Saudi Arabia's domestic debt amounts to more than 600 billion riyals ($160 billion), almost as high as the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2000, newspapers reported on Wednesday, December 20.
Finance Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf, quoted in the newspapers, said the government planned to pay off a part of the debt from its budget surplus of an estimated $12 billion for the current fiscal year. "The government plans to allocate 33 billion riyals ($8.8 billion) to pay firms, construction companies, farmers and a part of the public debt," he said, giving a figure of more than 600 billion riyals for overall domestic debt.
Clearing the debt would take "priority over building up the kingdom's foreign currency reserves," which are currently estimated at $90 billion, the finance minister said. King Fahd, announcing a deficit-free budget for 2001 on Monday, said GDP in the world's top oil producer and exporter would reach $164.8 billion this year due to high crude prices, up from $142.6 billion in 1999.
In 2000, Saudi Arabia has achieved economic growth of 15.5 percent and a budget surplus for the first time in 18 years.
Assaf also called for speeding up the creation of a formal stock market to improve transparency and boost private sector investment, rather than the current inter-bank market system, which operates in Saudi Arabia. "The project has been delayed a lot and will be relaunched" after the Muslim holidays towards the end of this month, he said.
A formal bourse "will not necessarily lead to a halt to Saudi capital flowing abroad, as the kingdom has long been an exporter of capital funds because of the limitations of its economy to absorb them and its openness to the world," he said. Financial analysts in the kingdom estimate a staggering $600 billion in Saudi funds invested abroad. — (AFP, Riyadh)
© Agence France Presse 2000
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