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Saudi Arabia 2016 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Omar A. Bahlaiwa, Secretary General of the Council of Saudi Chambers (CSC), on supporting the private sector, advancing factors of production, and the promising prospects of SMEs.

Omar A. Bahlaiwa
BIOGRAPHY
Omar Bahlaiwa currently serves as Secretary General of the Council of Saudi Chambers (CSC) and the Committee of International Trade (CIT) for Saudi Arabia. Bahlaiwa was earlier a senior technical analyst at the Saudi Industrial Development Fund (SIDF), plant manager for Al-Moajil Sack Factory, VP sales and marketing for Saudi Industrial Export Company, General Manager for MATTEX, and Assistant Secretary General for Foreign Affairs for CSC. He also served as interim secretary general for CSC. Bahlaiwa was selected as one of the leaders in Saudi Arabia by Leaders Publishing Corporation in 2007 and 2011.

What is your strategy to help the private sector participate in the government's Vision 2030?

The private sector views Vision 2030 as an ambitious vision that will achieve a significant leap as far as the business sector is concerned, provided it is implemented in accordance with the right mechanisms. The participation of the private sector in planning and implementing the vision is a given. Generally speaking, this development-centered vision will have a positive impact on the private sector, which consists of and works alongside citizens. Moreover, the vision will increase investment opportunities and profitability through the development projects that will be implemented to achieve it. Some tend to think the private sector will not need a strategy to support itself, but the CSC believes that supporting the private sector can be elevated and increased in two ways. The first is through information by highlighting the trade and investment returns expected during the process of implementing the vision. This will require organizing workshops and forums and providing consultation to private sector agencies. The second is assisting on the regulatory side of the private sector's involvement in implementing the vision to enable the private sector to fully integrate with other sectors and within itself, noting that competition is a positive thing and has a positive impact on overall productivity, which is what dominates the business sector in general.

How does the council plan to transfer know-how, technology, and capital to boost the petrochemical and defense sectors and help companies seize opportunities?

The four factors of production—labor, organization, technology, and capital—are important to us as representatives of the private sector. Transferring know-how, technology, and capital has been a priority for the CSC since its creation, long before Vision 2030. We work to achieve this through organizing forums and meetings that are held occasionally between Saudi businesspeople and their counterparts worldwide either within or outside the Kingdom. Besides the investment guides offered by the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) and other financial and sector institutions within and outside the Kingdom, we rely on face-to-face meetings between Saudi businesspeople and their counterparts, which we consider more effective.

What opportunities await the private sector with the privatization process the government intends to implement?

All large investments will be implemented by the private sector. The Saudi government does not hinder the private sector's involvement in these projects. There are various opportunities categorized as construction-related opportunities and operations-related opportunities. The tourism sector is a promising services sector in the Kingdom, starting from the contracting process, which entails several tasks from implementing facilities to providing hospitality, living standards, and accompanying services, in addition to transportation, which all require development and more construction. That is where the private sector's importance lies as it provides these services. Moreover, once construction is completed, there will be a need for efficient operation by the private sector, which has expertise in this area.

The Cabinet of Ministries just established the Public Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises. What is the future of SMEs in Saudi Arabia?

SMEs represent over 90% of businesses worldwide. Many countries have revitalized their economies through SMEs as they present a pathway toward commercial and investment success. The Kingdom is keen on the SME sector, as reflected in statistics. SMEs represent around 98% of overall businesses in the kingdom, with a capacity up to 70% of its workforce. Therefore, establishing the Public Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises was a good step, although its impact will be revealed in the near future as to what it will offer and contribute to enhance the future of SMEs. We estimate that there will be plenty of opportunities for SMEs in the future, but that will require some kind of integration among businesses to help them seize these opportunities and, in turn, increase the growth rate of SMEs. The future will be much brighter once significant challenges, such as lack of coordination, cooperation, and integration are overcome.