Five years on, Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 on path to free the kingdom from oil dependency

The kingdom has made drastic social and economic progress

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Five years ago Saudi Arabia unveiled its Vision 2030 reform plan, a package of economic and social policies designed to free the kingdom from dependence on oil exports.

The reforms are part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's programme to attract foreign investment, wean the economy off hydrocarbons, strengthen the private sector and create sustainable jobs for Saudis.

The programme also aims to increase Saudi women's participation in the workforce to 30 per cent.

Prince Mohammed is expected to give a televised interview on Tuesday to mark five years since the programme was announced and talk about the remaining nine years of development.

Mega projects

Perhaps the most well-known part of the Vision 2030 strategy are glitzy megaprojects including Neom, a $500bn futuristic city and a mega entertainment and sports project, named Qiddiya, in Riyadh.

The projects will lead Saudi's efforts to encourage tourism as it attempts to move away from oil as its primary source of income. In late 2019, the government announced that tourist visas are now available for holidaymakers. A modest dress code is set for visitors, ending the requirement that women must wear the abaya.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced a new tourism master plan for Al Ula in the country's north-west earlier this year.

Saudi Arabia launches tourism masterplan for historic Al Ula

Saudi Arabia launches tourism masterplan for historic Al Ula

It is an area of archaeological significance that will be a major hub for the kingdom’s tourism sector.

The plan aims to turn Al Ula into a global destination for travellers offering heritage, nature, art and culture.

Two million visitors every year to the historic region are expected to visit the historic site.

Improving life for Saudi Arabia's citizens and residents 

But it isn't all big buildings and projecting the environment. Vision 2030 also includes wide societal reforms, most notably on women's place in the kingdom.

The government lifted a ban on women driving in June 2018. Since then, a swathe of changes are encouraging women to take a more prominent role in society. Women no longer have to obtain permission from a male guardian to work, enrol for university or undergo surgery.

Saudi women work the production lines in Sudair Industrial City. Courtesy Modon
Saudi women at a factory in Sudair Industrial City. Modon

Women now also have the right to register child birth, marriage or divorce by themselves and to be issued official family documents and serve as guardians to minors.

The former system required women to seek permission from their male guardian – usually their father or husband, but sometimes a brother or son, to marry, apply for a passport and leave the country.

The government also curbed the powers of religious police that had patrolled public spaces to impose strict rules on women’s dress and enforce bans on alcohol, music, prayer-time closures and the mixing of men and women.

Government launched the Citizen’s Account, a cash handout for low- and middle-income Saudis to offset austerity measures in 2017.

Later that year, a 35-year prohibition on cinemas was lifted. The country plans to open more than 300 movie theatres by 2030.

In early 2019, a royal decree was announced that allowed music to be played in restaurants as public entertainment flourished around the kingdom and the ban on gender-mixing eases.

Diversifying from oil

King Salman on Saudi Arabia's commitment to sustainable development

King Salman on Saudi Arabia's commitment to sustainable development

Since 2016, the government has invested vast sums and effort into reforming the country’s private sector.

This was seen through the development of the banking system, digitisation of government services and development of macroeconomic management and fiscal stabilisation.

The government is pushing for foreign firms to invest and set up regional headquarters in the capital, Riyadh.

Shortly after the announcement of Vision 2030 in 2016, new labour regulations were announced that restricted certain jobs to citizens and raised quotas for companies to hire Saudi nationals.

In 2018, a five per cent value-added tax (VAT) was imposed to improve non-oil revenue generation.

Foreign investors are granted full access to NOMU, a parallel market for small- and medium-sized enterprises.