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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Oman vows to create 25,000 jobs by December

Government will follow up with additional measures to address the lack of jobs in the sultanate

The Al Mawalih market in Muscat is busy but Oman has pledged to create thousands of new jobs to ease the highest unemployment levels for four decades. Mohammad Mahjoub/AFP
The Al Mawalih market in Muscat is busy but Oman has pledged to create thousands of new jobs to ease the highest unemployment levels for four decades. Mohammad Mahjoub/AFP

Oman has pledged to create 25,000 public sector jobs by December, a move aimed at staving off potential unrest over unemployment but one that risks adding to a budget gap that was the Arabian Gulf’s widest last year.

The government will follow up with additional measures to address the lack of jobs in the sultanate, the state-run Oman News Agency reported, citing the cabinet’s decision a day earlier. Unemployment was 17.5 per cent in 2016, according to the World Bank.

The move has echoes of the government’s pledge to create 50,000 jobs in 2011 amid Arab Spring concerns. Six years on, the economy is the trigger. Oman’s budget deficit was about 21 per cent of GDP in 2016, the highest in the GCC, according to IMF data. Its gross debt ratio was almost three times that of Saudi Arabia - the region’s biggest economy.

“It’s a tough balancing act for the sultanate, and I can see why weakening growth and ready access to funding would encourage the authorities to spend,” said Simon Williams, HSBC’s chief economist for central and eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, adding that the government’s financial position should give it pause.

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“Long-term stability requires sustained adjustment, even at the cost of short-term pain.”

Oman has smaller oil reserves and less of a cushion in government savings than its wealthier neighborus, making it vulnerable to the impact of lower oil prices that has depressed growth across the region. Moody’s Investors Services cut Oman’s rating it its second-lowest investment grade in July, citing the sultanate’s limited progress in addressing structural vulnerabilities. Oman has a sub-investment grade status at S&P Global Ratings.

Oman’s benchmark MSM30 Index of stocks has retreated 9.4 per cent this year.

The hiring plan could spur private consumption amid slow growth in the non-hydrocarbon sector, said Carla Slim, an economist at Standard Chartered in Dubai. She expects Oman’s 2017 budget deficit to exceed the government’s target of 11.7 billion Omani riyals (Dh111.68bn), although higher oil prices this year should narrow the deficit relative to 2016.