‘The announcement is a reconfirmation of an existing policy already being carried out through the seventh five-year development plan,’ says Said al-Sheikh, chief economist at Jeddah-based The National Commercial Bank. ‘I think there is now an important opportunity for the government to lay out a schedule for privatising these sectors and companies, and setting up the legal and regulatory structures within which that can happen.’
While the decision listed a number of sectors where some moves have already been made towards privatisation, such as water desalination, railways and telecommunications, it also specified the privatisation of health, education and social services. There has previously been some talk of piecemeal privatisation in each of these areas, but until now there has never been a specific statement from the council of ministers that they should be privatisation targets.
As well as sectors, the list also details state-held shares in companies that it proposes to sell. These include Saudi Arabian Mining Company (Maaden), Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (Sabic), Saudi Electricity Company, Saudi Telecom and government shares in domestic oil refineries and local banks. The proposed privatisation of air services would also require the privatisation of Saudi Arabian Airlines and the Presidency of Civil Aviation.