Angry Saudi investors bombard finance minister with questions over VAT hike, high living costs

Angry Saudi investors bombard finance minister with questions over VAT hike, high living costs
Saudis frustrated at austerity measures refused to let the country's finance minister off the hook during a virtual investor conference.
2 min read
04 September, 2020
Mohammed Al-Jadaan was also asked why he wasn't speaking Arabic [Getty]
In a virtual conference meant to be a forum to discuss the government's economic response to the pandemic, Saudis bombarded Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan with dozens of questions over the high cost of living as well as the recent VAT hike, Bloomberg reported on Thursday.

Al-Jadaan was also heckled over why he wasn't speaking Arabic during the pre-recorded Zoom interview, which was aimed at an English-speaking audience of investors and bankers.

"Could you please ask our minister if our government will reduce VAT to 5 percent?" one participant asked.

"Please answer the questions that are important to people. People don't care about anything but their income," demanded another, identifying themselves as Moha Otb.

New austerity measures in the kingdom have left Saudis feeling the crunch. The public's anger presents a challenge for officials as they try to rebuild the economic system of the world's largest oil exporter.

The double whammy of the Covid-19 pandemic and the collapse in oil prices have hit the country's finances hard, with Al-Jadaan in May warning "painful" measures would be necessary.

Critics say that as long as the government splurges on megaprojects and foreign investments, they are responsible for deepening inequality and worsening the plight of citizens.

Read also: Saudi Arabia postpones 'Davos in desert' until January

A YouGov survey recently found that 91% of Saudis described the VAT increase as harmful to their finances, Bloomberg report, with 61% saying the impact was severe.

Despite rumours prior to the conference that the Saudi minister would announce a reversal of the tax hike, a panel of foreign analysts who responded to questions fired at the official said the high tax rate was there to stay.

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