KHALID MOHAMMED AL SALEM

Saudi Arabia 2021 | INDUSTRY | VIP INTERVIEW

Given that many of the industries in Modon are considered essential, it had to take several precautions to ensure the safety of the industrial city and its workers. Here, TBY talks to Khalid Mohammed Al Salem, Director General of the Saudi Authority for Industrial Cities and Technology Zones (MODON).

When COVID-19 started, what internal adjustments did you to make to ensure continued function and protect your employees?

From the beginning, we started many measures according to the guidelines given and were part of developing the guidelines with the other authorities. The most important thing is to be completely transparent with our partners, and we continually updated them on all new precautionary measures and health practices. This is extremely important, and we then started to apply all the measures in the industrial cities. There are two things they need to do: be engaged and know what to do. We also need to enforce the guidelines in the industrial cities because we have many industries that are essential by the public, such as food, pharmaceuticals, and industries. They are important, and we do not want them to face any challenges or have to stop because then we would have a problem in the market. In the Saudi market, everything is available, unlike in other countries, and part of our mission is to continue working at full capacity. We have enforced different rules given to us, such as no gathering at all times in industrial cities, curfews, and controlled movements. We also put in measures such as taking temperatures and making sure factories are following the rules. We appointed more than 400 security personnel to ensure the implementation of these procedures in all industrial cities. More than 900 inspection tours were carried out in 22 industrial cities, and the number of production workers has been reduced to the minimum. We also ensured that only 40% of the employees are in the administrative offices.

What was done to ensure the safety of the worker population?

There were committees that went to different residential compounds and ensured the employers followed the rules. One of them, for example, is to ensure there is a certain distance between people, and if there are too many people within an area, then the owner is required to have another residential compound to support and ensure a safe distance between them. For example, in Dammam II, we did not allow any factory to start until they followed the rules in their labor accommodation. When we started, we also focused on food and pharmaceuticals. We follow up with everyone on all measures; for example, we enforced one measure from a government agreement that if there is no response from the owner or partner to correct the issue, we give them 72 hours before we close down the factory. We have not needed to use this much, as most factories follow the rules; however, because of this situation, there have been changes to the regulations surrounding worker accommodations, and the goal is to be quick in correcting the conditions. We try to take care of the worker population, and as our king said, they are as important as Saudis, and we need them to be safe.

What strategies have been effective, and what have you taken from this crisis?

It is important to remain calm during this situation, as you need to take the right decisions at the right time. Transparency has also been crucial; we appreciate people being transparent, and if they have an issue or they think they may have an issue, then they should declare it. The other issue is creativity and changing how we do things. We are also looking at doing things in the most efficient way at a lower cost. The supply chain is extremely important, and there is a learning that is crucial to truly cover the gap and remain integrated. For example, the commodities that one can produce where you need to work into more value-added industries, and this is actually what we focus on in MODON: attracting foreign companies into those areas in food and packaging and pharma. After this situation, investors will change their minds and the areas they want to invest in.