RIYADH, Nov 20 (INP): Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Commerce and Acting Minister of Media Dr. Majed Al-Qasabi said that the Kingdom is now witnessing unprecedented developments and robust growth in all sectors, which is based on facts and figures that were manifested in the recent statement of Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman about what has been achieved under the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.
Addressing the first periodic press conference for government communication held on Thursday under the directive of the Crown Prince to answer queries related to local issues and the latest developments, Al-Qasabi said: “This press meet comes under the direct directive of the leadership and stems from the citizen’s right to access to the correct information, and it also depends on transparency and clarity,” he said.
The minister said that the world is passing through an exceptional year due to the global outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, dealing a blow to the world’s as well as the Kingdom’s economies. Embarking on the slogan of “human health first,” the Kingdom worked hard to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic, and also equipped 25 hospitals to receive confirmed coronavirus cases, and added 4,000 new intensive care beds during the past four months, which is equivalent to 60 percent of the total beds added over the past decades.
Al-Qasabi stated that the Kingdom at present is one of the top 10 countries in the G20 in effectively dealing with the economic consequences of the pandemic. It managed the Hajj and Umrah seasons with great success amid the pandemic. “The Kingdom will be one of the first countries to receive the vaccine after its agreements with the concerned authorities engaged in its production.”
The minister said, among the results of the Vision include the establishment of five new ministries — tourism, investment, industry and mineral resources, culture, and sports. “The Vision invested in wealth, resources and capabilities, and focused on promising sectors, which resulted in providing tens of thousands of job opportunities to our sons and daughters.”
According to Al-Qasabi, the Kingdom today is the most reformed and advanced country, according to the World Bank’s report on Women, Business and the Law 2020, thanks to Vision 2030. The Kingdom also tops the G20 countries in digital competitiveness, and also tops among the Middle East countries as the country with the largest food stocks, reaching the 30th position in the world in the global food security index.
Al- Qasabi also answered questions of media persons on several issues. In response to a question about reconsidering decisions to raise the value-added tax (VAT) and canceling the cost of living allowance, the minister said that the decision to increase VAT was painful, as the Crown Prince said, and that it was a difficult choice and was not taken easily.
The minister said that it was to ensure that salaries and allowances would not be affected, so the state chose to increase VAT, which is the least possible harm. If measures to raise non-oil revenues were not taken, which helped greatly bridge the gap in the budget, such as raising VAT, financial compensation and customs and selective tax for carbonate drinks and investment profits, we would have been forced to take measures that may have led to the abolition of allowances and possibly reduction of salaries,” he said.
Al-Qasabi said that the government is optimistic about the future and the improvement of the economic cycle so that these decisions will be reviewed, like other decisions that are taken during crises, indicating that the next press conference will host the minister of finance to talk about the state budget and related issues.
Answering a question about the high prices, Al-Qasabi said: “In my capacity as minister of commerce, I emphasize that consumer protection is a top priority and that we are looking out for those who created the crisis. The state will not allow the exploitation of economic conditions to raise prices, as the state will strike with an iron hand anyone who manipulates prices,” he said while emphasizing that it is in the interest of the state to protect the consumers.
According to the minister, the government raised the amount of the fine to SR1 million for those who refrain from selling and storing for the purpose of monopoly and price rise. The state will continue to deal seriously with any tip-off in this regard.
On the fight against corruption and the latest developments on this issue, Al-Qasabi quoted the words of the Crown Prince that no one who is involved in a corruption case, whether a minister, a prince or whoever else will not be spared. He emphasized that the anti-corruption campaigns are an ongoing approach, and that fighting corruption is one of the pillars of Vision 2030 as well as protecting the gains of the nation and the citizens.
On the fate of the money recovered in corruption cases, he revealed that the Crown Prince announced in his statement the figures of the recovered wealth in corruption cases, adding that these funds are the money of the country and the citizens, which are returned to the state treasury, and are recorded within the revenues. These revenues will be announced in the budget every year and they are being spent on citizen services and infrastructure projects.
Al-Qasabi explained that with regard to women empowerment, the Kingdom has jumped 45 places in 2020 and ranked first in the Gulf and second in the Arab world. He said that a decision was taken to set up a mechanism to deal with family issues through reconciliation or the judiciary within a period not exceeding 30 days from the date of the first session, and this resulted in a 22 percent decline in divorce cases during the past year compared to the year 1440.
On the question of dealing with the issue of land encroachments, the minister said that this was unacceptable, either by Shariah or by law, and it is an aggression on the right of every Saudi citizen, before it is an aggression on the state’s right, adding that this behavior deprives the citizen of benefiting from any projects built on such plots of land.
The minister affirmed that the state will firmly deal with land encroachments and will punish the violators. Committees have been formed to investigate any official who facilitated or overlooked the encroachment, adding that the state has granted fair compensation and alternative land to everyone who has private ownership in project sites.
Al-Qasabi also highlighted the Kingdom’s pioneering role in serving the Two Holy Mosques as well as pilgrims and visitors. “We, as Saudi citizens, are proud of having the honor of serving the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, as well as in the achievements of proactive planning to overcome the coronavirus crisis, the great work presented by the people of the country during the pandemic. We are proud of our security men and health practitioners, and of hosting the G20 despite the pandemic, and with the achievements made in Vision 2030,” he added.