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Tue 19 May 2009 02:02 PM

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Saudi finance dep't doubles approval rate for projects

Minister of finance reveals $10.83bn approved Q1, urges private sector input.

Saudi Arabia's finance ministry approved projects worth SR40.6bn ($10.83bn) in the first quarter, double the level a year earlier, the minister of finance said on Tuesday.

Speaking at the Euromoney conference in Saudi capital, Riyadh, Ibrahim Al Assaf also said he was optimistic about the the kingdom's economic outlook and urged the private sector to participate in its development programme.

The world's top oil exporter said late last year it would invest $400bn over the coming five years mainly to build infrastructure in the country of about 26 million people.

"The value of projects approved by the Ministry of Finance in the first quarter was SR40.6bn compared with around SR20bn in the first quarter of last year," Assaf said in a speech.

"The current expansion of investment expenditure which covers infrastructure, public services, education and health sectors will provide great trade and investment opportunities for the private sector at home and abroad."

Assaf added that the current crisis was a "crisis of confidence" and said economic indicators supported optimism in the economy.

Saudi Arabia has projected a budget deficit this year as it keeps public spending high to support its economy through a global recession.

The International Monetary Fund said this month it expected the Saudi economy to contract this year as the OPEC producer slashes output and experiences slower growth of non-oil sectors.

"We have noted a great interest by investors in opportunities provided by our economy," he said. (Reuters)