A CASE OF SUPPLY AND DEMAND

Kuwait 2017 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Yousef Al-Ebraheem, Economic Advisor to the Al-Diwan Al-Amiri, on the need for a rejuvenation of Kuwait's infrastructure to support an economy that has come a long way and the role education will play in delivering the expertise required by the society.

HE Yousef Al-Ebraheem
BIOGRAPHY
HE Yousef Al-Ebraheem serves as the Economic Advisor to the Al-Diwan Al-Amiri, the office of the Amir of Kuwait, in the capacity of minister. The issues of education and youth empowerment are in his portfolio. In the 1990s, he served as Dean of the School of Business at Kuwait University, followed by a distinguished career in academia and public service. Prior to his role as advisor to the Amir, Al-Ebraheem held several ministerial posts including Minister of Finance, Minister of Planning, and Minister of State for Administrative Development Affairs, as well as Minister of Education and Higher Education.

How has the structural investment agenda impacted the economy in recent years and how does the office of Al-Amiri envision this moving forward?

Building up infrastructure is the role of the government and we have been a bit behind on this, but using the oil surplus for infrastructure is the best path we should take for the economy because it will be permanent, whereas savings or cash surpluses fade away. World-class infrastructure has a highly positive impact on the economy, society, and the quality of life, but this is not enough. A country does not build infrastructure to increase conceptual behavior, rather it should be a tool to increase productive behavior. New highways should not be built to encourage more driving, instead they should be used by trucks to deliver goods outside Kuwait or to make the import of goods cheaper, they should be a tool to enhance the economy. Secondly, there is the issue of maintenance, and it would be great if the private sector would take on that role, like we have seen with the development of the airport.

What are HH Al-Amiri's thoughts on having the curriculums of these universities aligned with industry demands?

In the last three years, most people have been speaking of the danger of the decline of oil prices on our budget deficit, but we should be more concerned about youth employment; that is the biggest problem facing Kuwait. The major challenge is to provide value-adding jobs for young Kuwaitis. The solution is not to employ them in the public sector, so we should encourage them to start their own companies or join private companies. Both public and private higher education have to adapt to this reality and meet the needs of society. It has to matter whether one has an arts or an engineering degree, and currently the public sector employs all regardless of their background. In the last five years we succeeded in changing the landscape, although there are still some issues; we do not necessarily need new economic activities that do not fit our country, but ultimately the market decides what will survive. We try to encourage IT, services, and export-oriented activities that will employ Kuwaitis. There is a difference between opening a restaurant and bringing in a dozen unskilled foreign laborers to do the work, and creating a company for two highly skilled Kuwaitis. We need a distinction that encourages value-adding economic activities, whilst leaving other industries to flourish by themselves.

What are the ambitions of HH Al-Almiri for the coming years?

His Highness Al-Amiri's vision is to see Kuwait as a regional hub for finance, commerce, and trade. The key to success here is that it is a stable region and HH Al-Amiri is working hard to bring every member of this region together to discuss how to bring about stability. Kuwait currently plays a major role in Iraq, bringing humanitarian aid to those in need and facilitating a dialog with Iran on behalf of the GCC. A stable region means a stable Kuwait, because we are just a small country. Secondly, HH Al-Amiri is pushing hard on our soft infrastructure, educating the management of our infrastructure projects, like the new seaport in the north and the Silk City. Kuwait has great potential for many reasons, and not just because our oil reserves or our financial strength. Our strengths are our people, our constitution and democracy, and our institutional setup. Kuwait has been through ups and downs, but has managed to sail through these dangers in a stable way. Comparing the exchange rate of the Kuwaiti dinar in 1962 to a basket of regional currencies with the rate in December 2016 shows how much it has preserved its value.