Jeddah, Mar 21: Saudi government ministers on Friday announced a war chest of more than SR120 billion ($32 billion) to fight the “unprecedented” health and economic challenges facing the country as a result of the killer coronavirus pandemic.
During a press conference in Riyadh, finance minister and acting minister of economy and planning, Mohammed Al-Jadaan, unveiled a SR70 billion stimulus package to support the private sector, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and businesses worst-hit by the virus outbreak.
And the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) has also sidelined SR50 billion to help the Kingdom’s banking sector, financial institutions and SMEs.
Al-Jadaan said the government had introduced tough measures to protect the country’s citizens while immediately putting in place a financial safety net. He added that the Kingdom was moving decisively to address the global COVID-19 disease crisis and cushion the financial and economic impact of the outbreak on the country.
The SR70 billion package of initiatives revealed by the minister will include exemptions and postponement of some government dues to help provide liquidity for private-sector companies.
Minister of Health Dr. Tawfig Al-Rabiah noted the raft of precautionary measures that had been introduced by the Kingdom in cooperation with the private sector and government agencies to combat the spread of the coronavirus, highlighting the important contribution of the data communication services sector.
He reassured the Saudi public that the Kingdom would continue to do whatever was required to tackle the crisis.
“This pandemic has a lot of challenges. It’s difficult to make presumptions at this moment as we’ve seen; many developed countries did not expect the rate of transmission of this virus.
“We see that the reality of the situation is different from what many expected. The virus is still being studied and though we know the means of transmission, it is transmitted at a very fast rate, having spread to many countries faster than expected.
“We see that many countries have not taken the strong precautionary measures from the beginning of the crisis which led to the vast spread of the virus in these countries,” Al-Rabiah said.
He pointed out that social distancing would help slow the spread.
Al-Jadaan said the Saudi government had the financial and economic capacity to deal with the situation. “We have large reserves and large investments, but we do not want to withdraw from the reserves more than what was already announced in the budget. We do not want to liquidate any of the government’s investments so we will borrow.
“We have approval from the government after the finance committee raised its recommendations to increase the proportion of the domestic product borrowing from 30 percent to 50 percent. We do not expect to exceed 50 percent from now until the end of 2022,” he added.
The government would use all the tools available to it to finance the private sector, especially SMEs, and ensure its ongoing stability.
The finance minister said that at this stage it was difficult to predict the economic impact of the pandemic on the private sector, but he emphasized that international coordination, most notably through G20 countries and health organizations, was ongoing.
On recorded cases of the COVID-19 disease in the Kingdom, Al-Rabiah said: “Many of the confirmed cases are without symptoms, this is due to the precautionary measures being considered.
“As soon as a case is confirmed, we contact and examine anyone who was in direct contact with the patient. This epidemiological investigation, is conducted on a large scale to investigate any case that was in contact with the patient.”
Al-Jadaan also announced the formation of a committee made up of the ministers of finance, economy and planning, commerce, and industry and mineral resources, along with the vice chairman of the board of the Saudi National Development Fund, and its governor.
The committee will be responsible for identifying and reviewing incentives, facilities, and other initiatives led by the fund.
Committees had also been established, said Al-Jadaan, to study the impact and repercussions of the coronavirus crisis on all sectors and regions, and look at ways of overcoming them through subsidies or stimulus packages.