The Key to Competitiveness

By Khaled Almaeena

A group of friends, concerned about their country, were discussing the state of affairs in our country. 

“Why are we so behind?” I asked. Someone else commented that both Germany and Japan were leveled to the ground in World War II, yet today they are economic giants.

“Don’t forget Korea,” I said — where the war ended in 1953, eight years later. Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, China and Taiwan also figured in our list of those who have come up fast, defying man-made and natural disasters. “And these countries are highly respected,” I said.

Well, to my mind, these people have progressed because of their strict work ethic. They are sincere and they produce. They don’t go about beating their chests announcing their patriotism. They get on with doing what they think is best for their communities. And that’s why investors from all over the world flock to them.

“They are also competitive,” added one of the participants in the discussion. He referred to several Arab World Competitiveness Reports. The reports identified lack of reforms, outdated regulations and dormant policies as likely reasons for slow growth. To make matters worse there was a decline in foreign direct investment.

“The reason,” I interrupted, “is the lack of conditions that would attract private investments. Glossy brochures, CDs and conferences will not assist in getting investments. First you have to remove the barriers and regulations that hinder investment and prevent its growth.”

According to the World Bank, it takes a lot of money and a higher average number of days to set up a business here. I have known businessmen who spoke of four times that number here. It seems some bureaucrats take sadistic delight in torturing businessmen and potential investors. Add to this vague laws, opaque regulations, interference from different departments and closure of shops without prior warning. These can dampen the brightest spirit and break the strongest will.

I write this because I am upset. I write this because I have just come from a country where Microsoft has invested over a $100 million. While we are focusing on Saudization of cab drivers and employing more Saudis as security guards at shopping malls, others are setting up institutions where young people are now working for international companies. Saudization is not just the replacement of foreigners. It is much more than that. It is creation of jobs. It is setting up institutes where those who qualify graduate to compete in a tough work environment not because of their nationality but because of their knowledge and skill, their hard work, creativity and innovation.

The key to competitiveness is a first class education that will turn out graduates skilled to take on the challenges of the modern day world.

Let us attract real capital in terms of both money and brains. Let it mix with our youth and see the outcome – I am sure it will be positive.

Protectionism will not work. Nor will suspicion. We are a global economy whether we like it or not. So instead of focusing on petty things, let our region work to overcome the root cause of our backwardness – and let us involve all segments of society and not hide behind issues of “cultural restrictions.”  We should not be afraid to absorb new ideas and new ways.

Then I am sure we will no longer sit around discussing why we are far behind; because then, hopefully, we will be in the major league.

— The writer can be reached at and followed at Twitter:@KhaledAlmaeena

Saudi Gazette

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