Saudi to revise National Transformation Program

Updated reform plan will "change existing initiatives and add new ones"
Saudi Arabia is rethinking its National Transformation Plan according to a report by the Financial Times
By Jeremy Lawrence
Thu 07 Sep 2017 08:45 AM

Saudi Arabia is redoing a plan to overhaul its government and economy by 2020, after its rushed launch last year led to overlap with other programs.

The new version of the National Transformation Program will be “more focused” and have “clear governance,” according to an official document seen by Bloomberg referring to the program as NTP 2.0.

The revamp of the plan won’t change key fiscal or energy-related targets, but it’s needed to match it with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s broader Saudi Vision 2030, according to the document.

Saudi officials didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“This is probably a natural development in the sense that the NTP and the Vision were not developed in complete coordination,” said Graham Griffiths, a senior analyst for Control Risks in Dubai. “There is a bit of cause for concern in the fact that they rushed this out in the first place, and now they’re having to redo it.”

The original NTP was designed to overhaul the Saudi bureaucracy as the world’s largest oil exporter grappled with low crude prices, and set targets for each ministry to achieve by 2020. But it was overshadowed by the prince’s Vision 2030, a broader blueprint for life after oil that calls for selling shares in state oil company Saudi Aramco and creating the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund. Neither is affected by the NTP redraft.

While Vision 2030 was announced first in April 2016, NTP had already been in development and was first mentioned in local media the previous December -- well before any public discussion of the prince’s grand plan. That ultimately meant that the NTP had to be linked to Vision 2030 “in reverse,” according to the document.

Split

The NTP later became one of 12 programs within Vision 2030 and as a result, many of the government agencies that were originally part of the program are no longer directly involved, including the energy, finance and housing ministries.

Many of the program’s original targets have also been farmed out to other initiatives. Steps to balance the budget by 2020 now come under the auspices of the Fiscal Balance Program announced in December. The revamped NTP will still run to 2020, but its implementation will also involve developing targets for 2025 and 2030, the document said, without elaborating.

Goals for the program include improving the public sector productivity, boosting women’s participation in the workforce and developing tourism, according to the document. The first NTP also had targets for many of the areas, including boosting the participation rate of women in the labor force to 28 percent. It’s unclear if they will be changed.

‘Constantly Redrafting’

The danger is that the government could get “caught in this cycle of constantly redrafting these strategy documents," said Griffiths at Control Risks. “You get involved in this kind of constant theoretical redrafting and outlining of goals and strategies and government structures and you never get around to doing actual concrete work.”

Workshops to prepare the new NTP started at the end of July and will continue until the end of October, with about half of the kingdom’s ministries involved, according to the document.

Visitors to the workshops in the basement of a luxury hotel in downtown Riyadh are asked to sign a pledge of secrecy. Civil servants and consultants are brainstorming over laptops, while men and women mingle freely, scribbling ideas onto notepads emblazoned with the Vision 2030 logo.

The NTP document outlines a 16-week schedule to develop the program; a final report is due to be delivered to the government by the end of October.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.