Riyadh Is Delivering on Vision 2030

The anticorruption actions will help make Saudi Arabia a vibrant 21st-century economy.

 
 

At a news conference in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on June 7, 2016.
At a news conference in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on June 7, 2016. PHOTO: FAISAL AL NASSER/REUTERS
 

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

When Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia’s progressive reform program, last year, the international community responded with cautious encouragement. Few disputed the necessity for reform or thought it failed the test of ambition. But there were doubts about Saudi Arabia’s ability to deliver.

Some openly said Saudi Arabia would not be able to take the painful decisions and implement the difficult trade-offs needed to push through such dramatic change and transformation. The implication was that the old system and traditions would stymie any attempt to modernize our economy and society to the level we ourselves set.

While we knew differently, we understood the doubters. Saudi Arabia is a rich nation, blessed by the discovery of oil more than 80 years ago. Yet our wealth has not transferred into opportunity for all. Those seeking to do business in our country have not faced a predictable business environment, a familiar commercial legal framework, or a dynamic, entrepreneurial culture. Corrupt practices complicated matters further.

The Supreme Anti-Corruption Committee’s recent enforcement actions should encourage those who doubted Saudi Arabia’s commitment and ability to deliver the goals of Vision 2030 at the pace our economic and demographic realities demand. Yet we have also seen some misguided theories about what motivated our country to take these steps, which the overwhelming majority of Saudi citizens have embraced.

The investigations, which have been in progress for three years, have shown that more than $100 billion has been misappropriated through systematic corruption and embezzlement over several decades. That may prove to be a conservative estimate. Moreover, the decision to undertake this investigation and to act on its findings, regardless of who was found to be corrupt, was taken at the start of the investigation, not at its conclusion.

As outlined in the statement by Attorney General Saud Al Mojeb, so far 208 individuals have been arrested, with seven subsequently released without charge. All those detained have had their rights respected and will be afforded due process. They are being handled sensitively and responsibly.

Given the magnitude of the allegations, we have suspended the personal bank accounts of those charged. But we have taken steps to ensure that the companies they own continue to operate normally, and investors will remain unaffected by these actions. Normal commercial activity continues.

As we diversify our economy beyond oil, we are looking to invest in our people and invest our assets so that we can support this process of change. Opportunity must become available to all in the kingdom.

Our young people, men and women, deserve and demand to live in a nation truly built for the 21st century. This is not about Saudi Arabia catching up; this is about Saudi Arabia shifting to the forefront of development, in partnership and collaboration with the international community of nations, investors and people. For too long Saudi Arabia has been behind the curve. Now we are determined not just to catch up, but move ahead of it.

This is a watershed moment. The old ways have ceased to be sustainable long ago and must be replaced. The new way will offer a predictable long-term approach and transparent business environment for investors, who will be surprised by the burgeoning talent and potential of our young people. There is no going back.

Saudi Arabia is changing. The message is clear and the goals are defined. We are serious, and we are committed to this process, in letter and spirit. We will not avoid the difficult short-term decisions if they mean delivering the essential long-term goals of a thriving economy, a vibrant society and a responsible nation.

Mr. Qasabi is the Saudi minister of commerce and investment.

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