Saudi News Roundup

Oct 22, 2016

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Confusing Calendar and An Amazing TV-Show

Undoubtedly, the major news item on and coming from Saudi Arabia is that the government has raised $17.5 billion through its sovereign bond issue. The issue was oversubscribed 380% to about $67billion. This step is alongside Vision 2030 to pivot the country’s economy from reliance on oil. The government aims at reducing its spending by 71% from $263.7 billion to $75.8 billion. The cutting down by $133 billion has not been discussed in public by SAMA. Generally, the economic thinking in Saudi Arabia revolves around Vision 2030. Don’t forget that Saudi Aramco is also planning its initial public offering.

The other big news was that Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) signed the Japanese technology billionaire investor plans for private funds – a $100 billion partnership that will allow the Japanese billionaire Mr Masatoshi Son to invest in the future of technology in Saudi Arabia, potentially to reap the benefits. It is a non-binding agreement to establish Soft Bank HQ in London. Saudi Arabia will commit to $45 billion over 5 years, Soft Bank $25 billion, and $30 billion will be raised from global investors.

In alliance with Vision 2030, the Ministry of Labour is developing a series of programs that should help to cut down unemployment by creating distance-working for handicapped persons, women and minority groups in the market, to give everyone a chance to participate in the market and acquire skills.

King Salman opened the international Conference on Technology Information this.

Saudi Aramco’s CEO has announced investments of $334 billion by 2025 to create more jobs and diversify its sources of income. SABIC reported a 6.8% fall in 3rdquarterly profits. The decrease in net income is due to lower average sale prices coupled with reduced sale quantities. Oil prices fell a tiny bit, creating an urgency for Saudi Arabia to reassure its commitment to cutting oil production – a step that will be finally discussed or agreed on at the OPEC meeting next month. Couldn’t really understand if they had agreed or will agree or want or …

Another exciting and interesting event took place on Wednesday evening – Champion League night – in a discussion with Finance Minister Ibrahim Al Assaf, Social Affairs Minister Khaled al Dajl and Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Planning Mohammed Al Towajri. The discussion aimed at explaining the reasons for government cutting on allowances – actually the unofficial main source of income of Saudi government officials. Viewers got to know that, despite the current circumstances, Saudi youth still would like to get government jobs – they don’t mind to give up their private sector position for less pay. This is not very encouraging as regards the direction of competition and progress.

Also, the average working hours of Saudi employees were estimated at one hour a day – a figure a Twitter user described as exaggerated because he estimated it at 15 minutes. The presenter, veteran journalist Dawood AlShrain, gave an almost comical performance. He tried to be that forceful western journalists with mature debating skills in which he took all the roles: supporter, negotiator, provoker, name it. It was aimed at bringing out numbers and figures that justified the government’s spending cuts, which are long overdue. The question remained where the money is that should have been put aside or invested at the times of high oil prices. No answer. Actually, the question was never really asked. And why wasn’t a normal citizen given a place to ask? Right, Dawood had to do it. I forgot.

Saudi women are finding their way, though. Not driving issues, thank God. A one-day function in Riyadh this week under the name ‘’Tabhat’’ was aimed at helping women find their way in the labour market and which jobs suit their abilities and skills, giving them right tools. Actually, there isn’t much for women in the Vision of 2030, if you had time to read it.

The path to Vision 2030 is beset with difficulties which lie in in social as well as cultural understanding. Cutting subsidies, such as water and electricity, and imposing VAT on people below certain income will cause considerable discomfort. Rumours concerning tax on expats were denied. A Saudi businessman said that he would be happy if 50% of the plan was completed.

On the political scene, the war in Yemen remains a major issue. After misleading information led to killing of people at a wedding Yemen, Saudi Arabia agreed to pay compensation to the families. Talks in Lausanne and London between the foreign ministers of the UK, US, Saudi Arabia and Russia failed to find a way to translate Mr Kerry’s words into action.

Saudi Arabia has proven to be a good home for Syrian refugees, with 20,000 of them being provided with homes, education and workplaces.

The government expressed its full support for the fight in Mosul against ISIS. After the row over its ambassador (accused of too much involvement in local politics) and who was later named as minister for Gulf Affairs – the presence in Iraq was reduced to the charge de affairs.

News also covered the closure of the Calais camp in France which hosted 5,700 refugees, mainly youngsters who hoped to move to the UK from France. A British dentist refused to check the teeth of young immigrants – a measure the UK government wanted to take to avoid fraudulent immigration cases.

India’s President Modi’s comments hinting indirectly at Pakistan as a terror hub, riots in a Brazilian prison and fire at Germany’s petrochemical giant BASF were reported, and, of course, the US presidential election. Al Arabiyah – Saudi Arabia’s unofficial TV channel, transmitted the debates live and showed great interest in covering stories on Trump’s various remarks. Yet it did remember to mention statistics on each candidates’ chances on respectively winning or losing.

The Philippine’s President Duarte’s tour of Asia, especially China, was also followed, as well as the row over the island between the two countries, with him preferring China over the USA. Seriously???

Not to forget German Chancellor Merkel’s faith and if she should be the candidate for her party after her not so successful handling the refugee crisis. She was given respect for her attempts to solve the Ukraine issue with Putin and Ukraine’s president.

My favourite news item was the change of calendars for payment of government salaries, which will now be regulated by the Solar Hijra calendar. Sorry, I really can’t tell what it is. Your star sign or the Hijra month??? No clue. Will let you know.


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