Saudi Arabia's new announcement brings Riyadh development plan to over 80 billion riyals

The fund plans to improve the capital's infrastructure, transportation and housing sectors

Pictures of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (L) and King Salman (R) are displayed during the first session of Saudi Arabia's National Industrial Development and Logistics Program (NIDLP) at the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh on January 28, 2019. / AFP / FAYEZ NURELDINE

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has signed off a massive 29.9 billion riyals investment project to boost the health and education sectors and meet the kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030.

King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Wednesday evening listened to the briefings on the 360 new projects as well as the 921 other projects already underway or completed at an additional cost of 52.3 billion riyals, bringing the total investment to over 80 billion riyals.

They include the development of seven medical cities and hospitals, 14 projects in the electricity sector, several sports cities, a large museum in Riyadh and 15 housing projects that aims to increase private ownership of property, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

It will also spend heavily to improve the capital’s infrastructure and transportation links, including expanding roads and airports. It will also boost entertainment facilities in the capital.

The new development is expected to create thousands of jobs opportunities for both men and women.

Speaking during the ceremony, Prince Faisal bin Bandar, the governor of Riyadh, said the “kingdom is witnessing a boost in development that will establish Vision 2030 and will shape the future of the nation and its people.”

Prince Faisal added that “the Kingdom’s position is being strengthened by investing its vast potential and capabilities in order to establish a promising future.”

Prince Mohammed announced the Vision 2030 program in 2016. The huge economic reform plan has set the kingdom on a course of rapid transformation that aims to diversify the Kingdom's economy away from oil and achieve massive gains in various metrics of development. In health, for example, the kingdom is aiming to raise the life expectancy from 74 years old to 80 by 2030 and is undertaking a total reform of the medical sector to focus on prevention of illness over treatment.

Vision 2030 also aims to increase thousands of jobs, especially for women who for decades have been underrepresented in the workforce due to strict religious rules and cultural norms.

The development of an entertainment industry is expected to see household spending on domestic cultural activities from the 2015 level of 2.9 per cent to 6 per cent by 2020.

During the meeting to unveil the additional funding, King Salman signed a royal pardon for the release those charged with smaller financial offences. He said the government would pay off the debts for those who owe less than $266,000.

The move comes just days after the king also announced a plan to help private sector firms unable to pay expat residency permit fees. The plan will see the government cover the costs for 2017 and 2018, expected to cost around $3.1 billion, and is intended to help boost the kingdom’s private sector – a central pillar of Vision 2030.

King Salman served as governor of Riyadh for five decades, during which the capital grew from a small city of clay houses to a metropolis with skyscrapers, shopping malls and modern infrastructure.