Despite the details of the real estate mortgage system draft law that was adopted by the Saudi cabinet last week and despite the relevant division amidst experts, this draft law shows that the Saudi government took a determined decision and issued a regulation that had been carefully examined in the Shura Council and then submitted years ago to the cabinet where it was held back. This draft law clearly indicates that Saudi Arabia wants to become a country regulated by the rules and principles of free economy rather than be a pastoral state where the governor spends money on his people, providing them with home, treatment and care.
I am aware that the term “normal state” is somehow provocative but as a Saudi citizen I believe that many of the kingdom’s policies are “extraordinary” and unusual and that any Saudi economic expert – a graduate of one of the most prestigious Western universities who then assumed high positions in his country -- wouldn’t have agreed to adopt these policies if it wasn’t for the country’s “extraordinary” oil potential that allowed the government to adopt an extraordinary economic policy. The state is in charge of distributing homes to citizens which has proved to be an inefficient policy in Saudi Arabia and other countries because it is simply an “unnatural” economic policy that contradicts the rules of free economy adopted by the kingdom. Saudi policies can sometimes have a socialist approach to them but I wish it would limit this approach to the social, health and education sectors and refrain from implementing the socialist logic in trade and commerce.
In order to become an “normal” state, habitat must be managed by a free economic market and the state should only play a legislative and supervisory role through its legislative, financial and judicial institutions. This is what any “normal” state in the world does, including oil countries like Norway where the citizens pay taxes, participate in decision-making and benefit from public care services in terms of health, education and retirement. However, citizens buy their own houses according to the laws of supply and demand and from their own funds.
In light of the enormous financial returns achieved in 1973, Saudi Arabia did not realize that it differs from small Gulf countries. Gulf countries are small in space and population but benefit from high financial returns. However we followed their path and have sometimes fallen behind in implementing certain rules and regulations like the real estate mortgage law that is adopted by most of Gulf countries beside their generous regulations of offering habitat to their few citizens. On the other hand, the kingdom is a large country embracing more than 20 million citizens in addition to 10 million foreigners permanently living in the country, thus, consuming some of its resources without adding any value to its economy other than their work to the service of the 20 million Saudis. We need to move to an “normal” economy where citizens work in return for a salary or an income that allows them to buy food, houses and cars while the state takes charge of social care, education and health care.
Unemployment rates are high in Saudi Arabia and the productivity rate of workers is low, thus the GDP of Saudi Arabia is low and the country relies totally on oil revenues, i.e. on the state that manages this revenue in terms of income and expenditure. The state’s only “policy” is to continue its parental and pastoral practices in order to proceed with its “extraordinary” economic policy which is objected by our economic expert who is incapable of changing it because it is a “fait accompli” policy that compels the state to adopt more unusual and unproductive economic measures like the “Hafiz” stimulus program dedicated to unemployed citizens as well as expanding other social security plans and building thousands of small residential units which will eventually host more foreigners just like it happened two decades ago when we built “urgent” residential units.
The solution to this critical situation is to shift to a normal productive economy that encourages and rewards work. In the West, this type of economy is known as the job and career ladders. It is time for Saudi Arabia to link both approaches after it adopted the real estate mortgage system that could be transformed into a new developmental tool rather than a commercial tool that only serves real estate brokers, banks and land developers.
Saudis are complaining about the “humble” jobs offered to citizens in the labor market and are wondering about “the value of a job that only generates 3,000 riyals.” This is a legitimate question if there were no prospects for progress and promotion but the citizen should be aware that his job is the basis of a career ladder and that this humble job is an added-value to his employment record allowing him to forge a career in the future rather than relying on unemployment schemes. The biggest motivation for Saudis is to link habitat with jobs: if a citizen wants a house, he must find a job and stay in it. Therefore, jobs and real estate would become interlinked and small apartments would be perceived as a capital or a saving fund. Afterwards, as long as the employee is advancing in his job, he can move to a bigger apartment that suits his growing family. In this context, families should include one or two children and not four or five in the future. Someone should have the courage to inform Saudi citizens of a basic economic principle which is: “small family + better education = happy family and better life”.
In sum, the real estate mortgage system is a first step towards the shift to the “real economy” despite its severe requirements. These new integrated economic systems are also political, legislative and judicial systems that would need a new education scheme and the development of different types of skills. These new regulations come from a world that expands from Japan to San Francisco, a world called “the west” or the “free world”. We do know the rules of the game, we do know that the free economy’s rules are efficient but we soon forget these rules and go return to a world that failed to resist in the face of the century’s developments and that became a virtual world called the world of “national specificity”.
Jamal Khashoggi is as a Saudi prominent writer. This article first appeared in al-Hayat daily on July 7, 2012.