Riyadh: Saudi Arabia’s Economy and Planning Minister Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri said Wednesday the country’s foreign investment more than doubled in 2018 to reach $3.5 billion while the value of investments rose 110 percent from the previous year.
The minister was speaking a day after the kingdom announced biggest-ever 2019 budget and boosting spending by seven percent to spur economic growth.
Attracting foreign investment is a key part of the Vision 2030 plan to diversify the economy away from oil revenues. Sending a message of reassurance to private-sector firms looking for business in the Kingdom, Al-Tuwaijri said that historical overdue payments owed by the government to contractors would be settled “within months.”
The crash in oil prices from mid-2014 forced the government to slash some projects and delay payments, while disputes have held up some other settlements.
The vast majority of claims have now been addressed, and Al-Tuwaijri said the rest of the settlements would be made imminently.
“The commitment is there, funding is there, the policymakers are saying ‘please do, please pay, get this out of the way.’ And I think it’s a matter of months before we achieve all of that,” Al-Tuwaijri told Arab News.
Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan said at the same conference that the government issued more than 700 licenses for foreign investments this year, double the number in 2017.
Al-Jadaan said that Saudi Arabia has no intention of changing its policy on expatriate worker fees — which could prove a stumbling block to attracting foreign companies.
The levies are due to rise next year as part of a policy to encourage the hiring of Saudi nationals.
The ministers were speaking at a post-budget forum, after Saudi officials unveiled a plan to increase state spending to $295 billion.
Some analysts expressed reservations about the budget’s revenue numbers, and claimed that they were based on over-optimistic forecasts for oil prices.
Al-Jadaan declined to specify what oil price the Saudi budget is based upon. But he told Arab News that the projections laid out were attainable. “We stress-tested various scenarios on the oil price under the budget, and what we have put is actually a reasonable projection,” Al-Jadaan said. “It is a very realistic budget.”