7. State-Owned Enterprises
SOEs play a leading role in the Saudi economy, particularly in water, power, oil, natural gas, petrochemicals, and transportation. Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest exporter of crude oil and a large-scale oil refiner and producer of natural gas, is 98.5 percent SAG-owned, and its revenues typically contribute the majority of the SAG’s budget. Four of the eleven representatives on Aramco’s board of directors are from the SAG, including the chairman, who serves concurrently as the Managing Director of the PIF. In December 2019, the Kingdom fulfilled its long-standing promise to publicly list shares of its crown jewel – Saudi Aramco, the most profitable company in the world. The initial public offering (IPO) of 1.5 percent of Aramco’s shares on the Saudi Tadawul stock market on December 11, 2019 was a cornerstone of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 program. The largest-ever IPO valued Aramco at $1.7 trillion, the highest market capitalization of any company at the time, and generated $25.6 billion in proceeds, exceeding the $25 billion Alibaba raised in 2014 in the largest previous IPO in history.
During the annual Future Investment Initiative conference held in January 2021, the Crown Prince announced that Saudi Aramco would launch a second offering of shares as a continuation of the historical initial public offering of 2019, but did not provide additional details. Proceeds from a second floatation will be transferred to the PIF and will be reinvested domestically and internationally.
In March 2019, Saudi Aramco signed a share purchase agreement to acquire 70 percent of SABIC, Saudi Arabia’s leading petrochemical company and the fourth largest in the world, from the PIF in a transaction worth $69.1 billion. Five of the nine representatives on SABIC’s board of directors are from the SAG, including the chairman and vice chairman. The SAG is similarly well-represented in the leadership of other SOEs. The SAG either wholly owns or holds controlling shares in many other major Saudi companies, such as the Saudi Electricity Company, Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia), the Saline Water Conversion Company, Saudi Arabian Mining Company (Ma’aden ), the National Commercial Bank, and other leading financial institutions.
Saudi Arabia has undertaken a limited privatization process for state-owned companies and assets dating back to 2002. The process, which is open to domestic and foreign investors, has resulted in partial privatizations of state-owned enterprises in the banking, mining, telecommunications, petrochemicals, water desalination, insurance, and other sectors.
As part of Vision 2030 reforms, the SAG has announced its intention to privatize additional sectors of the economy. Privatization is a key element underpinning the Vision 2030 goal of increasing the private sector’s contribution to GDP from 40 percent to 65 percent by 2030. In April 2018, the SAG launched a Vision 2030 Privatization Program that aims to: strengthen the role of the private sector by unlocking state-owned assets for investment, attract foreign direct investment, create jobs, reduce government overhead, improve the quality of public services, and strengthen the balance of payments. (The full Privatization Program report is available online at http://vision2030.gov.sa/en/ncp .)
The program report references a range of approaches to privatization, including full and partial asset sales, initial public offerings, management buy-outs, public-private partnerships (build-operate-transfer models), concessions, and outsourcing. While the privatization report outlines the general guidelines for the program and indicated 16 targeted sectors, it does not include an exhaustive list of assets to be privatized. The report does, however, reference education, healthcare, transportation, renewable energy, power generation, waste management, sports clubs, grain silos, and water desalination facilities as prime areas for privatization or public-private partnerships
In 2017, Saudi Arabia established the National Center for Privatization and Public Private Partnerships, which will oversee and manage the Privatization Program. (The Center’s website is http://www.ncp.gov.sa/en/pages/home.aspx .) The NCCP’s mandate is to introduce privatization through the development of programs, regulations, and mechanisms for facilitating private sector participation in entities now controlled by the government.
In March 2021, Saudi Arabia approved the Private Sector Participation (PSP) Law. The PSP law aims to increase private sector participation in infrastructure projects and in providing public services by supporting Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP) and privatization of public sector assets.