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KUWAIT - Economy

Khaled A. Mahdi

Secretary General, Supreme Council for Planning and Development

Bio

Khaled A. Mahdi is Secretary General of Kuwait’s Supreme Council for Planning and Development, the National Counterpart of UNDP’s Country Program in Kuwait, and a member of several high-level government boards and committees. He leads Kuwait’s National Standing Steering Committee for the Implementation of the UN Agenda 2030 for SDGs. In 2016, Mahdi established the Kuwait Public Policy Center (KPPC) and its Nudge Unit, reporting directly to him. He also oversees the three other in-house research centers: NKEC, NSDO, and NDRC. Mahdi is a graduate of the University of Toronto and holds a PhD in chemical engineering from Northwestern University. He is a certified consultant engineer, a project management professional (PMP) and PRINCE2, a certified GCC Arbitrator, and is a member on several international organizations. Khaled was an associate professor in the College of Engineering and Petroleum at Kuwait University.

“We have made great progress in two areas: infrastructure and legislation.”
The Supreme Council for Planning and Development focuses on initiatives such as the country’s diversification and privatization processes, including setting the policies and creating a blueprint for improvement and implementation.
What milestones has Kuwait achieved in the last few years?

We have made great progress in two areas: infrastructure and legislation. Many legislations have paved the way for a proper platform to carry out change in the country. We have improved and implemented new laws for PPPs, competition protection, privatization, and SMEs. These legal structures have been established in the country. Since announcing Kuwait Vision 2035, five years have been spent on issuing laws. Some of them still need to be modified and enhanced; however, the positive thing is that we have made a start. That was the establishment of legal structures of the country. In the next wave of the plan, from 2015-2020, the country was like a workshop because of the project infrastructure that was established, including roads, fiber optics, the inception of the airport, starting the Mubarak Port, infrastructure in the oil sector, clean fuel refineries, and LNG. These are some of the infrastructure projects that have been developed, and more are being created as we speak. The next step is to include more private-sector engagement in the projects by releasing more land and giving maps of investment in the country, like the entertainment city project, Jaber Causeway, and the islands. Most of these are in the tendering phase. In terms of those in full force, Health Assurance Hospitals Company (DHAMAN) is a great example of a PPP project that succeeded in providing healthcare services. On the PPP projects side, we also have renewable energy developments and the GCC railroad, which should be tendered next year.

How is the Supreme Council for Planning and Development participating in the diversification and privatization processes?

Our work at the Supreme Council focuses on setting the policies, including the country’s public and national legislation, and creating a blueprint for improvement and implementation. We are currently working on engaging the private sector more, as to allow it to contribute more toward the GDP of the country. This includes a policy for restructuring the government and shifting the government’s operational role to the private sector and partnerships. Another policy aims to push this change through SMEs, private-public partnerships (PPPs), and privatization. The Public Authority of Manpower offers financial incentives to Kuwaitis to participate in the private sector. They are encouraged and trained to fill the skill gap between the public and private sectors, as in most situations the decision to switch is not an easy one.

Where do you see Kuwait’s place in the MENA region from a financial or technological perspective?

Kuwait has strong fundamentals. As the only democratic country in the region, we require a great deal of political navigation and consensus. When we started forming the national plan, we focused on legislation to put the proper legal platform in place before moving forward. When countries go through development and new changes, they require a stable and subtle legal structure to help them move ahead, and our legal structure is solid. When I reflect on the progress done so far, I always remind myself that even changing a small company is difficult; we can imagine how challenging it can be to change a whole country. Life in Kuwait is stable and comfortable, which does not make it any easier for the change to happen. We are making progress, one step at a time.

Where can you see potential for economic diversification in Kuwait?

The digital and knowledge economy best suits the diversification process, which is why most of the policies focus on innovation and encouraging people to be creative. We called this pillar of the vision: creative human capital. Building a creative human capital will provide us with a diversified economy in the future, though this is a long process and not an easy one. We need to do it as a part of the fourth revolution. We are extremely realistic. We know our challenges, and we know how to deal with them.

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