Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
These days, a few questions keep on popping up in my head. Are we really a rich country? Is relying on a volatile source of income economically healthy? And how low the price of a barrel of oil could sink before we feel the real crunch? Indeed, Saudi Arabia is a rich country but only when it is compared with other countries of the region. Being an oil-producing country, we have been enjoying high income. But it is one of the most volatile and unpredictable commodities on the market. Despite oil being the lifeline of the global economy, the world never stopped its search for alternative sources of energy. We could see an increased number of solar panels installed around the globe ensuring production of cleaner and cheaper electricity. We regularly read about new and improved models of electric and hybrid cars in industrial countries. In short, we are a rich country but it is high time we spend our wealth wisely. Saudi Arabia has a large population reaching 30 million people including all the expatriates. We are blessed with oil reserves but face a huge water shortage. Our government has to bear expenditure to the tune of billions of dollars over the production of water through desalination plants. In Saudi Arabia, a bottle of water is expensive than grade 95 fuel. Saudi Arabia is one of those countries of the world, which braves harsh weather conditions. The mercury during the summer usually touches the 50 degrees Celsius mark, which means we have to spend billions of dollars for air conditioning and consumer millions of barrels of oil daily. Being a huge country, Saudi Arabia’s civic infrastructure needs continuous expansion. These are the reasons that call for effective budgetary allocation and proper planning to spend our funds wisely. It is no secret that the world’s economic landscape is rapidly changing. Being part of this world, the Kingdom naturally cannot remain immune from these economic ups and downs. Our main problem is our heavy reliance on a single source of income. We never really diversified our economy and we never taught our youth to make the best of the opportunities that our government so generously provided them with such as free education and free health care. For many decades, our youth did not really work as hard as others to earn a living. In other words, we offered them free lunch and the government stood by them to guarantee a steady source of income, free education, free health care and huge subsidies to ensure an easy life. The government is paying billions of dollars in subsidies for many kinds of food, water, fuel at the pump and electricity. It is true that we should appreciate our government for its role but it is time to change all that due to the winds of change sweeping across the globe. Most important is to change our spending habits and to start using our available resources wisely. This could be done by ensuring closer monitoring of the public funds spending, eradicating corruption and checking misuse of public funds. In addition to that we must make our youth realize the importance of hard work and the true meanings of patriotism. True patriotism has nothing to do with cheering for one’s soccer team and waving national flags in the streets. True patriotism is all about working hard to get the best education and to take part in the development process of one’s country. Keeping in view, the sliding oil prices we should change our attitude toward life. In today’s world, only a corruption-free country could prosper in the true sense of the word. We need to effectively fight graft. The world is faced with economic crisis and it has almost reached our shores. We have to work on economic reform for the sake our future generations. Today, we are witnessing low oil prices; tomorrow there could be no oil left. It is time to introduce massive economic reforms and their effective and transparent implementation. Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. Time For Economic Reforms reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.