It’s the annual-budget season in Saudi Arabia; the time of the year when every added zero means a lot for everyone and where the government becomes the mother and the caretaker of all citizens. The budget in itself is nothing but a project that outlines hopes for the following year based on anticipated oil revenues. Gulf countries are the gift of oil. Even their other sources of revenue are indirectly linked to oil and this includes petrochemical products like fertilizers and plastic or labor fees and services.
That is why King Abdullah prayed for the long life of oil in Saudi Arabia because oil is the main source of revenue. One week’s production of oil in Saudi equals the revenue of a country like Jordan which sells small amounts of phosphate and grooms its citizens to work as teachers and engineers abroad so they can bring remittances to the country. A country is better off when it produces huge amounts of oil and gas and the number of its citizens does not exceed 300,00 as is the case in Qatar, which maybe sells in one day more than what Bahrain achieves in an entire year. This is how life goes. Once, Bahrain was the richest of Gulf countries when pearls were its main source of revenue.
This is what makes the responsibility of oil countries much bigger than that of other countries. Governments in oil countries have no excuse when a citizen is without a job or another had no medical care or insurance. It is the government’s duty to provide citizens with those services. When officials are upset because they are criticized, they forget that it is their job to serve the people. The budget is how a government expresses its plans for serving its people.
The duty of fat-revenue countries, like oil-producing ones, is not only to cater to the daily needs of their citizens, but also to insure their future for the coming 100 years. Their duty is to preserve the wealth of the countries they govern and to guarantee a better future for youths and children. Here, I disagree with those who launched the initiative called the Generations’ Fund even though I agree with the goals its aims to achieve. It is not true that money is what guarantees a better future for coming generations and there are examples of countries that failed at doing so. Some might remember the Kuwaiti Generations’ Fund and the way it used to epitomize future vision. In this fund, the Kuwaiti government used to allocate part of the country’s revenue to future generations, yet following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, it all disappeared and nobody knows what happened to the money of Kuwaiti generation that was being invested in Europe.
That is why I think it is wise of the Saudi government not to engage in projects whose outcome is uncertain even though it is constantly blamed for being conservative. Governments do not have the right to take risks when it comes to public funds. People are more important than money and oil, for they are the capital of any prosperous country. Long roads, huge factories, and sky-scraping buildings can all come down to nothing whether because of a war or another technology that replaces oil. People are the oil that never runs out no matter how many disasters take place.
Our governments, which were blessed with money and oil, have to invest in their people. They to educate their youths, train their graduates, and enhance the skills of employees in both the public and the private sectors. This is the real generations’ fund that can never be mismanaged or embezzled in the future, can never be usurped by a foreign power during a war, and can never disappear. When King Abdullah decided to 150,000 Saudi youths to study in universities all over the world, he was creating the real generations’ fund and which will offer for the country the security that cannot be guaranteed by oil and projects.
(Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya. This article was first published in Asharq AlAwsat on Dec. 30, 2012)