded.

By Waheed Abbas, Khaleej Times, 28 APRIL, 2018
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Tourism to contribute ‘double digits’ to Bahrain’s GDP in coming years

In 2017, tourism and hospitality contributed about 6.3 percent to the country’s GDP, according to official figures

Bahrain hopes that the tourism and hospitality sector will contribute “double digits” to its GDP over the next several years, according to Ali Ghunam Murtaza, the director of real estate, tourism and leisure business development at the Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB).

According to official figures, tourism contributed 6.3 percent to Bahrain’s GDP in 2017.

Speaking to Arabian Business at the Arabian Travel Market, Murtaza said that the figure is likely to grow as ongoing tourism projects are completed.

“We foresee the contribution to go up for many reasons. Part of that is that we are actively working towards it. We want the contribution of tourism to increase along with other sectors in Bahrain,” he said. ” It’s an active strategy.”

“Through direct and indirect investment to tourism, I think it will be a big part of GDP,” he added. “Our aim is to get into double digits soon.”

In the longer term, Murtaza said he hopes that tourism’s contribution to GDP will reach as high as 20 percent, as much as other sectors such as banking.

“We aim to get it there in the long run,” he noted, adding that the county also hopes to attract 15 million tourists a year by 2020, up from approximately 12.7 million in 2017.

Additionally, Murtaza noted that investment in Bahrain’s tourism sector has reached $13 billion, a figure which encompasses 14 separate projects in the country’s tourism and leisure sector.

The tourism projects, in turn, form part of a larger infrastructure development campaign across a number of sectors, which is collectively valued at more than $32 billion.

“We have fantastic five-star resorts coming in, such as the Address, the Vida, the Jumeirah [Royal Saray], and so forth,” he said. “In addition to that, we’ve also started adding to our retail offerings, such as The Avenues, and we have a couple of others.”

To encourage more visitors to come to Bahrain, Murtaza noted that Gulf Air has invested nearly $7.2 billion to expand its fleet and “modernise the Gulf Air brand”, as well as $1.1 billion investments into expanding and improving Bahrain’s national airport, a project which Murtaza said is approximately 60 percent complete.

Looking to the future, Murtaza said that partnering with foreign investors is a key pillar of Bahrain’s strategy to increase visitor numbers and revenue from tourism.

“We work with them [companies based outside of Bahrain] very closely to identify opportunities where they can bring synergy to the table, where they bring quality investment, quality operations,” he said. “There are a lot of firms around the world with a lot of specific experiences.”

“We work to identify the top ones, and we work to get them to like Bahrain, get them to understand the opportunities, and then we enable the investment,” he added. “We are partners for the long-run.”

By Bernd Debusmann Jr, 23 Apr 2018

Healthcare in Dubai on steady growth track, says new report

Over the last five years, the knock-on effect of these changes has led to a huge growth, such as the number of hospital beds increasing from 1,448 in 2012 to 2,434 beds in 2016.

Dubai’s healthcare sector saw ample growth due to initiatives like investor-friendly environment, establishing a healthcare free zone and introducing mandatory insurance, according to a recent report.

Over the last five years, the knock-on effect of these changes has led to a huge growth, such as the number of hospital beds increasing from 1,448 in 2012 to 2,434 beds in 2016.

The healthcare contribution has shifted to the private sector from 41 per cent to 53 per cent over the same period, according to the Knight Frank’s Hub Report which focuses on benchmarking Dubai against the seven other key global cities, across key sectors – healthcare, manufacturing and logistics, business and financial services, tourism and education.
There is an increase in demand for healthcare services over the past 10 years, spurred by population growth, increase incidence of lifestyle-related medical conditions and medical tourism. Shehzad Jamal, partner development consulting, healthcare and education, said: “The market is becoming increasingly sophisticated and speciality driven due to better awareness of the domestic market and medical tourism demand. So we are seeing a shift in demand from general to speciality hospitals, such as for orthopaedic, long-term care facilities and mother and child.

“Prominent examples of such facilities are Burjeel Hospital for Advanced Surgery and Medcare Women and Child Specialist Hospital,” he said.
Comparing Dubai’s number of beds per 1,000 population with developed countries (especially those that have a strong medical tourism focus such as Singapore, UK and USA), there is significant potential for growth. The outlook is that market demand will continue to grow and migrate towards more specialist healthcare facilities.

Dr Gireesh, senior manager development consulting, Healthcare, said: “There remains a dearth in preventive healthcare services catering to the growing number of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, obesity and hypertension, and associated co-morbidities such as renal and cardiovascular diseases.” He said patients’ awareness has increased over the years with more availability of information and smart healthcare systems such as smartwatches and applications.

By Asma Ali Zain, Khaleej Times, 23 APRIL, 2018
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First Saudi cinema opens with popcorn and ‘Black Panther”

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — The lights dimmed and the crowd of men and women erupted into applause and hoots Wednesday evening as Hollywood’s blockbuster “Black Panther” premiered in Saudi Arabia’s first movie theater.

Though it was a private, invitation-only screening, for many Saudis it marked one of the clearest moments of change to sweep the country in decades. It’s seen as part of a new era in which women will soon be allowed to drive and people in the kingdom will be able to go to concerts and fashion shows, and tuck into a bucket of popcorn in a cinema.

“It’s a new era, a new age. It’s that simple. Things are changing, progress is happening. We’re opening up and we’re catching up with everything that’s happening in the world,” said Rahaf Alhendi, who attended the showing.

Authorities said the public would be able to purchase tickets online Thursday for showings starting Friday. But there may be delays.

Movies screened in Saudi cinemas will be subject to approval by government censors, and Wednesday night’s premiere was no exception. Scenes of violence were not cut, but a final scene involving a kiss was axed.

Still, it’s a stark reversal for a country where public movie screenings were banned in the 1980s during a wave of ultraconservatism that swept Saudi Arabia. Many Saudi clerics view Western movies and even Arabic films made in Egypt and Lebanon as sinful.

Despite decades of ultraconservative dogma, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has pushed through a number of major social reforms with support from his father, King Salman, to satiate the desires of the country’s majority young population.

“This is a historic day for your country,” Adam Aron, CEO of AMC Entertainment, told the crowd at the screening. “It’s been about 37 years since you’ve been able to watch movies the way movies are meant to be watched in a theater, together on a big screen.”

U.S.-based AMC, one of the world’s biggest movie theater operators, only two weeks earlier signed a deal with Prince Mohammed to operate the first cinema in the kingdom. AMC and its local partner hurriedly transformed a concert hall in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, into a cinema complex for Wednesday’s screening.

Aron said the company plans to rip out the current concert-style seats and replace them with plush leather recliners and build three more screens in the complex to accommodate up to 5,000 movie-goers a day.

Samer Alsourani traveled from Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province for the event. He commended the crown prince for following through on his promises to modernize the country.

“This is the first time that we really see something that’s really being materialized,” he said.

The social reforms undertaken by the 32-year-old heir to the throne are part of his so-called Vision 2030, a blueprint for Saudi Arabia that aims to boost local spending and create jobs amid sustained lower oil prices.

The Saudi government projects that the opening of movie theaters will contribute more than 90 billion riyals ($24 billion) to the economy and create more than 30,000 jobs by 2030. The kingdom says there will be 300 cinemas with around 2,000 screens built by 2030.

AMC has partnered with a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, known as the Public Investment Fund, to build up to 40 AMC cinemas across the country over the next five years.

Saudi Arabia had already started gradually loosening restrictions on movie screenings in the past few years, with local film festivals and screenings in makeshift theaters. For the most part, though, until now Saudis who wanted to watch a film in a movie theater had to drive to nearby Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates for weekend trips to the cinema.

In the 1970s, there were informal movie screenings but the experience could be interrupted by the country’s religious police, whose powers have since been curbed.

Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi writer, describes the theaters of the 1970s as being “like American drive-ins, except much more informal.” In an opinion piece for The Washington Post, he wrote that a friend once broke his leg at a screening in Medina when he jumped off a wall to escape the religious police and avoid arrest.

By the 1980s, movie screenings were largely banned unless they took place in private residential compounds for foreigners or at cultural centers run by foreign embassies.

Access to streaming services, such as Netflix, and satellite TV steadily eroded attempts by the government to censor what the Saudi public could view. By 2013, the film “Wadjda” made history by becoming the first Academy Award entry for Saudi Arabia, though it wasn’t nominated for the Oscars.

To adhere to the kingdom’s norms on gender segregation, certain screenings may be held for families and others for male-only crowds. But, generally movie theaters will not be gender segregated with “family sections” for women and related men and separate “single sections” for male-only crowds as is customary at restaurants and cafes.

Saudi Minister of Culture and Information Awwad Alawwad told The Associated Press the government aims to strike a balance between the country’s Islamic mores and people’s movie experiences.

“We want to ensure the movies are in line with our culture and respect for values. Meanwhile, we want to provide people with a beautiful show and really enjoy watching their own movies,” he said.

The new movie theater also came equipped with prayer rooms to accommodate the daily Muslim prayer times.

By Aya Batrawy, April 18, 2018

Sharjah ruler announces salary hike for non-Emirati employees

The salaries of non-Emirati Sharjah government employees will also be hiked by 10 per cent retroactively from the start of January this year. This comes following directions of His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, on Saturday.

In a video, His Highness said that he wanted to increase salaries of all employees in Sharjah government in the beginning of 2018. He issued directions for pay hike of Emirati staff. Now, he has directed salary raise for the non-Emirati employees, while appreciating their loyalty.

His Highness had ordered a Dh600 million ($163.3mln) increase in the salaries of the emirate’s government employees which was implemented on January 1, 2018, for only Emirati nationals, who shall no more be categorized below the 8th grade.

By Staff Writer, Khaleej Times, 15 APRIL, 2018
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Private sector’s share in GDP up 48%

JEDDAH — The private sector’s contribution to the gross domestic product of Saudi Arabia grew to 48.22 percent in 2017 while non-oil private sector GDP rose from SR1,227.5 billion in 2016 to SR1,236.6 billion in 2017, said a report issued by the Council of Saudi Chambers.

The CSC highlighted the private sector’s contribution to the GDP in different sectors irrespective of global economic downturn, including falling oil prices. The private sector registered the highest growth rate of 5.76 percent in electricity, gas and water sector, it added.

Mining and quarrying stood second with 5.68 percent, followed by financial, insurance and real estate services 2.92 percent, transport, storage and communications 2.83 percent, agriculture 2.35 percent and banking 0.82 percent.

The CSC report reviewed the real opportunities the private sector has in light of Vision 2030 through a series of initiatives offered by the government, which envision a leading role for the private sector in boosting the Kingdom’s economy in the coming years.

The government has allocated SR72 billion to support the private sector, the report said while commending its move to privatize education, health and other sectors. Vital locations have been allocated for educational institutions, markets and recreational centers and large portions of land have been set aside on the Corniche for tourism and industrial projects.

The report praised the government’s endeavors to create a suitable atmosphere for private sector’s growth and strengthen confidence of Saudi and international investors in the national economy. “The Kingdom has launched another program to encourage Saudi exports.”

The government has welcomed opinion of private sector regarding the various rules and regulations in order to improve them, the report said, adding that the commercial courts have started their activities. It praised the state’s support for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

“Banks and financial institutions have been strengthened to issue products that meet the requirements of businesses, industries and other sectors,” the report said. They include financial products as well as support to small-scale business enterprises.

The council commended the government’s efforts to speed up issuance of licenses to business firms following international standards and regulations. The private sector’s increasing contributions to the GDP reflect on the good performance of the Saudi economy, the report said.

“This good performance is significant as it comes despite challenges at national, regional and international levels,” the CSC said. The economic indicators also showed good performance of the financial sector, foreign trade and stock market, it added.

This shows the success of five-year development plans and initiatives of Vision 2030 that were instrumental in expanding contribution of the private sector and diversifying the Kingdom’s economic base, the report pointed out.

Speaking about CSC’s strategic objectives, the report said: It boosts national development programs, strengthens business sectors in cooperation with government agencies, monitors economic changes at national and international levels, supports SMEs and contributes to Saudization of jobs. “Promotion of foreign economic relations, representation of Saudi businesses at international forums, activation of social responsibility initiatives and development of Saudi industries are other major objectives,” the report added.

Saudi Gazette report, 10 APRIL, 2018