Saudi appoints housing minister from private sector

Saudi Arabia appointed a housing minister with a background as a real estate developer.

By Angus McDowall and Marwa Rashad

RIYADH, July 13 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia appointed a housing minister with a background as a real estate developer on Monday, strengthening a trend towards giving top government jobs to people from the private sector as the kingdom grapples with economic and social welfare issues.

Majed al-Hogail, former managing director of Rafal Real Estate Development Co, a private firm owned by Saudi family interests, was chosen to head the housing ministry by King Salman, an official decree said.

Hogail will lead efforts to ease a shortage of affordable housing for millions of Saudis. The government has pledged tens of billions of dollars towards the problem but red tape and difficulties obtaining land have slowed disbursement of the aid and actual construction of homes.

Salman relieved the previous housing minister, Shuwaish al-Duwaihi, of his post in March - part of a series of shake-ups since Salman took the throne in January. Since then, there have been two major cabinet reshuffles and the health minister has also been replaced.

Saudi kings have appointed former businessmen to government jobs in the past, choosing the heads of top merchant families for the post of trade minister, for example.

But there are more business leaders serving in government now than in previous cabinets, analysts say, an indication that Salman wants to use private sector experience as Riyadh seeks to avoid public discontent by improving social welfare and creating more jobs for Saudis.

"It's clearly a statement that appeals to a more pragmatic, practical paradigm, going away from the traditional bureaucratic approach to problem-solving, especially in sectors relating to services," said Hossein Shobokshi, a businessman and newspaper columnist.

Agriculture Minister Abdulrahman al-Fadhli was head of Almarai 2280.SE , the Gulf's biggest dairy producer, while Health Minister Khalid al-Falih was chief executive of state energy company Saudi Aramco. SDABO.UL

Culture and Information Minister Adel al-Turaifi was general manager of the al-Arabiya news channel and Economy and Planning Minister Adel Fakieh, also previously labour minister, had served as chairman of food company Savola 2050.SE .

Education Minister Azzam al-Dakhil worked in the voluntary sector for a development foundation set up by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Social Affairs Minister Majed al-Qasabi once ran the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

In addition, Saudi central bank governor Fahad al-Mubarak was managing director of Morgan Stanley Saudi Arabia, while Capital Market Authority chief Mohammed al-Jadaan headed a large law firm partnered with Clifford Chance. Both those posts were always held by career civil servants until late 2012.

(Reporting by Angus McDowall and Marwa Rashad) ((; Reuters Messaging: