Sweeping Saudi spending cuts reduce budget deficit by 71%

Finance minister says budget gap drops to less than $7bn in first three months of 2017
By AFP
Thu 11 May 2017 02:08 PM

Saudi Arabia's budget deficit fell by 71 percent in the first quarter of this year, the finance minister said on Thursday, after the kingdom made sweeping spending cuts. 

The deficit dropped to 26 billion riyals ($6.93 billion) in the first three months following the cuts made as a result of the dramatic drop in oil revenues, Mohammed al-Jadaan said.

"This is a very encouraging figure and clearly reflects our aim to achieve a balanced budget in 2020," he said.

Saudi Arabia's budget deficit was initially projected at $53 billion for this year.

This is the first budget report released by the kingdom, which earlier this month said it would begin issuing quarterly reports to boost transparency.

Riyadh has moved to diversify its traditionally oil-dependent economy following the sharp fall in crude prices in 2014.

Last year, it announced a "Vision 2030" plan aimed at developing its industrial and investment base and boosting small- and medium-sized businesses in a bid to create more jobs for Saudis and reduce reliance on oil revenue.

In September, it froze salaries and reduced benefits for civil servants - who comprise the bulk of the workforce - as part of a package of austerity measures.

King Salman restored those benefits in a royal decree last month.

In October, the kingdom raised $17.5 billion in its first international bond offering.

Saudi Arabia is also preparing to sell just under five percent of energy giant Aramco next year. In April, it cut taxes on oil companies in a bid to attract buyers.

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