Are we really ready for competition?
By : Talal Alharbi
The Global Competitiveness Forum, which is held in Riyadh annually, is probably one of the major international events that aim to publicize the Kingdom’s priority investment sectors and major development projects.
Founded by the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) 10 years ago, the forum brings together business and political leaders as well as intellectuals and newsmen from all over the world to discuss impact of organizational and national competitiveness on local, regional and global economic and social development.
The basic idea behind the formation of this forum is to prepare the Saudi market in particular and the Saudi economy in general, to compete in attracting foreign investment or to maintain national capital. Undoubtedly, this event provides a valuable opportunity to achieve this goal. Nevertheless, the ideas and white papers that are introduced during this forum do not serve the required goals. This is because there are certain issues that should be treated first before indulging in generalizing the concept of competitiveness, especially when we are still debating how to endorse the simplest rules to encourage investment.
When the idea behind this forum was proposed for the first time, the purpose wasn’t to familiarize ourselves with the sound bases of competitiveness but to adopt this concept. Let us not fool ourselves because you can never encourage investment and attain high competitiveness unless you have rules that govern this process, like liabilities, arbitration and bankruptcy. And you can never create an investment atmosphere while you haven’t so far find out a way to issue commercial licenses and while the banking sector, the main financing source of the economy, is so reserved in issuing credits and loans. The international competitiveness doesn’t recognize the “Saudization” concept or the residency policy where the bank account of the expatriate will be frozen once his residency permit ends. The international competitiveness doesn’t see any logic in our procedures where any investor waits for more than three months to get a driving license to one of its staff.
In the last directive, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman called for opening up of the Saudi market to international companies without the pre-requisite of a Saudi agent. And when he ordered that this directive should be implemented by concentrating on achieving interest of the Saudi economy and the Saudi youth, he didn’t mean that some should interpret it unilaterally by giving priority to the Saudi economy and youth without taking interest of the foreign investor into consideration.
I am not being a pessimistic. On the contrary, I am trying to highlight the main problem. What we, and others, expect, is that the forum shouldn’t become just a routine annual event, but an opportunity to introduce our achievements during the past year and start planning for more achievements in the years to come.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in the Column section are their own and do not reflect RiyadhVision’s point-of-view.