Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gave a televised interview on Tuesday night for the fifth anniversary of the kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform programme launch.
Under the Vision 2030 plan, Prince Mohammed has brought in several multibillion-dollar projects to put Saudi Arabia on the map for innovation, tech and youth-driven initiatives.
"We have big opportunities in front of us in different sectors and we have to exploit them to continue to grow and prosper," he said on the Liwan Al Mudaifer Show.
The crown prince's opening remarks addressed the urgency for the kingdom to diversify away from oil revenue dependency, while also describing how crucial Saudi Arabia's oil reserves are for the next stage of Vision 2030.
"If we look back, oil has helped develop our country for centuries so we’ve always had that impression to depend on oil," Prince Mohammed said.
"But the increase in population will not be able to depend on oil production, at the rate we are going."
Saudi Arabia's non-oil revenues have increased more than 200 per cent since the start of the Vision 2030 plan.
"Oil is still the main source of income for the state," Prince Mohammed said. "My intention is to make sure that the country is secure, safe and has a better future to look forward to."
He gave some earlier indication of what the kingdom's next plans are when he said at the end of March that Saudi energy giant Aramco would be investing 5 trillion riyals, or about $1.3tn, in the private sector by 2030.
But already, the strategy is paying dividends.
"We have solved many issues in the economic sector, including the housing sector, within the last five years since launching Vision 2030," Prince Mohammed said.
"The percentage of people owning houses before Vision 2030 was only 47 per cent. Now it has increased to 60 per cent.
"Unemployment has decreased. Before Vision 2030 it was 14 per cent and now it’s gone down to 11 per cent this year."
"We are aiming to reach unemployment rates in 2030 of 7 per cent."
He also highlighted some of the less well known – but still vital – aspects of the national strategy, including access to finance for private and business loans.
"The public is able to attain grants and loans from banks much more easily and faster than before," Prince Mohammed said.
"It used to take them years to get a loan from the bank."
One of the most high-profile ventures in Vision 2030 is the $500 billion mega-city Neom, which will combine sustainability, futurism, tourism and innovation.
Vision 2030 has three main pillars.
The first is an ambitious nation, with effective governance and social responsibility.
The second is a thriving economy with high employment and a robust non-oil private sector.
And the third is a vibrant society with a strong Islamic national identity and a fulfilling and healthy life for all.
Prince Mohammed outlined how political reform had preceded the Vision's implementation.
"2015 was a difficult year for us," he said. "We made some serious changes to many ministries and government sectors, including security and the economy, by changing strategies and imposing the programs of Vision 2030.
"Lack of a strong state structure was one of the main challenges we faced in 2015.
"We managed to restructure various ministries by establishing new councils. The most important thing to have is integrity and passion when making these changes."
Saudi Arabia’s Council of Economic and Development Affairs, chaired by Prince Mohammed, has said the kingdom is on track to meet the ambitious targets set for the next nine years.
Some of the most striking changes brought about by Prince Mohammed are in women's rights.
Saudi women are also due to play bigger roles in the kingdom's workforce, and now make up 33 per cent of workers, up from 19 per cent in 2017.
The kingdom has implemented other sweeping changes led by Prince Mohammed and King Salman, including the removal of a ban on women driving, and introducing measures to increase their independence from male guardians in key areas such as employment, education and health.
Opening up Saudi Arabian society does not, however, mean long-held traditions are being jettisoned. Far from it, he said.
"The Holy Quran is our constitution and the government’s policies and statutes depend on it," Prince Mohammed said.
Other social potential can be unleashed with continued investment in education, he said.
"Education in the kingdom is not bad, but by 2030 we aim to have at least three universities in the top 200 institutions in the world.".
The social contract would also be reinforced by health sector reform, where public and private ventures would form more partnerships.
"The health sector is free for all but I don’t have any doubt that when Vision 2030 is complete we will have some private and public hospitals," he said.
"The health sector will see a huge transformation that will significantly change its level of services."
Tourism and the environment
One of the cornerstones of Vision 2030 is increasing tourism revenue and attracting a global audience to places of outstanding natural beauty and heritage value in the kingdom.
To this end, Prince Mohammed said that preserving and enhancing the environment was a key priority.
"Environmental initiatives in the country have a direct impact on tourism and many other sectors," he said.
"Vegetation in the kingdom has increased by 40 per cent during the past four years, which has provided many opportunities.
"Growing trees has been one of the main objectives in the country."
Such initiatives could boost tourism plans for some of the kingdom's most ambitious projects, including a series of resorts called the the Red Sea Project, which spans 90 islands, at a cost of almost $4bn.
This project "was part of our vision to present a new identity of the kingdom", the crown prince said.
Some of the country’s most notable achievements in the plan’s first five years include a rise in the number of heritage sites open to visitors, from 241 in 2017 to 354 in 2020, the council said.
Saudi Arabia’s entertainment sector has also expanded, with more than 100,000 jobs added over the last five years.
Optimism for the future
Despite a globally challenging 2020 with the coronavirus pandemic, Prince Mohammed said he believed Saudi Arabia was firmly back to growth.
"We are close to achieving the overall aims and goals of Vision 2030. We are on the right track," he said.
"We will see a strong rebound in our economic performance and achievements this year.
“Our goal is to ensure that the [public investment] fund achieves growth. We aim to increase the fund’s assets to 10tn riyals in 2030."