DEMOGRAPHIC BONUS

Saudi Arabia 2018 | ECONOMY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri, Minister of Economy & Planning, on demographics, economic diversification, and policy coordination.

How can Saudi Arabia capitalize on the demographic bonus of having a young population for the country's economic transformation?

As His Royal Highness the Crown Prince mentioned, although we are a resource-rich country, our real wealth is our youth. Being a young nation is a strong enabler for economic growth, but to harness this advantage and reap the benefits of the country's demographic characteristics we must focus on education, job creation and access to employment opportunities and the provision of quality healthcare services. When it comes to education, we are focused on equipping our youth with high-quality education that is aligned with market needs, as this will enable the population to be active contributors to economic growth and progress. As for employment opportunities, there are a number of improvements in this area. The labor market reforms agenda is focused on addressing labor market segmentation, improving labor mobility, addressing the wage gap and reducing barriers to female labor force participation as well as obstacles to SME development. Efforts around female labor force participation span across mobility, suitable working environments and equitable investments in women compared to their male peers. With regards to SMEs, fostering an entrepreneurial culture will increase employment opportunities and nurture innovation. In essence, a skilled labor force with access to productive jobs will facilitate sustainable economic growth.

What role should the government play in further diversifying away from the oil industry?

Economic diversification is among the government's top policy priorities. In order to achieve this goal, the government is developing an approach and framework that identifies sectors and areas where our comparative advantages can be best realized. One notable example is the National Industrial Development and Logistics Program. This program aims to transform Saudi Arabia into a regional industrial powerhouse and logistics hub. Additionally, this strategy is complemented by efforts to strengthen the business environment and its increase attractiveness to entrepreneurs, both locally and internationally. Achieving these goals entails the implementation of coherent, consistent, and transparent policies and regulations that foster economic growth and diversification, so steps are being taken to remove the barriers and obstacles to productivity and competitiveness. With this, we aim to improve the structure, depth, and interconnectedness of the Saudi economy. These efforts will better integrate Saudi Arabia into the global economy and attract the right domestic and international investments. Physical and human capital are central to development, to delivering substantial economic and social benefits. The government continues to build and invest in infrastructure; quality infrastructure is needed to facilitate private sector activity and enable economic growth. In addition to infrastructure, the government has placed human capital development atop the policy agenda. Evidence shows that when human capital investments are made during the early years of one's life, they lay a particularly strong foundation for both adult prosperity and resilience, and the growth, diversification and competitiveness of economies. Investing in people through nutrition, health care, quality education, jobs and skills will help build the human capital needed for Saudi Arabia to realize its goals of economic diversification and sustainability. If left unaddressed, we will not be able to sustain economic growth, prepare the workforce for the more highly-skilled jobs of the future or compete effectively in the global economy.

What are your key priorities for the coming years?

Over the past three years, the Ministry of Economy and Planning played, and continues to play, a significant role in the realization of Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Program. In the future, the ministry seeks to develop greater topical and analytical expertise so that it can better support Vision 2030 and its various Vision Realization Programs. By focusing on strengthening policy research and analysis across various policy areas, the ministry will be better positioned to support the rapidly evolving and complex policy environment. We aim to add greater empiricism and evidence to the policy formulation process in the areas the ministry is currently focused on including economic diversification, labor market structural reform, social protection among others. A crucial success factor is the engagement with key stakeholders within the government and beyond, such as the private sector and NGOs. We are working alongside our partners in the public and private sectors to innovate when it comes to policy design and implementation efforts. Often times, poor communication and implementation can get in the way of a well-designed policy intervention or program.

How do you envision the planning and coordination roles for the ministry going forward?

Economic planning and policy coordination have been given new meaning in Saudi Arabia in recent years. The role of the ministry has grown and evolved well beyond its original mandate. Long-term planning is essential, but the policy landscape and context require that such planning be coupled with support that is dynamic, analytical and grounded in methods that will yield an evidence-based approach to policy making. Our envisioned role moving forward can be framed along the following dimension. First, using data driven methods and approaches to highlight the interdependence across many policy areas, such as labor, health and education. Ensuring an evidence-based approach to policy design and implementation is critical. Second, the facilitation of a rich and nuanced dialog alongside key stakeholders, as understanding the policy needs and preferences of stakeholders will allow us to better design and implement policies. Third, better coordinate policy efforts across ministries to prevent overlap and duplication of efforts. And fourth, use impact assessment tools to evaluate the efficiency and efficacy of policies and programs in order to better inform the allocation of government resources.