Interview: Khaled Mahdi

In what specific areas is the Kuwait National Development Plan (KNDP) 2020-25 aiming to enhance the country’s global competitiveness?

KHALED MAHDI: Our largest sector in Kuwait – besides the oil industry – is the public sector, and we are working to restructure the government to improve its effectiveness, its operations and its delivery, thus changing its role from an operator to a regulator. As part of these efforts, we have set up the Kuwait Public Policy Centre (KPPC) to generate evidence-based policy to support the KNDP. Studying the impact of public policies on the economy is a major exercise we are engaged in. The KPPC also enhances our partnership with the rest of the world, as it will act as a knowledge hub, allowing for knowledge transfer and exchange.

Second, we are focusing on the oil sector by expanding our petrochemicals capacity, and including small and medium-sized enterprises and entrepreneurs in the oil industry supply chain. We are also improving our production efficiency and operational reliability, and delivering projects that meet the highest international standards, such as the Clean Fuels Project.

Third, the overarching theme of the KNDP is to nurture a knowledge-based economy through the introduction of blockchain, internet of things, big data and enhanced ICT infrastructure. The digital transformation of the country is key to allowing the government and businesses to fully realise their potential. By strengthening the capabilities of our institutions and individuals, we will enhance the ease of doing business.

How is Kuwait looking to harness the full potential of public-private partnerships (PPPs)?

MAHDI: In Kuwait we have a unique public-private-people partnership model. This method of wealth distribution seeks to include the private sector in the establishment of corporate entities and the privatisation process of former government assets, and ensures that PPPs do not only have an economic impact but a social one as well. It has been deployed by entities such as Warba Bank, from which every registered Kuwaiti receives shares. Likewise, the independent water and power producer Shamal Azzour allows Kuwaitis to have up to 50% of ownership in their project. In our interaction with foreign investors as part of PPPs, we are seeking knowledge rather than financial resources. To successfully transition from a rentier state to a productive one, we need to capitalise on our human, institutional and natural resources to stimulate the formation of a knowledge-based economy.

Can you elaborate on the importance of female empowerment to the KNDP and to the overall performance of the economy?

MAHDI: Female employees comprise around 57% of our civil servant workforce. However, their number in leadership positions is still small. Our goal is to have 35% of leadership positions within the government occupied by women by 2025. We believe that female empowerment is critical to the KNDP, and there are a number of economic reasons for it. Men and women should not be differentiated in the economy based on gender, but rather measured in terms of their productivity. We have adopted many programmes to facilitate this inclusion, the first being the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 5 – which focuses on women empowerment – by establishing the Women’s Research and Studies Centre at the University of Kuwait (KU). The collaboration between the UN Development Programme and KU has led to the creation of a political and economic incubator for social issues surrounding women, such as violence against women, fertility issues, and economic empowerment, among others. Other efforts include launching the Kuwait Distinguished Women Award and partnering up with the Ban Ki-Moon Centre for Global Citizens to organise a seminar featuring female leaders directed towards empowering women for leadership purposes.