Education, education, education

SR63.65 billion ($16.97 billion) has been allocated to general education, higher education and manpower training in Saudi Arabia's 2004 budget.

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By  David Ingham Published  December 21, 2003

Saudi Arabia projected revenue at SR200 billion ($53.3 billion) and expenditure at SR230 billion ($61.3 billion) in its 2004 budget, issued last week. The announcement of an SR30 billion shortfall continues Saudi Arabia's long tradition of projecting budget deficits.

The breakdown of 2004's planned spending reflects the country's growing unemployment problem and the need to be seen to do something about it. SR63.65 billion ($16.97 billion) has been allocated to general education, higher education and manpower training.

That will include the construction of 3,030 new schools and three new universities in Madinah, Qasim and Taif, bringing the number of universities in Saudi Arabia to 11. The government said it will also invest in creating a more professional military training programme.

Elsewhere, money is also being put into the refurbishment, expansion and construction of hospitals and the improvement of water, sewage and transportation infrastructure.

"Priority will be given to expenditures on the services that directly deal with citizens such as health, education, social affairs, municipal services, water, drainage, roads, and some projects of infrastructure to promote and attract investment to increase the economic growth," the government said in its budget statement.

Saudi Arabia rarely sticks to its budget estimates. In 2003, for example, the government originally projected revenue of SR170 billion, against spending of SR209 billion, based on an oil price of around $17 per barrel.

Oil prices, however, stayed in the high 20s throughout 2003 and the Kingdom ended up spending SR250 billion against revenue of SR295 billion. That surplus of SR45 billion was only the country's second since 1982.

The country now owes around $165 billion, mostly to domestic banks and the national pensions agency, the General Organisation of Social Insurance (GOSI).

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