• Saturday, Nov 28, 2020
  • Last Update : 09:23 am

Saudi triples VAT, suspends handouts in virus-led austerity drive

  • Published at 01:46 pm May 11th, 2020
Saudi-Feature-Pic-Coronavirus-Riyadh-Reuters
General view of Riyadh city, after the Saudi government eased a curfew, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 7, 2020 Reuters

The government is also ‘cancelling, extending or postponing’ expenditure for some its agencies and cutting spending on projects

Saudi Arabia unveiled plans on Monday to triple its Value Added Tax (VAT) and halt monthly handouts to citizens as part of a series of austerity measures amid record low oil prices and a coronavirus-led economic slump.

The measures, which state media said would boost state coffers by 100 billion riyals ($26.6 billion), come as the government steps up emergency plans to slash spending to deal with the twin economic blow.

The austerity drive could stir public resentment amid an already high cost of living and intensify scrutiny of lavish multi-billion dollar state projects and expenditure, including the proposed purchase of English football club Newcastle United.

"It has been decided the cost of living allowance will be halted from June 2020 and VAT will be raised from 5% to 15% from July 1," Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan said in a statement released by the official Saudi Press Agency.

Jadaan insisted the measures were necessary to shore up state finances amid a "sharp decline" in oil revenue as the coronavirus pandemic saps global demand for crude.

The government was also "cancelling, extending or postponing" expenditure for some government agencies and cutting spending on projects introduced as part of the ambitious "Vision 2030" reform program to diversify the oil-reliant economy, the minister added.

Jadaan last week warned of "painful" and "drastic" steps to deal with the double shock of the novel coronavirus and record low oil prices.

File photo: Saudi Minister of Finance Mohammed al-Jadaan speaks during an interview with Reuters at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Dec. 19, 2018 | Reuters

Saudi Arabia, the top crude exporter and the Arab world's biggest economy, has shut down cinemas and restaurants, halted flights, and suspended the year-round Umrah pilgrimage in a bid to contain the deadly virus.

Saudi Arabia, along with other Gulf states, imposed a 5% tax on goods and services in 2018 in a bid to generate additional revenue.

The petro-state had also introduced handouts worth billions of dollars to citizens, known as the cost of living allowance, to cushion the impact of rising costs.

But the savings from the austerity measures are unlikely to plug the kingdom's huge budget deficit, which the Saudi Jadwa Investment group said would rise to a record $112 billion this year.

'Scrutiny of spending'

Riyadh has posted a budget deficit every year since the last oil price rout in 2014.

The International Monetary Fund in April projected that the Saudi economy would contract by 2.3% this year.

Jadaan has said he expected Riyadh could lose half of its oil income, which contributes about 70% of public revenues, as oil prices have fallen two-thirds since the start of the year.

He said the world's leading crude exporter would borrow close to $60 billion this year to plug the budget deficit.

The austerity measures are likely to increase criticism of the government's multi-billion dollar push to host entertainment and sporting extravaganzas as part of economic diversification plans.

Also under the spotlight is a proposed £300 million ($372 million) Saudi-backed takeover of Newcastle United.

"Saudi citizens are starting to feel the economic impact of the virus in a concrete way," said Middle East expert Yasmine Farouk from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"With hardship will come more scrutiny of state spending elsewhere including the purchase of a football team and millions spent on entertainment events,” said Farouk.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's other ambitious plans to wean the economy away from oil remain vulnerable to austerity measures.

But it remains unclear whether the prince's dream project NEOM — a $500 billion megacity set to be built from scratch along the kingdom's picturesque western coast — will be impacted.

The plans hit a new roadblock last month when a member of the local Huwaitat tribe was gunned down by state forces after he refused to give up his land for the project.

Campaigners said many other members of the Bedouin tribe were detained for spreading anti-displacement slogans and refusing to sign relocation documents, in a rare domestic clash with the government that has a reputation for crushing dissent.

51
51
blogger sharing button blogger
buffer sharing button buffer
diaspora sharing button diaspora
digg sharing button digg
douban sharing button douban
email sharing button email
evernote sharing button evernote
flipboard sharing button flipboard
pocket sharing button getpocket
github sharing button github
gmail sharing button gmail
googlebookmarks sharing button googlebookmarks
hackernews sharing button hackernews
instapaper sharing button instapaper
line sharing button line
linkedin sharing button linkedin
livejournal sharing button livejournal
mailru sharing button mailru
medium sharing button medium
meneame sharing button meneame
messenger sharing button messenger
odnoklassniki sharing button odnoklassniki
pinterest sharing button pinterest
print sharing button print
qzone sharing button qzone
reddit sharing button reddit
refind sharing button refind
renren sharing button renren
skype sharing button skype
snapchat sharing button snapchat
surfingbird sharing button surfingbird
telegram sharing button telegram
tumblr sharing button tumblr
twitter sharing button twitter
vk sharing button vk
wechat sharing button wechat
weibo sharing button weibo
whatsapp sharing button whatsapp
wordpress sharing button wordpress
xing sharing button xing
yahoomail sharing button yahoomail