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Saudi Arabia restores perks to state employees to fend off unrest

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Two-thirds of working Saudis are public servants and protests had been called for four cities

Saudi Arabia reinstated financial allowances for civil servants and military personnel on Saturday after better-than-expected budget figures, ending unpopular cuts to a key perk triggered by low oil prices and cheering the stock market.

King Salman issued a royal decree restoring all allowances, financial benefits, and bonuses following calls for protests in four Saudi cities over the weekend, adding a two-month salary bonus for forces fighting in the kingdoms intervention in Yemen.

The Saudi share index gained 1% on Sunday, buoyed by expectations of a positive impact from higher disposable incomes on consumer sectors such as retail and food.

In September, Saudi Arabia cut ministers salaries by 20% and scaled back perks for public sector employees in one of the energy-rich kingdoms most drastic measures to save money after tumbling oil prices.

The measures were the first pay cuts for government employees, who make up about two-thirds of working Saudis, and prompted complaints about the impact of austerity on ordinary Saudis.

Under the Twitter hashtag April 21 movement, Saudis circulated statements last week demanding the reinstatement of benefits, a halt to the sale of shares of state oil giant Aramco, a constitutional monarchy and the restoration of the powers of the religious police.

Security forces lined the streets of central Riyadh over the weekend, although no demonstrations appeared to materialise.

The decree said the cuts had come as a response to the sharp drop in the price of oil, which sank to a low of around $28 last year. Prices have rebounded since late 2016, with Brent crude now trading around $52 a barrel compared to last years average of $45.

Minister of state Mohammed Alsheikh said deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman recommended the change after better-than-expected budgetary performance in the first quarter of 2017.

The government has conducted a review of the measures initiated in the fall in relation to the public-sector employees allowances, Alsheikh said in a statement. A number of fiscal adjustment measures were taken over the last two years which led to a strong improvement in the governments fiscal position.

In a further concession to low-income Saudis, the central bank instructed banks to maintain the current favourable terms of consumer and property loans, having ordered their rescheduling in autumn to aid Saudis affected by the cuts.

Other decrees installed two of King Salmans sons in key posts, further securing a next generation of Al Saud leadership.

Prince Khaled bin Salman, an F-15 pilot who has trained in the United States, was made ambassador to Washington. Another son and long-time oil policy official, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, was appointed state minister for energy affairs.

The decrees also made a handful of young princes from various branches of the Al Saud family deputy governors of the kingdoms provinces.

A national security centre was established under the royal court and Ibrahim al-Omar was named governor of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, an agency managing foreign investment in the kingdom.

Further decrees replaced the information and civil service ministers and set up a committee to investigate allegations of abuse for the latter. The kingdoms anti-corruption body Nazaha concluded the minister had hired his son in a post for which he was unqualified.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/24/saudi-arabia-restores-perks-to-state-employees-to-fend-off-unrest

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