Saudi's construction market is displaying resilience through innovation
Despite some understandable trepidation caused by market externalities, Saudi Arabia is not only developing landmark projects, but also improving operational efficiencies
The Middle East’s construction industry may not be entirely tech-savvy or youth-oriented just yet, but it is extremely resilient.
Time and again, regional construction leaders from both the public and private sectors have shown how societies can be built and enhanced, even in the face of market challenges, and this is certainly the case in Saudi Arabia.
The kingdom’s construction sector has grown remarkably – if somewhat quietly – in the past few years. Just a few years ago, in 2015, the country’s Ministry of Finance, spurred by budgetary setbacks caused by fluctuating oil prices, called a halt on projects, appointments, and promotions planned for Q4. According to an Arabian Business report in October 2015, two sources said the ministry told government departments to not contract any new projects and to freeze appointments and promotions in the fourth quarter.
Some months later, property consultancy Knight Frank said that institutional funds were hard to attract in Saudi Arabia’s “opaque” real estate market. At the time, associate partner for commercial valuations at Knight Frank, Alexandros Arvalis, said: “The market here is [...] opaque; information is not openly shared and institutional investment is relatively rare due to land ownership structures and lack of planning controls.”
Fast-forward to 2018, and the kingdom’s investment landscape appears vastly different in terms of not only its construction products, but processes as well. For one, the kingdom’s marquee projects, such as Riyadh Metro and Jeddah Tower, are progressing as planned, despite the oil-related economic challenges that the country has faced since 2015.
UAE-based sub-contractor, Tecon Specialized Engineering Solutions, won a $6.7m (SAR25m) contract to provide emergency lighting services for three Riyadh Metro lines, the firm’s chief executive officer (CEO), Naveed Ansari, told Construction Week in February (issue #685). In the same month, Mounib Hammoud, CEO of Jeddah Economic Company, told Reuters that construction of the 1km-tall Jeddah Tower had reached the 63rd floor.
However – and perhaps, more importantly – the kingdom is in the midst of an operational overhaul that will undoubtedly reel in judicious investors. According to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, the anti-corruption drive launched in late 2017 is the “shock therapy” his country needed to root out economic malpractices.
Last week he told the Washington Post: “You have a body that has [...] the cancer of corruption. You need to have chemo, [...] or the cancer will eat the body.”
This new perspective appears to be influencing the kingdom’s construction sector as well, as Haroon Niazi, partner at HKA Middle East, explains in this week’s issue (p34). In his article, Niazi describes how reforms proposed to the Government Tenders and Procurement Law will make procurement more competitive in the kingdom.
There is little doubt that Saudi Arabia’s construction sector is changing with a view to the future. Regional construction leaders would do well to keep an eye on the kingdom as it charts its new journey.