LISTEN-AND-LEARN

Saudi Arabia 2019-2020 | ECONOMY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Majed H. Al Saadi, Managing Director of the Priority Projects Office (PPO), on Vision 2030, job creation, and investing in Saudi Arabia.

PPO was set up as an independent government body, with a unique role in the private sector. Can you elaborate on the main mandate and activities of your office?

Vision 2030 has three main themes, one of which is a thriving economy. That includes building an economic model that is not entirely dependent on oil and glorifying non-oil government revenue as well. The private sector is a main partner in achieving this goal of a thriving economy. Because of that, in early 2017, the government decided through the private sector stimulus program to engage with the private sector at the ground level to ask how it could contribute more to the economy, for which more than 700 companies were consulted. One of the main obstacles the private sector identified a communication gap—which we believe is a global issue—is about how the private sector can communicate with the government and differentiating these lines of communication. PPO is one of several initiatives that were launched to remove the obstacles identified by the private sector. PPO started as a pilot in mid 2017, primarily focused on resolving communication issues. In our first six months, we freed up a large amount of willing investments that had been attracted here but were being stopped from proceeding due to certain communication challenges. When these investments were realized, the companies were pleased with the provided services, and this led to a royal decree in 2018 to officially establish PPO. Since its formation, PPO has been able to stimulate the private sector by facilitating the implementation of 18 strategic projects that have a substantial socio-economic impact and are expected to play a major role within the national economy. Moreover, it is estimated that the value contribution of these projects between 2018-2023 will be around SAR26 billion in investment, resulting in SAR27 billion in GDP impact, including the creation of an estimated 10,000 temporary jobs and 7,000 direct and sustainable jobs. This will bring about a high volume of exports and a reduction of imports, bringing in technology and knowledge transfer including the contribution to the increase of non-oil exports, localizing industries and supporting strategic sectors. In addition, other elements that enrich the local content of Saudi Arabia, also currently receiving a large number of similar strategic projects. Our team works together on the flow of cases by receiving, evaluating, and resolving them within a timely manner. We complement all governmental entities which means we do not attract investment or issue licenses. We just listen to issues and take them to other government entities in a language they understand to resolve them, bridging the communication gap between the public and private sectors. In cases that require multiple ministries and authorities to address and for some big investors, we have provided a red-carpet service to ensure their investment in the country. In order to support such large private-sector entities, one needs to be impartial and fair to resolve the communication holdup.

What have been the most common issues you dealt with for companies, and how do you advise government entities to change their policies to improve future communication?

PPO is not an agency the changes policies; rather, we modify the systems based on each case that is brought to us. For the government entities we work with, these are lessons learned. Our legal and financial teams have set up this structure of putting issues into a 'listen-and-learn form.' The government has other entities that are responsible for raising policy changes based on the resolution that we have applied including a collective effort from other relevant governmental stakeholders. The impact that strive for is seeing our private sector client satisfied and their investment aspirations realized. Based on the PPOs mandate we focus our efforts on strategic investments, so we are not at the stage to categorize trends at the sectorial level. When we do encounter companies having a similar issue, we usually take it to the Ministry of Commerce and Investment's Tayseer Initiative, because it works more on the sectorial level and can change its policies based on our recommendations. If we cannot solve an issue by ourselves because of our mandate, then at least we can share it with the relevant entity that can help them.

PPO is an initiative within Vision 2030's Fiscal Balance Program. What synergies you strive for with other government agencies working within these objectives?

If any of these programs or initiatives work independently, they cannot achieve their objectives. In today's government, everyone is on the same page, and we should always strive for synergies with all the parties involved. We all know our mandate. PPO clearly cannot play its role alone, because it is all about communication. We have signed MoUs with all relevant entities in the government to underline our cooperation and to ensure they understand we can mediate issues. We are very resourceful and channel oriented that gives us the ability to reach out to hindered investments; as example, our workforce capacity is only around 10-15, but we are engaged with around 80 liaison officers who are working with us under this system to help in solving cases.

What are your strategic priorities and ambitions for the coming year, and what is your message to global investors considering possible challenges to invest in the Kingdom?

Initially, we believed three years would be enough to solve such problems and processes; however, in a short period we have gained the maturity that gave us a futuristic view of where the office will be and what needs to be done for the private sector. We started the office by encountering some issues, but now we consider ourselves as a trusted entity that can advise other public sector entities on the needed adjustments or new regulations covering certain points, for example in the digital sphere. The government will be doing some big investments with the private sector. There are many big projects underway and this where we come in at the front-end to provide concierge services. The important message we seek to send foreign and international companies is to assure them that with Vision 2030, everyone will get the treatment they should and deserve, and there is a team of experts serving investors to remove obstacles so they can go ahead with their investments. Our team is agile and creative, so we can find the solutions. By listening to more problems, we will be able to find more great solutions.