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Finance minister of the year 2003: Taking stock of a volatile situation

Ibrahim bin Abdulaziz Al-Assaf, Saudi Arabia's minister of finance and national economy since 1996, has steered the economy through a difficult period. He has played a leading role in the modernization, diversification and liberalization of the Saudi economy and managed its finances prudently in a period in which oil prices have swung between $10 and $30 a barrel. Al-Assaf, a 54-year old economist who has served as the country's executive director at the World Bank for six years and as vice-governor of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (Sama) and wins Euromoney's finance minister of the year award for 2003, spoke to Nigel Dudley in his office in Riyadh.

What is the impact of the announcement of Saudi Arabia's higher rating from Standard & Poor's?

This rating is very important for Saudi Arabia. It is becoming necessary for all countries to have a rating and it is a crucial building block in the financial system we are creating.

The first element of the financial sector is the banking sector, which is well organized, professionally supervised and offers excellent services to customers.

The next element is the establishment of the formal stock exchange, which has been made possible by the capital market law, which was passed this year and is now being implemented. We already have an electronic trading system and there is a company for registering stocks. I hope the Securities & Exchange Commission chairman and members will be announced very soon.

This capital market law is one of the most advanced in the world and reflects our desire to choose from the best international experiences. We have one of the most advanced electronic shares trading systems, with same-day settlement.

Another key part of our evolving financial sector is the passing of the insurance law, which will allow the introduction of more locally established insurance companies.

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