Italian frigate to dock at Jeddah port on goodwill mission

Sun, 2016-12-25

RIYADH: The Italian multi-mission frigate FREMM Carabiniere will visit the Jeddah Islamic Port on Tuesday, said Italian Ambassador Luca Ferrari, here Saturday.
The visit, billed as a sign of friendship between the Kingdom and Italy, will help to strengthen bilateral ties in the naval and maritime sectors within the framework of international naval cooperation.
“The main focus of FREMM frigate’s deployment is to support operations, international naval cooperation and diplomacy and industrial relations tasks,” said Ambassador Ferrari, while commenting on the forthcoming visit of the vessel. He pointed out that “the frigate will tour several countries in the Middle East and Far East, besides Oman and Pakistan.”
The envoy said that “the frigate would visit traditional allies like Singapore and Australia.” The stopovers of this ship will also enable Italy to showcase FREMM’s design and capabilities, with the frigate being a candidate in Australia’s SEA 5000 Future Frigate program.
This Italian Navy’s FREMM Carabiniere sailed from La Spezia naval base in northern Italy on Dec. 20 for a four-month deployment to the Asia-Pacific region, including Saudi Arabia. During its 20,000-nautical mile deployment, the navy’s fourth-in-class, anti-submarine warfare (ASW)-focused FREMM frigate will conduct port visits in a number of other countries also.
Bergamini class is the Italian variant of the European multi-purpose frigate (FREMM) class, a class of frigates designed by the French DCNS and the Italian Ficantieri in a joint program to replace the existing destroyers and frigates within the French and Italian navies. The visit of this frigate is a gesture of goodwill between Rome and Riyadh. Saudi Arabia and Italy have had several high-level contacts during the current year.
On Nov. 22, the two countries pledged to work closely in the field of security and counterterrorism following talks here between Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano and King Salman, as well as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif, minister of interior. Alfano conveyed his country’s preparedness to train Saudi police personnel in security and counterterrorism.
Also, the Kingdom and Italy have forged closer ties in different sectors. On the commercial front, Italian companies, and Italians living in the Kingdom, have traditionally played a crucial role in the construction of many infrastructure projects. Saudi Arabia is also Italy’s main commercial partner in the Gulf, and among the countries in the Arab world. The total value of trade between the two countries exceeded $10 billion last year.

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OIC information ministers commend Saudi Arabia’s war on terror

Fouzia Khan
Sun, 2016-12-25

JEDDAH: Information ministers from 57 Muslim countries praised the efforts and strategy of Saudi Arabia in combating Islamophobia, and terrorism in Syria, Iraq and other countries.
On the sidelines of the 11th session of the Islamic Conference of Information Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Jeddah, Numan Kurtulmus, deputy prime minister of Turkey, thanked the secretary-general of the OIC and Adel Al-Toraifi, Saudi minister of culture and information, for organizing the important session, and said everyone should follow up on the decisions made by the ministry and the OIC.
He further said there is need for strong cooperation among Muslim countries as they have enough resources.
Khalil Al-Tayar, deputy minister of communications and media in Iraq, told Arab News that the organization of the 11th session was very crucial and timely.
He said the conference clarified recommendations and developed a strategy for the media to fight against terrorism and Islamophobia in the Muslim world amid ongoing atrocities in Iraq, Syria and other countries.
He said there is a need for exchange of information, sharing knowledge and experience, establishing different media outlets to combat terrorism in the Muslim Ummah, uniting the Muslim world in order to fight terrorism and Islamophobia, and maintaining stability of Muslim countries.
Hasanul Haq Inu, minister of information from Bangladesh, said that acts of some unscrupulous fanatics resorting to terrorist acts in the name of Islam cannot be called Islamic. Islam is a religion of peace and does not endorse terrorism. He urged all governments and other statutory entities of the world to stop misusing the term “Islamists” as a substitute for terrorists.
Saba Mohsin Raza, secretary and head of the Pakistani delegation from the ministry of information, said this session was very important in efforts to remove misconceptions about Islam and Muslims, and recommendations were made by the conference to combat these misconceptions through the media.
She said all recommendations were welcomed by the member states, and commended OIC’s efforts in chalking out a media strategy to combat Islamophobia and terrorism.
She said Pakistan suggested the establishment of a permanent media advisory board, with media specialists that should be appointed to monitor and evaluate the media, as an exchange of information is important to fight terrorism and Islamophobia.
Madeneine Alingue, minister of communication and spokesperson for Chad, thanked the Saudi ministry and the OIC for organizing the session, which provided a great opportunity for Islamic countries to talk about combating terrorism and Islamophobia.
It was timely, she said, as all the Islamic countries are facing the challenges of terrorism and Islamophobia. “Chad has to deal with two cultures, and we think that the role of media has to be strengthened so both cultures understand and don’t stigmatize each other,” she said.

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Haramain train to be fully operational by end 2017

Arab News
Sun, 2016-12-25

MAKKAH: The Haramain high speed train will start operating gradually in six months, with the first trip departing from Makkah to Madinah via Jeddah and King Abdullah Economic city in Rabigh, a 450-km-long trip.
The Haramain train will be full operational at the end of 2017.
Of the whole project, only 10 km are currently functional, including 7 km in Makkah and 3 km in Al-Harazat district, in Jeddah.
Haramain High Speed Rail Project Director Bassam bin Ahmed Ghulman said two more months are left until the completion of the expansion of Al-Shafaa Street, in central Makkah, which has two axes, one from the direction of the Third Ring Road, the other in Al-Rusaifah district.
During a meeting organized by the sub-council of the Saudi Umran Society in Makkah at the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industries on Tuesday, Ghulman said that the project used more than 1.9 million meters of telecommunication cables, about 4 million tons of gravel and more than 1,500 closed-circuit television (CCTV) for control and command.
He also said that “Jeddah station is the largest as a facility, but Al-Rusaifah station in Makkah is the most expensive in terms of contracting”, adding that there is no final decision with regard to fares, which are under study.
Ghulman said Haramain High Speed Rail Project is the largest transportation project in the Middle East and one of the largest public transportation projects in the world, with an estimated 120-year lifespan for all expandable facilities.
It is estimated to cost about SR62 billion and involved erecting 15,000 power pylons and demolition of some high mountains.
The project also has more than 39 centers for electricity generators and about 147 Wi-Fi points of transmission and reception to serve passengers for free at bus and car stops at the stations.
The cost of the six central plants to generate power reached about SR2 billion.
Ghulman added that the Haramain trains are designed to travel at speeds of 350 km/h, but will usually run at 300 km/h.
“The train will transport 19,600 passengers per hour between Makkah and Jeddah at full capacity, and 3,800 passengers between Makkah and Madinah per hour,” said Ghulman.

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20% of design work for advanced reactor completed

Arab News
Sun, 2016-12-25

SEOUL: The second meeting of the joint Saudi-Korean Steering Committee for the System-integrated Modular Advanced Reactor (SMART) concluded in Seoul recently. 
From the Saudi side, the meeting was chaired by Deputy President of King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (K.A.CARE) Walid Hussein Abu Al-Faraj, with the participation of members of the K.A.CARE steering committee.  From the Korean side, the meeting was attended by the deputy minister of science, information technology and future planning, and the vice chairman of the Korean Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI), the CEO of SMART Company, and the general manager of the national plan for nuclear research and development at the Nuclear Research Organization in Korea.
Abu Al-Faraj started the meeting with a statement, and then the two parties discussed the agenda, the timeline of the project, and the list of achievements in the past.  The steering committee aims to set the strategic views of the project, supervise its implementation and facilitate the implementing process and related activities. 
Twenty percent of the engineering design work for SMART has been implemented, and the first phase was successfully finalized, whereas the first and second phases of human capacity development in relation to the small reactors were conducted for Saudi engineers participating in the project. 
K.A.CARE has partnered with KNERI to develop the technology needed to build two small compact nuclear reactor units, and enable the Kingdom to possess the technology in order to implement it in different sustainable energy programs. The project is considered one of the initiatives of K.A.CARE that are a part of Vision 2030 and the 2020 National Transformation Program.  K.A.CARE aims to develop atomic and renewable energy as a developer, owner and receptor of the nuclear energy technology. 
A Saudi technical team is now working with KNERI to train and be able to participate in the preparations of the engineering designs of the compact reactor.

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Saudis welcome 2017 national budget

Sat, 2016-12-24

RIYADH: A wide cross section of Saudi society on Friday welcomed the 2017 national budget approved by the extraordinary Cabinet session chaired by King Salman in Riyadh on Thursday.
Opinion-makers applauded the announcements in the annual financial statement, describing it as balanced and based on solid foundations that support the reform plans set out by the National Transformation Program (NTP 2020) and Vision 2030.
Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan said the general budget included broad plans, and economic and social development programs.
He said the aims were to prepare the Kingdom for the future, improve the performance of the government and private sectors, promote transparency and improve spending efficiency in order to raise the quality of services.
Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal said the budget showed positive results and demonstrated the strength and stability of the Saudi economy at a time of economic and political change worldwide.
He added that the Kingdom had defied the odds and overcome global economic and political crises.
Al-Jouf Gov. Prince Fahd bin Badr expressed hope that the budget would keep pace with the NTP 2020 and Vision 2030.
He said the budget confirmed what had been endorsed under the reform plans, including transparency and clarity, job-creation and quality life for citizens.
Muhammad bin Nasser Al-Khozaim, deputy chief of the presidency of the Two Holy Mosques Affairs, said the budget focused on addressing citizens’ fundamental needs, including education and health services.
The government has allocated a considerable portion of budget expenditure to supporting the healthcare and education sectors, he added.
Mona Salahuddin Al-Munajjed, a prominent sociologist and writer, said development projects — especially in health and education — will help the youth realize goals set under Vision 2030.
She added that at first glance, the budget aims for reforms that will help face the financial challenges from low oil prices.
“This budget, which I found very positive, will increase work opportunities for Saudis in the labor market, with a reduction in the number of jobs for foreign workers,” she said.
Majed Abdullah Al-Hedayan of the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI) told Arab News that the announcements looked fair, with sustainable development in the cards.
He said disciplined management of the national finances over the past year had led to a lower budget deficit despite low oil prices, which was very encouraging.
As a result of efficient spending measures, this year the government achieved a milestone by reducing the budget deficit to SR297 billion ($79 billion), 9 percent lower than initially predicted, and controlling spending, which has come down to SR825 billion ($220 billion), as against SR840 billion ($224 billion) initially predicted.
Moreover, 2016 revenue reached SR528 billion ($141 billion), 2.7 percent higher than the SR514 billion ($137 billion) expected.
This year’s non-oil revenue stands at SR199 billion ($53 billion), as against SR181 billion ($48 billion) predicted for the fiscal year.
Based on current policies, it is expected to achieve additional revenues with high energy and water prices, and increased transfers from public entities to the budget, Al-Hedayan said.
He added that now the focus would be on privatization and stimulating private sector programs via partnerships between the public and private sectors to continue reforms, improve the business climate, promote capital markets and encourage foreign direct investment, as the Kingdom’s sovereign bond issuance was successful and supported small and medium enterprises.
Najran University Rector Mohammed bin Ibrahim Al-Hassan said the budget announcements confirmed the strength of the Saudi economy, with sustainable development on the agenda as set under Vision 2030.
He added that reducing the deficit was an indication of a more financially disciplined year. He said the huge budget allocation to education confirmed good leadership in this important sector.
He added that a continued educational renaissance was the basis of the development and progress of societies and that the budget would support Najran University in completing projects to keep pace with Vision 2030.

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Saudi aid program targets 3,185 Syrians in Mafraq, Jordan

Arab News
Sat, 2016-12-24

AMMAN: The Saudi National Campaign to support Syrian refugees has readied a package of humanitarian relief aid to be distributed in 2016-2017.
Slated to receive the aid are 3,185 Syrians in the Mafraq governorate, in northern Jordan, as part of the 24th and 25th phases of two aid programs.
The aid package includes a winter bag containing blankets, jackets, sweaters and winter caps, as well as other items to cover the needs of families, as well as a personal care bag containing items and toiletries to meet basic individual needs.
The winter clothing, household utensils and personal care bags will be delivered to Syrian refugee families in host countries like Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, as well as to refugee families inside Syria, said the regional director of the campaign, Badr bin Abdulrahman Al-Samhan, who added that it is an ongoing initiative.
“The campaign gives considerable attention and focus to relief projects, which are considered among the most important due to their wide-scale positive impact and ability to meet needs of Syrians and their children,” said Al-Samhan, who stressed the fact that the government of King Salman is keen on securing the basic needs of the displaced Syrian people from medical and household to social, food, seasonal and educational needs.
Meanwhile, the Saudi specialized clinics continued to provide humanitarian aid and total medical care to 2,797 Syrian refugees at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan last week.
The medical care provided included primary clinical tests and disbursing the medications needed. The records showed that the pediatric clinic provided comprehensive treatment for 981 children last week, while the general medicine clinic treated 346 Syrians. Over 180 patients visited the dermatology clinic.
The medical director of the clinics, Dr. Hamid Al-Mufalani, said the majority of the people who visited the clinics last week suffered from seasonal flu, and the clinics provided medications, including antibiotics and vitamins, in addition to preventive medical advice.

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Training is our top priority, says crown prince

Arab News
Sat, 2016-12-24

JEDDAH: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif, deputy premier and minister of interior, said the Ministry of Interior accords top priority to the training of personnel.
He said the ministry focuses on continuous training and development, noting that the role of equipment and machinery comes after training.
During the inspection of a trainer ship on Wednesday evening, which recently arrived in the Kingdom after being launched by the prince several months ago in Germany, the crown prince praised the efforts of the Border Guards in training personnel to the highest level during work at sea.
He expressed his pride in Saudi technicians working on the ship, praising their high skills and capabilities due to the excellent training they received recently. He said Saudi youth are capable of working in all fields due to their high skills and qualifications.
The crown prince toured the ship, including the command room and tower, teaching classrooms and educational methods used. He also attended a detailed presentation about the ship’s modern training tools and facilities to provide high-qualify training to meet the needs of the Border Guards.
The director general of the Border Guards, Awad Al-Balawi, said the ship, along with the other vessels, provides strong support to the Border Guard’s fleet in protecting the country’s territorial waters, economic zones and the nation’s resources.
He said the focus is on improving maritime capabilities in order to protect the Kingdom’s eastern and western coasts, as well as secure its maritime interests.
The crown prince was accompanied during the tour by Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Naif, adviser to the minister of interior, as well as a number of other senior officials.

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MiSK Foundation launches talent-mining festival

Sat, 2016-12-24

DAMMAM: Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s MiSK Foundation launched Wednesday the third edition of the “Hakaya MiSK” Festival at Dhahran Exhibition Center in the Eastern Province, an event that will witness many activities through which the foundation seeks to disseminate knowledge and encourage creativity.
The event will last through Saturday.
The activities include educational and cultural workshops, performances and video production.
Yusuf Al-Hamadi, head of the MiSK Foundation media committee, said that the festival is one of MiSK Foundation’s initiatives that seeks to disseminate knowledge and encourage creativity by creating interactive platforms that adopt young, talented youth and enable them to give free rein to their creativity, having a positive impact on visitors to the festival.
“The secret of the success of the festival lies in the fact that it is a quality initiative that provides a broad platform to accommodate the creations of the young people in the areas of writing, drawing, animation, narrative arts and visual production, in addition to the use of modern technologies in the field of knowledge and cultural production, and offer all this in an innovative way that has the maximum impact especially on youth and children,” Al-Hamadi said.
He said more than 150 public schools and three universities are participating in the events.
The events include the budding author section, which would culturally and cognitively inspire children through the use of applications that help them write a story, from the idea through to its publication; Hakaya Market, which includes stories, novels, drawing tools, animation techniques, photographs and paintings available for display and selling; Hakaya Tech, which presents the latest digital technology in writing stories.
About 100 participants, including talented individuals in the fields of education, culture and information, are taking part in the activities of “Hakaya Market” Festival.
In parallel with these events, Hakaya festival hosts daily a media figure who covers the events on the southern border of the Kingdom and who talks about his experience and about the sacrifices of the soldiers stationed there.
The festival includes a studio production section that is attended by about 14 visual production companies and professional trainers who hold workshops and present ideas in direction, production and photography.
At the same time, 11 short films and three plays are being shown, delivering meaningful and valued messages, and Hakaya Market will give young participants the opportunity to develop their business by presenting books, technology and crafts that help creativity in the fields of writing, drawing, animation or production.
Three entities are taking part in the Hakaya Tech section, which is a gallery of the latest digital technologies and modern appliances in the areas of displaying and making stories.
The exhibition includes everything relevant to devices, digital solutions and electronic applications that help make or develop stories and presents them in a modern shape.

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Blow of higher utility bills softened for low-income Saudis

Sat, 2016-12-24

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia spends billions on subsidies — so economists were hardly suprised when Thursday’s budget confirmed plans to raise energy and water prices to be more in line with market rates.
But what was an innovative move was the accompanying “Household Allowance” scheme, which is designed to soften the blow of the rate increases for some of the Kingdom’s most needy residents.
The Kingdom’s subsidies, or “energy benefits”, reached close to SAR 300 billion in 2015, when energy and water accounted for about 80 percent of the overall subsidies, the government’s “Fiscal Balance Program – Balanced Budget 2020” document shows.
But such subsidies disproportionately benefit richer Saudi residents: Lower income households — estimated to account for about 40 percent of the population — only benefit from around 30 percent of energy subsidies, the document shows.

Subsidy cuts
In line with moves made by other Arabian Gulf states, Saudi Arabia has been reducing subsidies, a move it terms “energy and water price reform”.
The first phase of this, which was introduced in 2016, included a “marginal” correction to energy and water prices, with very limited impact on low-income households. That phase produced savings of between SR27-29 billion, as well as reducing the growth rate in energy consumption, the Fiscal Balance Program states.
But the Kingdom plans a future phase of subsidy cuts, between 2017 and 2020, as part of its aim to eliminate its budget deficit during that time.
Domestic prices of energy and water products will be linked to the export price of the respective product, and this will fluctuate according to the international market. The prices of those products will be revised periodically, while the linkage of gasoline and diesel to reference prices is currently being studied, and will be implemented between 2017 and 2020.
The combined energy and water price reforms are expected to lead to saving of SR 209 billion per year by 2020, the Fiscal Balance Program states.
But this “phased increase in prices towards international market prices” will make it necessary to compensate low-income consumers.

Household Allowance
Indeed, the planned reforms between 2017-2020 “will significantly impact vulnerable household segments of the society, directly and indirectly”, according to the Fiscal Balance Program.
But it has a plan to soften the blow and in some cases boost the finances of low-income Saudis. The planned national Household Allowance aims to protect low- and medium-income households against the direct and indirect impact of the planned reforms.
Not only will this scheme compensate such households for the steeper costs of energy and water, it will also reward sensible energy consumption, the Fiscal Balance Program states.
“Instead of benefits that are built-in discounted prices of energy products, we will introduce bank transfers to the eligible households that will allow us to better redistribute benefits to the deserving households,” it stated.
“Today most of the vulnerable Saudi household segments are modest consumers. The allowance will cover the costs of sensible consumption, but those who currently consume more than these levels will need to moderate their consumption in order to limit the impact on their disposable income.”

Who can claim?
The principles of this cash allowance scheme have been based on “global success stories”, which suggest cash and bank transfers are the most efficient ways to target eligible recipients, and provide savings opportunities to households if they consume and spend wisely.
The first payment should be made before changing energy prices, according to the global best practices, to ensure that Saudi households can plan their expenditure ahead of price changes and feel relieved. And the amount should vary based on the number of people in a household and their income level.
The Household Allowance plan is open to mainly Saudi national households made up of first degree relatives. “The main beneficiaries of this program include Saudi households along with other segments, such singles who are living independently of their families, the non-Saudi household with a Saudi mother, and holders of a transit permit,” the Fiscal Balance Program states.
The value of the allowance is based on energy and water prices as well as other basic goods, to account for any indirect price rises.
The larger the size of the household, the greater the basic entitlement. In addition, the entitlement amount will be reduced for households with higher income levels — and those on the highest incomes will not have any entitlement at all.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Development responded to Saudi citizens’ many inquiries on social media over the unified “Citizens’ Account Program”, of which the Household Allowance scheme will be part. This will develop to become a comprehensive program that includes all different types of programs and government benefits.
These unified citizen accounts are for groups including Saudi families, unmarried individuals, Saudi mothers married to non-Saudis, and holders of free-movement cards, those that live near borders and have free movement between neighboring countries such as Yemen.
The ministry said on Twitter that the monthly income of the families will be the key factor to be considered. It called on Saudi citizens to shun listening to rumors and take news from credible sources such as the ministry’s call center.

How much will recipients get?
The Fiscal Balance Program gave an illustration on how the allowance could impact a household of six people in 2017, based on five income brackets.
The example showed that a household with an average income of SR4,500 a month would have an extra financial burden of SR450 a month due to higher energy and water prices. But they could receive an average allowance of SR700, leaving them SR250 a month better off.
But a household of six with an average income of SR34,500 a month would have an extra financial burden of SR1,100 a month, and not be entitled to an allowance.
“We will be spending generously, to ensure that we appropriately cover eligible Saudi households,” the Fiscal Balance Program documents state.
“The amount of Household Allowance will increase each year from 2017-2020 with the annual increase in burden on households resulting from gradual reforms. It is expected that the total annual amount of allowances will reach SAR60-70bn in 2020.”
On 1 Feb. 2017, a registration portal will be opened for the scheme, while all eligible social security recipients relevant to the Ministry of Labor and Social Development will be automatically registered.
All eligible beneficiaries will receive their first payment prior to implementing the new price changes, according to the Fiscal Balance Program.

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