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New Economists Wanted | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The second annual Arab Economic and Social Development summit in session, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (SPA)

The Arabs are eagerly awaiting some sort of positive economic mobility following the significant Arab economic summit that concluded recently in the Saudi capital Riyadh. The summit was mainly geared towards addressing the economic challenges and exceptional circumstances faced by the majority of Arab states, which have caused unemployment and inflation rates to soar.

In order for the initiatives proposed in the summit to succeed in the future, they must be coupled with the introduction of economists who are capable of fulfilling these visions and who can support them with data, information, and facts, rather than mere statements that only aim to embellish the situation. Unfortunately, the latter is the case with the majority of those in charge of the economic situation in most Arab states. This, in the best of cases, has fueled suspicion and caused a lack of trust between economic entities and international markets, as well as between different Arab economies in the worst of cases.

I once attended an economic conference where the keynote speaker was an Arab economic official well known for his narcissism, sense of self-importance, and his love of delivering speeches and statements. The official concluded the conference in a manner that left the audience perplexed, questioning the “statistics” and “data” they had just heard. After the lecture, I overheard the same official justifying his speech by saying that he had modeled it on the style of Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve of the United States, who always used complex words that required dictionary definitions, so people would focus on understanding the meaning of his speech rather than the information contained within. Of course, this comment revealed what was really going on in that Arab official’s mind, and exposed his approach towards financial and economic issues. Respected economic circles around the world are always suspicious of this kind of empty rhetoric.

If we can appoint rational, capable, and professional economists who do not exaggerate or embellish, who subjugate themselves to the rules of governance and transparency, and who distance themselves from conflicts of interests and contradictory stances, then this will lead to confidence and reassurance, and will create a sense of economic sincerity, respect and security.

Dealing with the economy properly is a strategic political objective, and considering its current state of disorder and deterioration that poses real danger to the region’s security, we must make sure our economic vision has changed. However, this change also requires economists of a completely different ilk than before; economists who are capable of considering the bigger picture. These economists must also cooperate with other government sectors and ensure greater openness with the private sector, and their personal glory or legacy can never be the primary concern.

Plans, studies, data, and statistics can all remain untouched unless they are coupled with credibility and merit, which cannot be attained unless there is openness and everyone performs to his position and rank, something that we have yet to see so far. Unfortunately, this explains the lack of proficiency in the Arab world regarding those entrusted with Arab economies, and also explains the lack of steady criteria and standards according to which professionals can be appointed to certain positions.

We can no longer accept that those who were once the cause of this huge gap between governments and their people, and between sectors and government apparatuses, remain as vital economic leaders in such a sensitive time. The required standards of our economists have changed as has their selection criteria, and now we can accept nothing less than the highly qualified.

I hope we do not have to wait long until we can see these economic initiatives being achieved. Yet the economy can only be reformed through distinguished personnel, and this is what we lack at the moment.