Saudi Arabia, which does not publish unemployment data, could be suffering a jobless rate as high as 20 percent, the head of the kingdom's Human Resources Development Fund said.
"There are no official unemployment figures, but my estimates as an economist show that the rate is around 20 percent," said Muhammad Abdul Aziz Al-Sahlawi. His comments at a seminar in Riyadh on Sunday, May 12, were obtained by Reuters on Monday.
It was among the highest rates given by economists so far in Saudi. A recent Saudi American Bank report put the jobless rate at 14 percent in 2000, rising to 15 percent in 2001.
Saudi officials say finding jobs for a growing number of Saudi citizens was a major challenge for the government, wary of the economic and social consequences of high unemployment.
Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah last week urged private Saudi investors to repatriate some of the huge funds abroad to create jobs for fellow Saudis, saying the kingdom's riches were benefiting foreigners.
Economists say up to a total of 50,000 jobs a year are created by the state and private sectors in Saudi Arabia, far short of the 120,000 or so needed per year if the country is to meet its goals under a five-year development plan to 2005.
Saudi Arabia has launched a drive to boost growth and create jobs through liberal reforms providing a greater role for the private sector and opening the lucrative gas sector to international energy companies.
The kingdom, the world's largest oil producer, has also been carrying out a "Saudization" program to replace by Saudis some of the estimated six million foreign workers in the country of 18 million people.
The Saudi economy has grown at an average of one percent a year in the past decade while the population has increased at three times that rate, the economists say. — (Reuters, Dubai)
© Reuters 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)