Much to the relief of the Kingdom’s construction industry which is struggling from an economic slowdown, Saudi Arabia has announced that it would provide compensation to contractors to meet the unexpected hike in expat fee for employees working in government sector projects approved before December 2016.
The Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported in a statement that after reviewing the imposition of monthly fees on expatriate labor, the Cabinet ordered the Finance Ministry to compensate enterprises which entered into government contracts before December 2016.
The second annual Saudi-US CEO Forum, which brought together more than 200 eminent business leaders from the Kingdom and the US for a day of formal presentations, panel discussions, and trade and cultural shows, concluded successfully and resulted in the signing of 36 MoUs worth more than $20 billion.
The annual forum brings forth discussions on mutual investment opportunities and contributes to strengthening economic ties, promoting bilateral trade and expanding awareness between Saudi Arabia and the US.
The MoUs inked between the two countries in line with various social and economic reforms undertaken by Saudi Arabia to achieve Vision 2030, calls for new partnerships in health care, manufacturing, entertainment, education and information technology sector.
Among the 36 memoranda, noteworthy MoUs include an Aramco-Google partnership focussing on cloud services and other technological opportunities, an Aramco-Raytheon partnership to establish national cyber security services, a five-year initiative between King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture and National Geographic to boost creativity and entertainment in the Kingdom, a collaboration between Saudi Industrial Development Fund (SIDF) and JP Morgan to discuss cooperation in industrial finance in Saudi Arabia and a partnership between Al-Rasheed International and SOS to provide medical services in the Kingdom with a focus on clinics in remote areas.
In another development following the CEO Forum, Saudi Arabia’s General Investment Authority (SAGIA) confirmed that it has granted licenses to 13 American companies to invest in the Kingdom.
The Governor of SAGIA, Eng. Ibrahim bin Abdurrahman Al-Omar, said in a statement that these licenses came within the framework of the Kingdom’s endeavor to motivate the global pioneering companies to pump more investments in accordance with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and to enhance the competitiveness of the investment environment in the Kingdom.
The US State Department has approved a possible arms sale worth more than $1 billion to Saudi Arabia. The announcement came days after Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman met US President Donald Trump at the White House, where Trump credited US defense sales to the Saudis.The department added that it had notified the US Congress on Thursday of the possible sale, which kick-starts a formal congressional review process.
The deal includes 6,600 TOW missiles and an additional 96 for training for a total of $670 million, a contract for equipment and services for Saudi Arabia’s military helicopters worth $106.8 million and $300 million worth spare parts for Saudi Arabia’s Abrams tanks and armoured vehicles, the State Department said in a statement.
“The proposed sale would safeguard the security of a friendly country which has been, and continues to be, an important force for political stability and economic growth in the Middle East”, the statement added.
“The proposed sale of TOW 2B missiles and technical support will advance Saudi Arabia’s efforts to develop an integrated ground defense capability”, it further added.
Earlier in 2017, when Trump visited the Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, and the US signed a $350 billion arms deal, the largest in the history of America. Since then, the US is a major supplier of weapons to the Kingdom.
The Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) revealed that the total volume of US investments in the Kingdom exceeded SR207 billion by February, signaling that the country’s economic reforms began to bear fruit. AT present, US investments in the Kingdom spread across 373 companies established in various sectors like service, industry, real-estate, scientific, technical and temporary licenses.
Of the total investments by American companies in the Kingdom, the industrial sector occupied the largest share of 95 projects and a funding of SR193 billion. The service sector came next, with a financing of SR13.5 billion in 245 projects while commercial sector came in third with a backing of over SR300 million to support 9 projects. Two projects in the real estate sector with a financing of SR16 million and an additional 16 projects under temporary license sector with a financing of SR2 million completed the US investments in the Kingdom.
The report published by SAGIA further noted that in 2017 alone, Saudi Arabia welcomed 16 American companies to the Kingdom, with an investment exceeding SR382.2 million. Of those, service sector saw the biggest inflows with thirteen licenses being awarded and over SR284.2 million being invested, followed by two licenses in the industrial sector with a funding of SR 97.5 million and one temporary licenses with a financing of SR 500,000.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest exporter of crude oil, is on the run to achieve its dream economic transformation plan, Vision 2030 and is undertaking several economic reforms to attract foreign investors to the Kingdom. “The above figures are ample proof that several major reforms to the Kingdom’s investment environment in accordance with Saudi Vision 2030 is becoming beneficial”, SAGIA said in a statement.
The Saudi Federation for Cyber Security and Programming (SFCSP) inked Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman during Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman’s US visit, according to reports from Saudi Press Agency (SPA).
The MoU signed with Lockheed Martin aims at creating a collaboration in cybersecurity and programming. The company will focus on developing and increasing the Kingdom’s proficiency in cybersecurity, programming, combatting viruses and cyber attacks by providing specialized training to Saudis.
Abdullah Sharaf Al-Ghamdi, Vice Chairman of SFCSP, co-signed the MoU on behalf of Saud bin Abdullah Al-Qahtani, Chairman of SFCSP, along with Alan Chinoda, CEO of Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin is a world-class aerospace, defense, and information security company that largely focusses on research, design, development and manufacturing sophisticated technologies and software systems.
“The agreement with Lockheed Martin will support the Kingdom’s youth, who are specialized in cybersecurity and programming, and will show them the seriousness and how these systems and infrastructure can be targeted, and learn how they can be protected through specialized and useful systems, which will contribute to raising awareness, protection, and realization”, said Al-Qahtani following the signing ceremony.
In another development, Al-Ghamdi co-signed a MoU with Northrop Grumman’s CEO and the National Commissioner of the Air Force Association.
The MoU signed with Northrop Grumman, another leading American global security company that provides innovative systems, products and solutions to government and commercial customers worldwide aims at cooperating on Cyber Security competitions and raising awareness in the cybersecurity and programming community.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman remarked that abayas are not a necessity for women, as long as they wear a “decent and respectful attire”. This historic statement signals a new progressive trend towards modernization in the deeply conservative Muslim nation.
Women in Saudi Arabia are currently required to wear abayas- the loose-fitting, full-length robes- which are a symbolic of Islamic culture. The Crown Prince’s remarks come amid moves to modernize the Kingdom and relax restrictions on women.
“The laws are very clear and stipulated in the laws of sharia: that women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men. This, however, does not particularly specify a black abaya or a black head cover. The decision is entirely left for women to decide what type of decent and respectful attire she chooses to wear”, the Crown Prince said in an interview with CBS television.
Women who do not wear abaya in places where they may be seen by men who are not related to them face being chastised by the religious police. In 2016, a Saudi woman was detained for removing her abaya on the main street in the capital city of Riyadh.
However, Saudi Arabia is currently embracing a more open and tolerant interpretation of Islam and has begun to loosen social restrictions on women, who can now attend mixed public sports events and will soon be allowed to drive cars on the roads of the Kingdom.
Last month, Sheikh Abdullah Al-Mutlaq, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars, said that women should dress modestly, but this did not necessitate wearing the abaya. However, it still remains unclear if these remarks indicate a change in the women’s dress code in the Kingdom.
As Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman’s ambitious drive to empower women is gaining momentum, over 40 Saudi women have taken up hospitality jobs in Makkah hotels.
Saudi women can now be seen adorning receptions as well as holding jobs in human resource, reservation, and cooking departments with ease and confidence.
“We are determined to be more professional and learn everything new in the hotel world,” said Sarrah Najjar, about her new career. “It is a pleasure and a passion to learn about many international cultures by dealing with visitors and pilgrims from different nationalities and countries”, added the excited receptionist.
Medical insurance coordinator Afaf Abdullah said the premise, privacy, professional development and training that she received is helping her do her job well.
Receptionist Reem Bakatain believes that opportunities become available to women when they are armed with knowledge and determination, and she is all set to work hard to develop her skills and gain knowledge about everything new in her career.
Women make up 56 percent of university graduates in Saudi Arabia and now women are bagging more jobs than ever in the private, public and government sectors.
The changing attitude of the age-old conservative Muslim country and its impressive measures to empower women socially, politically and economically is gaining applause and attention from the local and international community.
With the decision to grant the driving license to Saudi women and by allowing women to attend mixed public sporting events, Saudi Arabia is witnessing a massive social and economic change.
The high-speed Haramain Express train connecting the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah will be ready to serve passengers this year, following final safety trails and operational readiness tests carried out for high-speed trains, announced Nabeel Al Amoudi, Minister of Transportation and Chairman of the Saudi Railway Organisation.
The Haramain rail project, better known as “Western railway” or “Makkah-Madinah high-speed railway”, is a 453 km long high-speed intercity rail transport system linking Madinah and Makkah via King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) and King Abdul Aziz International Airport (KAIA) at Jeddah.
The $16 billion worth express train, which is expected to carry 60 million passengers per year, including millions of Hajj and Umrah pilgrims will use electric propulsion to attain an operating speed of 300kph.
The new service will reduce traffic congestion on highways as well as cut down traveling time between Makkah and Madinah to less than 2 hours, which otherwise would take 6 hours by any means of road transport.
The train service, which was initially scheduled to roll out in 2012, is one of the biggest public transport projects in the Middle East and is expected to play a vital role in realizing Kingdom’s Vision 2030 by harnessing its energies to serve pilgrims and guests.
Despite the anti-corruption probe that shook the nation, Goldman Sachs Group forecasted an unprecedented economic overhaul in the Kingdom and announced plans to invest in the Kingdom for the first time in its history.
Goldman Sachs Group, an American multinational finance company often seen involved in providing advice to companies and governments on takeovers and fundraising efforts in the region, has plans to hire veteran banker, Ammar Al-Khudairy, to identify more investment opportunities and further bolster Goldman’s presence in the Kingdom.
“With the exception of China, I have not witnessed in my 34-year career in the business a sovereign undergoing such massive economic and social transformation. We remain keen and continue to prospect for opportunities in the Kingdom to deploy and invest the firm’s own capital alongside our clients”, said Wassim Younan, Goldman’s chief executive for the Middle East and North Africa.
The Kingdom’s recent economic reforms focussing on investments in non-oil related sectors and its privatization plan, has opened several business opportunities and banks across the world like Deutsche Bank AG and Citigroup Inc. are also establishing their presence in the Kingdom.
In a move to revolutionize the capital city’s public transport system, Saudi Arabian Public Transport Company (SAPTCO) announced the launch of 3,500 buses to cover over 5,000 destinations in Riyadh. The announcement comes ahead of the inauguration of Riyadh Metro, one of the world’s largest urban transport ventures, in 2019.
Under the new bus network, modern city buses will entirely replace the Khat Al-Balad (downtown route) services by the end of 2018.
The bus fare will range from SR3 to SR5 to various destinations across Riyadh. To utilize bus services as well as metro trains, commuters will be issued a common pre-paid electronic card.
The new bus network will have buses starting from King Fahd Stadium, east of Riyadh, to the Diplomatic Quarters situated in the west of Riyadh and those operating from Aziziya, south of Riyadh, will have destinations in the north.
In addition to connecting to the new residential districts developing across Riyadh, bus services will also be available to and from metro stations.
The new bus system, which is a program under the King Abdulaziz Public Transport project in Riyadh, will also open four operation and maintenance centers, workshops and store for spare parts, administration office for employees and provide night parking facilities. Several operation control rooms, offices to deal with accidents and facilities to provide training to staff members will also be launched soon.
Over 3,500 SAPTCO buses will be available to cover 5,000 destinations on 300 lanes passing through 1,000 traffic intersections in the capital city. It will also have 750 onboard units, devices to count passengers, traffic signal control systems and 4,000-real time passenger information (RTPI).