According to the report issued by the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA), the surplus from this year’s budget is around 185.3 billion riyals, which constitutes 9.1 per cent of the total local production. Compare this to a surplus of only 87.7 billion last year.
The report anticipated a growth of local production in the kingdom of 5.1 percent, in the oil sector by 4.9 percent, in the public non-oil sector of 6.5 percent, and in the private non-oil sector of 4.4 percent.
SAMA attributed this growth to several factors, the most important of which is the unprecedented increase in the money spent on development projects. Yet, this remarkable growth is met with rising employment rates that threaten the stability of the country and cause much concern among its officials.
“Estimates reveal that the unemployment rate in Saudi is still unsatisfactory. This matter has to be addressed and efforts are to be exerted in order to overcome obstacles facing the creation of job opportunities,” said the SAMA governor.
What the governor said is not new and has in fact been reiterated on every occasion for the past few years. Yet, no one has so far been able to solve this mystery. Some have even started comparing the situation in Saudi Arabia to that of a man who eats well yet suffers from limb atrophy. I do not know the medical name for this condition, but on the economic level it is indicative of failure in the investment of growth.
The main goal of any development plan in any place in the world is securing jobs for citizens. In the kingdom, we are living through unprecedented growth. We have seven million foreigners and we rank second after the U.S. in remittances. Yet, 10 percent of Saudis are vying for getting the 2,000 riyals offered by the Hafez program for job-seeking citizens. What is worse is that the country keeps bragging about the growth of foreign investments and the Investment Authority has opened the door for foreign investors who earn millions in profit, hire their compatriots, and run small projects that rob Saudi youths of job opportunities and leave them with no experience in their country’s economy.
There is no doubt that the kingdom has managed to maintain its economic standing despite the financial crisis that hit the entire world. However, economic success is not measured by the level of attracting foreign investment or the size of money surpluses. It is rather measured by the ability to feed the people.
So who would solve this mystery for us? Who would curb the hiring of foreigners and revise foreign investment laws to protect the country from the danger of unemployment?
First published in al-Hayat on December 14, 2011 and translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid