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Restoring Saudi allowances to cost about $1.9 billion in 2017, official tells Arabiya

A view shows the King Abdullah Financial District, north of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 1, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

A view shows the King Abdullah Financial District, north of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 1, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser


DUBAI, May 4 (Reuters) - Restoring financial allowances to civil servants and military personnel will only cost the government about 7 billion riyals ($1.9 billion) this year, a senior finance ministry official told Al Arabiya television on Thursday.

"Restoring allowances will not have a huge impact on the budget...It will cost about 7 billion riyals this year," said Hindi al-Suhaimi, undersecretary at the ministry of finance.

Its budget pressured by low oil prices, the government slashed the allowances last September in order to save money, but announced last month that it would restore them as a way to stimulate economic growth and because its deficit in the first quarter was smaller than expected.

The 7 billion riyal figure is smaller than many private economists have been estimating; they have been projecting an annual boost to the economy of between 50 and 80 billion riyals due to the restoration of allowances.

Suhaimi did not explain the difference. While it is restoring the allowances, the government may be considerably more careful about awarding them this year, especially for categories such as overtime work.

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The government has projected a budget deficit of 198 billion riyals this year, down from 297 billion riyals in 2016.

Suhaimi also told Al Arabiya that the government did not plan to return to the international debt market before the fourth quarter of this year, though the decision would depend on factors such as market conditions. Riyadh raised $9 billion with an international issue of sukuk last month.

The government intends to resume domestic bond issues sometime in "coming months", Suhaimi said. It suspended monthly issues in the domestic market late last year in order to ease pressure on liquidity in the Saudi banking system.

About 25 to 35 percent of the 2017 deficit will ultimately be covered by local bond issues, Suhaimi said.

(Reporting by Aziz El Yakoubi and Reem Shamseddine; Writing by Andrew Torchia) ((andrew.torchia@thomsonreuters.com; +9715 6681 7277; Reuters Messaging: andrew.torchia.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))
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