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“Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030” serves well as a gesture, but it is not sufficient for achieving the stated goals. It consists of a set of reforms and programs put forth recently by the Cabinet of Saudi Arabia to be implemented by the year 2030. The Vision encourages foreign investors, and it creates the illusion of strong leadership, but its components are not bold enough to succeed in achieving real sustainability.
The plan includes policy, budgetary and regulatory restructuring to be implemented within the next 14 years, governed with the goal of reducing the country’s over reliance on oil and making it easier for members of the international community to do business with Saudi Arabia. Khaled Almaeena, a former editor for The Saudi Gazette daily Newspaper and Arab News noted that “While the plans look good I’m worried the bureaucratic machinery is not up to the mark. There has to be a true political will to ram this thing ahead,” (McDowall, 2016).
Saudi leaders frame the plan as an effort to benefit citizens, ensuring a prosperous future and sustainable development in the Kingdom (Saudi Gazette, 2016). During the launch, The Deputy Crown Prince highlighted that the plan revolved around the three themes of 1.) A thriving economy 2) A vibrant society and 3) an ambitious nation country in line with the vision of “Saudi Arabia: the heart of the Arab and Islamic worlds, the investment powerhouse, and the hub connecting three continents” (Arab News, 2016). Although it is a sign that Saudi leadership intends to make progress in the direction of sustainable business, these reforms are not nearly as extensive as they should be in order to achieve those goals.
For example, the government is trying to compel workers in the direction of diversified industry in ways that might not be realistic. Part of the rationale is to show that the government is transitioning into the export of goods and services not related to oil. Mohammed Al-Jassert, a Royal Court adviser notes that the country seeks to improve the country’s non-oil exports from 16% to 50% (Arab News, 2016). He further states an intention to increase revenues from the non-oil sector to $ 160 billion by 2020. Yet, in other parts of the world no nation has had any significant success transitioning away from the exporting of oil and to other exports.
The Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 is more like a public relations strategy than a plan for real sustainable development. Accordingly, it addresses concerns about gender equality and environmental responsibility. An effort at diversifying labor is to increase the number of women in the workforce, but the goal set by the Saudi government is extremely conservative – attempting an increase of less than 4%. Moreover, women are still not allowed to drive and it is custom that they are not given positions of authority so diversification of the workforce by empowering females seems like a weak gesture.
Regarding environmental responsibility, Jilles van den Beukel, a former Geo-scientist at Shell Oil Corporation stated that the vision was completely out of point. He argues that the report did not consider the factors of culture and religion in developing the economic plan, which play key pivotal roles in the development of stringent plans for economic development. Referring to the aspect of the plan which replaces revenue from oil exports with revenue from tourism, he asks, “How realistic is it to expect that a complex military industry can be built up in a little over 10 years? How realistic is to expect tourists to come to a country where alcohol is prohibited?”
Like many critics of the planned reforms, van den Beukel is suspicious about whether the Saudi government’s intention to work toward success is sincere. Nevertheless, President Barack Obama in a June 2016 meeting with the Deputy Crown Prince commented him on his efforts to restructure Saudi Arabia’s economy. He also pronounced a strong support from the US in achieving the recently announced Vision 2030 goals. In support to the vision and in a US-Saudi Arabian Business Council (US-SABC) meeting, the Vice President for Business Advisory Services David Callahan noted that the United States was fully committed to establishing a rewarding business relationship with the Saudi government through increasing the volume of investment within the framework of plan in the Kingdom.
Arab News (2016). US, Saudi officials review Vision 2030.
Al-Harthi, M. (2016). is Saudi Vision 2030 realistic?
Beukel, J. A. (2016). Saudi Arabia needs realism – not a 2030 vision.
Franklin Templeton Investments (2016).Vision 2030—Saudi’s Bold Move into the Global Financial Market
McDowall, A. (2016). Saudi Arabia aims for social overhaul in reform plan.
Saudi Gazette, Riyadh (2016). Full text of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030