Thursday, February 29, 2024

Saudi jobs boom unmatched anywhere in the world, Budget Forum told

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RIYADH: Some 1.1 million new jobs have been created in Saudi Arabia in the past year as the Kingdom’s economic diversification policies continue to bear fruit, according to a government minister.

At a special forum organized in Riyadh to mark the announcement of Saudi Arabia’s 2024 budget, Minister of Human Resources Ahmad Al-Rajhi said no other nation in the world had seen such an increase over the period.

He also said that initiatives by the government to support the private sector have led to 361,000 new workers in the job market. 

The press conference came a day after Saudi Arabia approved the state budget for 2024, with revenues projected at SR1.17 trillion ($312.48 billion) and expenditure at SR1.25 trillion, leading to a deficit of SR79 billion. 

In its announcement, the Finance Ministry projected the Kingdom’s gross domestic product growth at 4.4 percent in 2024 an increase from the estimated 0.03 percent in 2023. 

It predicted the Kingdom’s public debt for the next fiscal year to stand at SR1.10 trillion, or 25.9 percent of GDP. This represents a 7.71 percent increase from the re-estimated 2023 figures of SR1.02 trillion, constituting 24.8 percent of the GDP.

Fiscal reserves

Speaking at the forum, Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan emphasized Saudi Arabia’s need for adequate fiscal reserves at the Saudi Central Bank, also known as SAMA, to absorb external shocks.

The minister underscored the need to avoid competing with the private sector for funding. He also highlighted all sectoral and regional strategies and projects to optimize funding and execution for maximum economic return.

He said that spending efficiency means optimal resource use for the highest return, not just reducing expenditure.

Al-Jadaan told the forum that the Efficiency of Expenditure Authority, along with government authorities, saved nearly SR225 billion.

Conducive environment

Minister of Economy and Planning Faisal Al-Ibrahim said Vision 2030 has created a conducive environment and pushing the Kingdom toward its goal of economic diversification. 

National capabilities have now become a long-term priority, he added.

The minister said the Kingdom is dedicated to achieving optimal economic diversification. He told the forum that the Saudi trade balance had improved due to increased service exports rising from SR65 billion in 2016 to SR135 billion today.

Highlighting the non-oil economic growth of the Kingdom since 2016, Al-Ibrahim said the contribution of non-oil revenues to covering costs increased from 19 percent to 35 percent.

The minister said the reliance of government spending on the oil sector has now decreased to 50 percent. 

The government’s investments in sectors, including electric vehicles and others, present great opportunities for the private sector, he added.

Moreover, unemployment rates are consistently declining, with a notable participation of women in the labor market, currently ranging between 35 percent and 36 percent.

Housing sector
Minister of Municipal and Rural Affairs and Housing Majid Al-Hogail said that the ministry has been working to increase the homeownership rate by 1 percent annually since 2020, by adding more than 100,000 residential units every year.

He said this is being done in partnership with the private sector players.

The minister said more than 105,000 housing units will be offered with the help from local developers, especially in areas witnessing high prices, such as Riyadh and Jeddah, through multiple suburbs.

Furthermore, the ministry aims to have developers from outside the Kingdom to diversify and focus on residential suburbs more than housing, said Al-Hogail.

He highlighted that the housing targets, as per Vision 2030, were planned to go through three stages, while ensuring that there is a sustainable program that does not depend solely on government spending.

The ministry focused this year on raising the quality of services in cities.

It also aims to privatize 70 percent of the municipal sector in coordination with the National Center for Privatization & PPP. The ministry privatized 19 percent of this sector in 2023 and aims to privatize 30 percent of services next year.

Logistics

Saudi Arabia added 27 new shipping lines in 2023, leading to faster arrival of goods, higher revenues, and improved shipping rates, Minister of Transport and Logistics Saleh Al-Jasser told the forum.

He said there are eight new logistics zones in Jeddah Port with investments of global major shipping lines, operators of container terminals, and major international companies specialized in the field of logistics services.

Of these, three zones are open, and five are under construction. 

Education
More than 90 educational service projects became operational in 2023, while 707 schools Kingdom-wide were rehabilitated in cooperation with the Ministry of Finance, Education Minister Yousef Al-Benyan said.

Mining sector

Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources Bandar Alkhorayef emphasized his ministry’s focus on increasing the discovery of natural resources. 

He highlighted the positive impact of these efforts, stating: “We are beginning to see that this system is already considered one of the best investment regulations globally.”

Water security

Minister of Environment, Water and Agriculture Abdulrahman Al-Fadley outlined the Kingdom’s plans for water demand until 2050. He said: “We produce 11 million cubic meters of desalinated water, and within two years, this number will jump to 14 million cubic meters, reaching 18 million cubic meters by 2030.”

Al-Fadley also highlighted environmental initiatives at the forum. “We’ve initiated 65 projects in the environmental sector, with a planned investment of SR55 billion, ensuring they yield financial returns.”

He highlighted the ambitious goal of elevating waste recycling from 4 percent to an impressive 95 percent, contributing about SR120 billion to Saudi Arabia’s GDP.

Healthcare

Health Minister Fahd Al-Jalajel provided insights into the sector’s transformation, stating: “In the past, we were the ministry of sickness, not the ministry of health. Today, we have switched our focus to the patient.” 

Al-Jalajel emphasized the success of the salt reduction policy in lowering the mortality rate from chronic diseases.

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