Al-Hogail: Kingdom aims to provide affordable housing

Fri, 2016-12-23

RIYADH: The Fourth Arab Housing Conference in Riyadh on Wednesday tackled several important issues facing the housing and construction sector, with experts discussing the latest developments, available opportunities and studies related to the industry.
Organized by the Ministry of Housing in partnership with the Arab League Council of Housing Ministers, the conference features international experts in housing, urban development and real estate development from several public and private institutions are participating in the conference, which opened Tuesday.
Speaking at the forum, Housing Minister Majid Al-Hogail said that housing is one of the most urgent issues of concern to citizens of the Arab homeland. The minister said the Kingdom attaches great importance to the issue of housing and cited Saudi Vision 2030, which stresses the importance of raising the housing ownership ratio of citizens.
The ministry recently said that it aims to provide housing support for all citizens, including widows, divorcees, orphans and people with limited and low income, and is working on a number of programs and initiatives such as the Easy Housing program in a manner that conforms to Vision 2030, which stresses the importance of “a roof for all,” recognizing each family’s aspiration to own a home, and raising ownership rates to enable citizens to get suitable housing at reasonable prices.
The minister further noted that the Kingdom has provided full support to the sector by entering into a number of agreements with domestic, Arab and international companies known for their competence and experience.
Experts presented their ideas about the role of government institutions and bodies in the partnerships between the private and public sectors, and the role of the private sector in achieving national housing strategies, as the conference aims to present the latest patterns of effective cooperation between the private and public sectors at the organizational, financial and legal levels.
The previous three editions of the conference were held in Egypt, Jordan and Iraq.

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KSA lists its steps against human trafficking

Arab News
Fri, 2016-12-23

UNITED NATIONS: Saudi Arabia has reaffirmed its strong rejection of all forms of human trafficking and promised to double efforts to eliminate it in coordination with the international community, by ratifying international conventions and treaties on human trafficking.
The Kingdom’s deputy representative to the UN, Saad Al-Saad, said: “Our meeting today aims to discuss a crime that is condemned all around the world because it is a gross violation of human rights.”
“Unfortunately, the majority of victims are women, girls and children. Almost all countries are affected by this crime, be they the countries of origin of the victims, transit countries or destination countries,” he added.
Due to the growing number of conflicts in many regions, this crime has intensified and takes many forms. Countries around the world and international organizations specializing in human trafficking have sought to develop mechanisms and issue laws to deter the crime and reduce its economic, psychological and economic effects, Al-Saad added.
Domestically, he said, the Kingdom has fought human trafficking through legislation and taken measures to prevent human trafficking, including prosecuting and punishing perpetrators, offering protection to victims and cooperating with other states and international organizations.
Al-Saad said that the anti-human trafficking law was passed in the Kingdom in 2009 and a permanent committee for combating human trafficking was formed in the Saudi Human Rights Commission, with members coming from a number of government agencies, all in order to boost coordination and national efforts to fight this criminal activity.
Comprehensive plans and recommendations have been made to ensure that vulnerable groups do not fall prey to such violations. The commission has been tasked with monitoring and implementing these recommendations and raise the issue with the Royal Court in case authorities meet obstacles or there are shortcomings, he said.
Al-Saad added that the task of the permanent committee is to monitor conditions of victims of human trafficking to ensure they are not abused or harmed again, and to coordinate with pertinent authorities the return of victims to their homes or other countries, as requested.
The committee can also recommend that the victims stay in the Kingdom, and takes care of their legal status to allow them to work, if they so wish, and comes up with policies, publishes research, collects data and provides training that helps identify victims of this crime.
The committee also promotes community awareness and takes social and economic initiatives to prevent human trafficking, in coordination with all concerned authorities.
Al-Saad said the Kingdom has joined a number of international instruments related to combating human trafficking, notably the United Nations Convention to Combat Transnational Organized Crime, the Protocol to Prevent Trafficking in Persons, especially women, children and other vulnerable groups, and the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air.
The Kingdom also adopted many of the ILO conventions, notably convention Nos. 290 and 182, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Slavery Convention of 1926 and amended protocol.
Al-Saad said that due to an increase in the number and intensity of conflicts, especially in the Middle East, there have been noticeably higher incidents of human trafficking, especially among displaced Syrians.
Unfortunately, criminals exploited the vulnerability and needs of refugees and their dire humanitarian situation for personal gain. The situation has forced many victims to try to cope by giving up their dignity and humanity, he said.

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Senior scholars condemn Russian envoy’s killing

Mohammad Al-Sulami
Fri, 2016-12-23

JEDDAH: The Council of Senior Scholars has condemned the killing of the Russian ambassador in Ankara. In a statement on Wednesday, the scholars said the attack is a great sin and cannot be justified under any circumstances. “The blood spilled on Muslim lands is rejected.”
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said the killing of a confederate will not lead to the diffusion of fragrance of paradise. The council added that such actions are not permissible under any circumstances, and to expose anyone, and those coming to your country, to harm is a major sin, and the perpetrators will not enter paradise.
The scholars said the magnitude of the crime increases if the target is an ambassador representing his country in a Muslim land. Such a person is afforded the maximum safety in Islam. From a jurisprudence — Fiqeh and Shariah — point of view, the guarantee of the safety of ambassadors is underlined by the Qur’an and Sunna and agreed upon by the wise ones of the Ummah.
The scholars added that these are the principles for every age and time based on the disallowance of the spilling of blood in Islam, of which there are texts that guard against the killing of messengers.
The Council of Senior Scholars said that it is important to publicize this through social media in all Muslim countries to show the dangers of attacks and other vile acts on diplomats who have immunity, and point out, as expressed by Islamic Shariah, that such representatives must be protected and kept safe, as stated in the laws of God, to achieve higher national interests and good international relations.

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Budget 2017 to enhance sustainability, prioritize development

Rashid Hassan | ARAB NEWS Staff
Fri, 2016-12-23

RIYADH: An extraordinary session of the Cabinet chaired by King Salman here on Thursday approved Saudi Arabia’s general budget for 2017.
The budget seeks to improve the efficiency of capital and operational expenditures, strengthen public finances, enhance their sustainability and give priority to developmental and service projects and programs that serve citizens directly.
It also aims to contribute to activating the role of the private sector and increasing its contribution to gross domestic product (GDP).
The king underscored that the budget announcement comes amid economically volatile situations suffered by most states, which have led to a slowdown of global economic growth and a fall in oil prices, something that impacted Saudi Arabia too.
“Our economy is firm and it has sufficient strength to cope with the current economic and financial challenges and this is the result of the prudent fiscal policies taken by the state,” he underlined.
“We are determined to strengthen the elements of our national economy, where we adopted Saudi Vision 2030 and its programs according to a comprehensive reform plan that can transfer the Kingdom to broader and more comprehensive horizons to meet the challenges and strengthen its position in the global economy.”
King Salman maintained that the vision is not only a set of ambitions, but that it also includes executive programs to enable Saudi Arabia to achieve its national priorities and provide opportunities for all, through strengthening and developing partnerships with the private sector, building a system capable of achievement, raising the pace of coordination and integration among all government agencies, continuing fiscal discipline and promoting transparency and integrity.
“We are optimistic about our ability to achieve the desired economic prosperity,” said King Salman.
Later, Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan gave a briefing about the budget, disclosing the financial results for the current fiscal year and highlighting the salient points for 2017.
The minister said that the Kingdom’s economy is considered one of the biggest in the Middle East and North Africa.
He pointed out that the financial policy in the Kingdom aims to strengthen the financial position and raise the efficiency of the governmental spending as well as to reach a balanced budget by 2020 according to the trends of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and its programs including the National Transformation Plan.
He further said the total revenues for 2016 are expected to reach SR528 billion, an increase of 2.7 percent of what was estimated in the budget, at SR514 billion.
It is also expected that non-oil revenues are to reach SR199 billion in comparison to the SR181 billion which was estimated within the budget for this year. The government’s expenditures for 2016 are set to reach SR825 billion, a decrease of the SR840 billion forecast in the 2016 budget.
Due to the measures taken in the field of spending, it is expected that the deficit is to reduce in 2016 to reach SR297 billion after reaching its highest level in 2015, of about SR366 billion.
The minister indicated that the ministry is working in collaboration with government agencies and other relevant partners and ministries to develop the process of transformation.

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Saudi budget signals economic recovery, say economists

Fri, 2016-12-23

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s 2017 budget and spending boost announced Thursday suggests its finances are on the road to recovery, economists said, although one forecast that austerity measures would return.
The oil price crash plunged the Kingdom’s budget into the red, recording a severe deficit of SR366 billion in 2015.
But Thursday’s budget statement suggested that situation is easing and that the deficit is “now manageable.”
Despite plans to increase spending next year, the deficit is forecast to be SR198 billion in 2017, down one third from this year’s figure.
John Sfakianakis, the director of economic research at the Gulf Research Center, based in Riyadh, said that the Kingdom’s aim to eliminate the deficit altogether by 2020 looks achievable.
“It’s a very productive growth and pro-market budget that is setting the fiscal consolidation on a very viable path of achieving its 2020 balanced target,” Sfakianakis told Arab News.
“The 2017 expenditure will help build further confidence and will help bring private investment.”
Economist Nasser Saidi said that the Kingdom’s plan to reform energy prices was driving the plan to increase spending next year.
“The increase in projected revenues and expenditure is primarily due to the energy pricing reform program as well as higher international oil prices, although this will be partially offset by the targeted allowances for those citizens who need government support,” said Saidi, a former Lebanese economic minister and former chief economist at the Dubai International Financial Center.
Saidi, who is now president of advisory Nasser Saidi & Associates, said that the greater transparency reflected in the budget was a good sign ahead of the planned initial public offering (IPO) of state oil giant Saudi Aramco.
“Importantly, the budget reflects greater transparency and disclosure by the government which will be a positive signal to investors, both local and international. This should be seen as part of a strategy of greater transparency in the preparation for the Aramco IPO,” he said. “The Saudi authorities should be commended for the greater openness and desire for accountability, as this will encourage business to engage with government.”
Saidi said that the increased expenditure forecast for this year suggests a departure from previous austerity budgets.
“This should also act as a signal to other GCC countries to taper their fiscal consolidation and turn mode to encouraging growth,” he said.
But Jason Tuvey, Middle East economist at Capital Economics, said in a research note that he expects further austerity measures in 2018.
“While austerity seems to have been put on the back-burner next year, it is likely to resume from 2018,” wrote Tuvey.
“The government repeated its desire to balance the budget by 2020, one of the key targets outlined in the Vision 2030 and National Transformation Plan. Achieving this will require fiscal policy to be tightened further, albeit modestly compared with 2015-16. A value-added tax is scheduled to be introduced next year and we suspect that the government will keep a tight rein on spending.”
Tuvey pointed out that the budget was based on a relatively conservative oil price.
“The government isn’t easing the pace of austerity due to hopes for higher oil prices following the recent OPEC deal to cut output. Indeed, the budget has been based on a conservative oil price of just over $50 (per barrel), slightly below current prices of around $55,” he wrote.
“Instead, the easing of austerity reflects the progress made with fiscal consolidation over the past couple of years. Public spending has been cut by a cumulative 25 percent over the past two years and the non-oil budget balance has improved … The public finances haven’t improved on this scale since the early 1990s, following the end of the Gulf War.”
Tuvey’s overall view was that the budget was a positive sign for Saudi Arabia’s finances next year.
“Saudi Arabia’s budget suggests that, following a significant improvement in the public finances over the past couple of years, the fiscal stance will be broadly neutral in 2017. This supports our view that the economy should embark on a gradual recovery next year,” he wrote.

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Saudi budget 2017: Deficit forecast to drop to SR 198 billion

Ben Flanagan
Thu, 2016-12-22

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s deficit is projected to decline by a third next year, according to a budget statement that is seen as a step toward eliminating the shortfall altogether by 2020.
The deficit for 2016 stands at SR 297 billion, around 9 percent lower than forecast, and far below the high of SR 366 billion seen in 2015, in the immediate fallout of the oil price crash.
The deficit is forecast to be SR 198 billion in 2017 and is “now manageable”, according to budget documents released on Thursday.
“The government has been able to finance the deficit by drawing from reserves and surpluses, in addition to borrowing SAR 200.1 billion on international debt markets,” the budget documents said.
The Saudi budget 2017 reiterated the Kingdom’s aim to eliminate the fiscal deficit altogether by 2020. This is in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and related programs, including the National Transformation Plan 2020.
In 2016, Saudi Arabia’s total revenues are expected to reach SR 528 billion, and are forecast to rise to SR 692 billion next year. Oil revenues for 2017 are estimated at SR 480 billion, 46 percent higher than the 2016 projections, while non-oil revenues are estimated at SR 212 billion, a 6.5 percent increase.
Expenditure for 2016 stood at SR 825 billion, excluding that related to the previous year, less than the SR 840 billion originally forecast. The expenditure in 2017 is estimated at SAR 890 billion, an 8% increase over 2016.
The total national debt for 2016 was approximately SR 316.5 billion, which is 12.3 percent of the projected gross domestic product (GDP) in fixed prices for 2016. Official documents showed that the national debt will not exceed 30 percent of GDP.
“Following successful debt issuances in 2016, debt issuance will continue as and when needed, subject to local and international market conditions,” the budget documents said. “The Kingdom will seek to raise further debt at attractive rates on international markets.”
This could include diversifying the type of issued debt by issuing Shariah-compliant instruments such as sukuk inside and outside the Kingdom. 

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OIC, Syrian expats slam terrorist attack in Jordan

Rodolfo C. Estimo Jr.
Thu, 2016-12-22

RIYADH: Various sectors in Saudi Arabia have expressed shock and outrage over the terrorist attack that targeted the historic Karak Castle in Jordan on Tuesday, for which Daesh claimed responsibility.
The general secretariat of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) condemned the attack, resulting in the death of four Jordanian policemen and a foreign tourist during clashes with the radical militants while many others were wounded.
Dr. Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen, OIC secretary general, offered his sincere condolences to the families of the victims and to the king, government and people of Jordan.
Al-Othaimeen stressed OIC’s solidarity with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in its war against terrorism, which aims to destabilize the security and stability in the country, and the region as a whole.
He stressed the need for concerted local, regional and international efforts to eradicate the phenomenon of terrorism and violent extremism, and eliminate all its forms as it is a threat to international peace and security.
He reiterated the principled position of the OIC that strongly condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.
Dr. Husam Junaid, a board member of the Syrian Expatriates Medical Association (SEMA), added that “we condemn the terrorist attack.”
“We’re of the belief that if you kill one human being, it is as if you kill the whole humanity. And if you save one life, it is as if you save the whole humanity,” said Junaid, who’s an internal medicine consultant in one of the government hospitals in Riyadh.
Khalil Al-Jehani, a practicing lawyer, added that what the terrorists did was horrible, senseless, and without reason at all.
“Under the law, they committed a heinous crime and they should be meted out a corresponding punishment,” said Al-Jehani, who received his master’s degree in law from the Southampton University in England in 1993.
Abu Omran, who is from Zarqa City, about 25km from Amman, added, “What the terrorists did was very bad, and if and when they’re caught they should be punished accordingly.”
“They don’t have the right to kill people, even if the latter had done something wrong against them. We have laws to punish us if we have done something wrong,” said Omran who works for a local company in the Saudi capital.

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OIC information ministers map out strategy to combat terrorism

Thu, 2016-12-22

RIYADH: A plan to map out and implement a media strategy to fight terrorism was given the green light by a high-profile conference of the information ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Jeddah on Wednesday.
The meeting also underlined the need to check the growing trend of Islamophobia, especially in countries where Muslims have been living as minorities.
The conference, whose theme was “The Role of New Media in Confronting Terrorism and Islamophobia,” voiced concerns over the growing number of “terrorist acts and their negative repercussions on Muslim communities.”
The OIC ministers of information reaffirmed that “terrorism has no religion, and is not exclusively associated with a specific nationality or place.”
The 11th session of the OIC information ministers agreed to devise ways and means to check and manage social media networks, which have been instrumental in instigating and recruiting youngsters as terrorists.
“As part of the new media strategy, a series of documentary films on terrorism and its adverse impact will be shown on social media,” said a statement released on this occasion.
The OIC conference discussed a range of issues on its final day, like the situation in Palestine; the role of media to restore peace and security in region; adoption of foreign media programs; bolstering efforts to set up an OIC TV station; and support for media organizations in member states.
The conference strongly condemned the terror attacks that took place this week, including Turkey, Germany and Jordan.
Referring to the new media strategy, a final communique released in Jeddah called for moderation and objectivity to be adopted by media houses. These will be the two main components of the OIC 2025 media strategy being promoted by the member states. The statement also emphasized “the importance of cooperation among member states in developing mechanisms to fight terrorism.”
The statement denounced the “criminal act by the Houthi militias, who launched a ballistic missile toward the holy city of Makkah.”
The conference also reaffirmed and endorsed the final communique of the emergency meeting of the OIC foreign ministers in November, which called for a collective stance against the heinous aggression and those behind it.
The OIC statement also commended efforts to hold interfaith dialogues among different religions. The next OIC information ministers’ meeting will be held in Istanbul, Turkey.

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