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Kuwait reforms pick up pace; workplan eyes diversification
Private sector to play pivotal role • Blueprint to push digital transformation

Kuwait has set a five-year work plan in motion aiming at accelerating the pace of country’s economic reforms and pushing its digital transformation drive. The Cabinet has drafted a development blueprint for 2024-2028 that eyes diversification of the country’s income sources by focusing on non-oil sector growth and infrastructure development in which private sector is expected to play a pivotal role.

As Kuwait celebrates its National and Liberation Days, citizens and residents are quite upbeat about the new workplan, which is expected to positively impact the lives of the people in the country. While officially presenting the government’s development blueprint in the National Assembly on Feb 6, 2024, His Highness the Prime Minister Sheikh Dr Mohammad Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah stated: “We are receiving a new era full of determination, optimism and national responsibility. We will work hard as a Council and government to enhance constructive cooperation and redouble efforts in serving the country to embody the hopes and aspirations of citizens.” The government presented its plan under the title, ‘A Just, Safe and Sustainable Homeland’, acknowledging “the pivotal goal of economic reform in Kuwait” which is essential to achieve a structural balance in the national economy. It seeks to amend the existing law on partnership between the public and private sectors and diversify its sources of income. This in turn is expected to generate more job opportunities for nationals.

Digital ecosystem

“The new government workplan can support Kuwait’s digital transformation program and help speed up the country’s transition into a digital economy,” Dr Anwar Al-Harbi, Chief Technology Officer at the Central Agency for Information Technology (CAIT), Kuwait, told Kuwait Times. The government, while factoring in the changing landscape of digital technology across the world, proposes to open research centers for cybersecurity and artificial intelligence to support the digital economy in the country.

“We need to take into consideration many factors for a proper digital transformation such as IT governance, increased use of online services like Sahel app, enhanced deployment of AI in government apps, etc in order to improve user experience and ensure customer satisfaction. The digital transformation platform must cover the entire spectrum of the society, including businesses and the education and healthcare sectors,” Dr Al-Harbi said, adding that CAIT would support the government programs to advance digital transformation initiative. While expanding the country’s digital ecosystem and infrastructure, both government and Parliament must take into consideration the United Nations E-Government Development Index (EGDI) and Global Cybersecurity Index (GCI) as references for the better future of Kuwait’s digital economy, he added.

Resilient

Kuwait’s economy remained resilient despite global headwinds and sustained its growth trajectory over the last few years. However, the country’s oil production cuts in tune with OPEC+ decision to balance the market and prevent further oil stock builds have marginally impacted the growth. IMF official Jihad Azour said recently that Kuwait’s economy will contract by 0.1 percent in 2024 due to oil production cuts, but will expand by 4.2 percent in 2025 as “these production cuts unwind”. According to NBK, Kuwait’s oil output in Q1 2024 will fall by 135,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 2.41 million bpd.

Inflation under check

As countries across the world battle spiraling inflation and a cost-of-living crisis due to geopolitical reasons, the Kuwaiti government seeks to rein in inflation, as evident in the workplan, by ensuring price stability especially of essential goods and revisit its policy on public sector wages. The government also intends to open new hospitals and health centers to address the growing healthcare needs of the country.

Setting a 100-day deadline, the government has also identified several projects that can be executed within the timeframe. “This workplan appears to be a realistic roadmap for an all-round development of the country where the private sector gets a major role to play. It seeks to take into account the aspirations and expectations of the entire nation”, said Ibrahim Mustafa, an economic expert who works in a local bank. He said the new initiative will put the country’s critical infrastructure projects back on track and help push the country’s economic diversification plans.

Infrastructure

Although infrastructure development has been one of the key themes of the country’s ‘New Kuwait’ 2035 vision, several core projects got bogged down by COVID-induced stumbling blocks that lingered for more than two years. The country, aspiring to secure a position among top 35 countries in the world by 2035 in all development indicators, has completed some of its key infrastructure projects, while some are on track for completion. In accordance with the workplan, Kuwait’s long-pending infrastructure projects, envisioned to transform Kuwait into a regional financial hub, will get a new momentum. According to experts, such megaprojects can enhance Kuwait’s brand image and give it a favorable international visibility.

In July 2023, the government unveiled its four-year program to implement 107 projects spanning all sectors of the country. The government also proposes to conduct a study on the financial, economic and technical feasibility of a railway link between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, a project that has been hanging for some time. The country is collaborating with other five GCC countries for the Gulf rail project, which is expected to transform the country’s transportation landscape. Simultaneously, Kuwait is working on its own national railroad system and $3.25 billion has been earmarked for the project.

Kuwait has earmarked $160 billion to develop three major islands off the northwestern coast of the country – Boubyan, Warba and Failaka – as well as the small islands of Maskan and Aouha. Mubarak Al-Kabeer Port, being built on Boubyan island, will be one of the largest and most sustainable ports in the Middle East and will help the country establish a leading shipping hub. The mega project is jointly funded by Kuwait and China as part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Kuwait’s International Airport Terminal 2, which is nearing completion now, is expected to handle up to 50 million passengers per year on completion of its third phase. Terminal 2, expected to be completed this year, will turn Kuwait into an aviation hub as envisioned in its 2035 vision.

Kuwait’s Al-Zour oil refinery became fully operational in March last year after commissioning the third and last distillation unit. The launching of the third unit by the state-owned Kuwait Integrated Petroleum Industries Company (KIPIC) is expected to boost the country’s refining capacity to 615,000 barrels per day.

The new workplan puts forth a list of 22 legislations essential to lay the foundation for the economic transformation. Many crucial reforms have been included in the blueprint that cover amendment of the Import and Export Law, draft law on electronic commerce, amendment of the Industry Law and plan to launch a digital platform for companies for facilitating commercial licenses.

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