Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Returning to the Issue of Sukuk | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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I was talking on the phone to a Muslim brother who was telling me about the infrastructure projects that have been launched by Saudi Arabia and that have cost the country around 300 billion Saudi Riyals [SR] or US $80 million so far. Saudi Arabia intends to launch more projects over the coming five years and the budget for this may exceed 4 trillion SR or US $1.33 trillion. My friend also mentioned that such projects could serve as a means for developing the Sukuk market in Saudi Arabia, and he asked me to devote an article to this issue. However whilst checking my catalogue of articles published on this issue, I discovered that I had previously tackled this subject on a number of occasions. This is because I am very interested in developing and promoting this financial tool. In fact I wrote an article about development projects aiding the Sukuk market in 2006 entitled ‘Sukuk and the Railway Line Extension.’

In this article I mentioned that it was possible for the state to use Sukuk in order to finance the important railway extension project. I also wrote another article published in 2008 entitled ‘Sukuk and the Management of Liquidity’ in which I attempted to draw the attention of the [financial] regulatory bodies to the importance of Sukuk in helping to achieve financial liquidity in the Gulf market. I quoted the Saudi market as an example of this as it achieved tremendous financial liquidity due to the state financing large development and infrastructure projects.

In May 2008, I also wrote an article entitled ‘Sukuk, a Tool to Finance the King Abdullah Financial District.’ In this article, I proposed that the [Saudi Arabian] Public Pension Agency issue Sukuk in order to finance the establishment of the King Abdullah Financial District. I also stressed the importance that this could play to all parties, not just to the King Abdullah Financial District, but also to the Sukuk bearers and the financial market itself.

In May 2009, I published an article entitled ‘The Age of Sukuk’ in which I said that the Sukuk market was on the verge of experiencing an unprecedented boom. I revealed the reasons for this which included the fact that Saudi Arabia is becoming a key player in this market due to the country launching a secondary market to specialize in Sukuk bonds. However these proposals and initiatives did not receive any attention from those concerned, even though Saudi Arabia is in dire need to secure independent financing of its future projects. Such financing would not burden the state budget and will guarantee the continuation of such projects regardless of fluctuations in the price of oil. This would allow all sections of society – whether individuals or organizations – to have the chance to contribute to the financing of these projects.

Moreover Sukuk is capable of attracting foreign investors who are looking for safe opportunities. This is due to the solid credit rating enjoyed by Saudi Arabia which enables the country to guarantee any Sukuk issued by the state, especially as state-issued Sukuk is more appealing to investors.

I also tried to evaluate the experiences of the Sukuk market and draw people’s attentions to the risk and shortcomings that the Sukuk industry suffers from. I wrote about the risks involved in issuing Sukuk, and about the different juristic interpretations of this financial tool and the impact this has had on the Sukuk market.

I also wrote about the importance for credit rating institutions to distinguish between Sukuk bonds and [traditional] financial securities. I wrote about the importance of Tawaruq, and the risks involved in this. Moreover, I emphasized the importance of establishing a set of legislations to govern Sukuk and protect all those involved in this industry, whether they are Sukuk issuers or Sukuk holders. Such legislation will undoubtedly contribute to the development and stability of the Sukuk market.

Those in the Gulf States, and particularly Saudi Arabia, should take the initiative and utilize this financial tool, which is something that all Western countries are attempting to do today in order to obtain funding to overcome the effects of the global financial crisis. France is now attempting to adopt a set of legislation for Sukuk in order to compete with Britain which has outstripped the country in this field after France previously closed its doors to Islamic banking. Australia is also trying to catch up with the leading countries in Europe.

Fierce competition is taking place in Asia between Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong with regards to achieving domination in the Sukuk market; however in comparison to this, developments in the Gulf are moving at a snail’s pace. The Gulf states are acting as if competing for domination of the Sukuk market has nothing to do with them. No Sukuk legislation has been enacted, and no state institutes are issuing Sukuk bonds, even though everybody else is vying for the largest possible portion of the Sukuk market in order to help finance industrial and commercial projects, as well as reduce unemployment and implement a welfare state.

If the Gulf states do not act fast to introduce the appropriate legislation and begin issuing state-sponsored Sukuk, they will find that their funds have suddenly been transferred to overseas markets at a time when they are most in need of them in order to promote development, finance infrastructure projects, and contribute to creating jobs for their own citizens.