I would like to take this opportunity to thank His Majesty King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud and his 600-strong delegation, including all the members of the Royal Household and Cabinet Ministers who visited Malaysia.
It was King Salman’s maiden visit as Head of State to Malaysia, and indeed the region. We are honoured that he chose to make our country the first stop on his tour of Asia.
I believe that his time here will not only further strengthen our bilateral ties; it is also a testament to the brotherhood that we have formed with Saudi Arabia.
Alhamdulillah, the visit was a success for both sides and I am happy to share four key outcomes that will benefit the people directly.
1) More scholarships for Malaysian students:
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) will triple the number of scholarships for Malaysian students in the Kingdom starting next year. Currently, there are only 100 scholarships available for Malaysian students to study at Imam Mohammed bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh. This means that more students will be able to further their studies in top universities in KSA. This will also complement the Government’s allocation of RM4.3 billion for scholarships under Budget 2017.
2) Increment to hajj quota, and two centres for Malaysian pilgrims in Makkah and Madinah:
As the Fifth Pillar of Islam, the hajj is very close to my heart and to all Muslims. As Prime Minister, I will do whatever it takes to help my brothers and sisters to fulfil their religious obligations as Muslims.
We have heard stories that some have had to wait 40 years to perform their hajj and I am committing to doing everything I can to reduce such occurrences.
Alhamdulillah, King Salman has given a positive response to my request to increase the hajj quota, and said that it would be given due consideration. Currently, the quota for Malaysian pilgrims for the 2017 hajj season is 27,900.
We have also submitted our request to set up two pilgrim centres, one in Makkah, close to the Masjidil Haram, and another at the Masjid Nabawi in Madinah. This too received a positive response from King Salman and will be considered by the Saudi government.
I hope and pray that our requests will be considered favourably for the benefit of Muslims in Malaysia so that more people can perform hajj, and in a conducive manner.
3) Jobs and investments:
When it comes to the economy, we often hear certain people running down Malaysia for their own political gain. They make wild allegations that we are either going bankrupt or that we are selling our country to outsiders through foreign direct investment.
This is absolutely false. Foreign investment creates employment for our people, while we retain ownership and total sovereignty. Furthermore, we are now aiming to move up the value chain, including high income jobs such as architects, engineers, accountants, chemists and many others. Such investment from overseas is a strong vote of confidence in our economy.
Previously, our relations with KSA centred mainly on the issue of umrah and hajj. Meanwhile, bilateral trade between the two countries stood at a modest amount, at RM13.99 billion, in 2016.
This is about to change. Alhamdulillah, Saudi Aramco will invest RM31.08 billion in the refinery and petrochemical integrated development project (RAPID) in Pengerang, Johor, and this I believe will create a plethora of opportunities for our people, from jobs to growth in supporting industries like retail, finance, construction, services and many more. Other industries like the halal economy, Islamic financial services and small and medium enterprises (SME) will also prosper.
4) A new wave of opportunities in Saudi Arabia for Malaysian businesses and entrepreneurs:
Malaysian businesses also stand to benefit from this visit. With a total population of 31.7 million, KSA is the 20th largest economy in the world and ranked fifth fastest growing among G20 countries, with a gross domestic product of US$ 640 billion.
Just like Malaysia, KSA has also taken up initiatives to diversify their economy and reduce their dependency on the oil and gas sector, including introducing GST. Besides that, they are like us implementing a national transformation programme.
There are many opportunities in KSA for our industries and entrepreneurs. For example, one of KSA’s target is to improve the life expectancy from 74 to 80 years old. This will open up opportunities for the healthcare industry, especially care services for the ageing population.
Another example is KSA’s aim to increase umrah visitors from eight million to 30 million. This will lead to growth in demand for sectors like telco and ICT, infrastructure, digital content, energy, tourism and hospitality, healthcare, green technology, retail and transportation. Unique opportunities will also be available for our businesses in sectors like e-commerce, renewable energy, entertainment and leisure, and financial services to name a few.
Moving forward, I hope that our businesses will be innovative and take advantage of this opportunity to venture out and establish relationships with our Saudi brothers. This will not only benefit our economy but also strengthen the relationship between our two countries.
I pray that Allah SWT will forever bless this special bond between Saudi Arabia and Malaysia. Insya-Allah.