Sun, Jun 03, 2018 - Page 4 News List

New Saudi labor minister as king prioritizes jobs

NEW BUREAUS:King Salman ordered that the environment become a priority and set up a new Ministry of Culture to promote leisure spending

Reuters, RIYADH

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman yesterday replaced the labor minister and set up government bodies to promote culture and protect the environment as the kingdom seeks to modernize and create jobs for an overwhelmingly young population.

Private sector businessman Ahmed bin Suleiman al-Rajhi was named Saudi minister of labor and social development, succeeding Ali bin Nasser al-Ghafis, royal orders published by state media said.

Getting hundreds of thousands of unemployed Saudis into the workforce is a major challenge for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who oversees economic policy for the world’s top oil exporter, where unemployment stands at 12.8 percent.

The Gulf Arab state, which has struggled for years to create jobs for its nationals, aims to create 1.2 million jobs by 2022 to reduce unemployment to 9 percent, a senior labor ministry official said.

The selection of Rajhi, who chairs the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry and is the scion of an Islamic banker billionaire, follows a broader trend of tapping the private sector to fill top government posts, including the minister of housing and a senior defense official.

The move might also be aimed at rebuilding trust with the business community, which has been frustrated by the rapid pace of some economic reforms and unnerved by an anti-corruption purge last year, said Steffen Hertog of the London School of Economics.

Under that secretive campaign, scores of royals and top businessmen were detained for months at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh. Most were freed after reaching settlements with the government.

King Salman also appointed Abdullatif bin Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman al-Sheikh as Saudi minister of Islamic affairs, call and guidance. He has previously headed the kingdom’s religious police, whose powers were curbed two years ago as part of broader reforms.

The royal orders set up a new Saudi Ministry of Culture, extracting it from the information ministry as part of a drive to capture more Saudi leisure spending at home amid a budget deficit caused by low oil prices.

Saudi Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan Al Saud, who was appointed in April to the board of a newly established Saudi General Authority for Culture, was named minister of culture.

He already has several top positions, including governor of a commission to develop a historic tourism destination in the country’s north and chairman of the Saudi Research and Marketing Group, which is closely linked to King Salman’s branch of the royal family.

King Salman also ordered the formation of royal commissions for the environment and the holy city of Mecca, and an administration for preserving historical areas in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.

Maps tweeted by state media showed that six nature reserves established by the orders — “to re-establish wildlife, enhance their development and promote eco-tourism” — covered some 265,000km2 of territory.

The royal orders also named several new deputies in the ministries of interior, telecommunications, transport and energy, industry and minerals, and appointed new heads to the Saudi Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu and the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy.

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