Saudi Arabia in Talks With Businesses to Adjust Economic Reforms

(Bloomberg) -- Saudi officials are talking to businesses to see how the government can adjust its economic reform plan after rapid changes hit the private sector hard.

"We do admit that some of the reform agendas that we’ve introduced in the last few years were tough on some of the markets," Economy and Planning Minister Mohammed Al Tuwaijri told Bloomberg Television on Monday in Riyadh.

"We’re now really engaging with a constructive dialogue with the private sector to see how the government can make changes here and there to achieve some objectives."

That could include fees on foreign workers that were introduced in 2017 and are now the subject of a government study after they contributed to an exodus of foreigners. There’s no change to the fees yet, but the government is open to the concept of revising some levies and fees, Al Tuwaijri said.

Other main points from the interview include:

  • The government is moving ahead with its privatization program after a slow start and in January completed four major transactions in energy, water solutions and health care, he said. All are public-private partnerships.
  • Plans to privatize the electricity sector are at a "very advanced stage.”
  • Electricity privatization won’t necessarily take the form of creating four power generation companies, as was discussed before.
  • Officials won’t push the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund -- the Public Investment Fund -- to pay dividends yet. "PIF is a diversification engine," Al Tuwaijri said. "We need to give them space, time to achieve their strategic objectives."

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