MUSCAT // Oman yesterday said it would increase its national spending by 9 per cent in next year's budget to create 80,000 jobs, a key demand of protesters who took to the streets in the normally tranquil Sultanate earlier this year.
Addressing the 84-member Shura Council, the finance minister, Darwish Ismail Al Balushi, proposed spending of 10 billion Omani rials (Dh95bn) and forecast revenues of 8.8bn rials - 21 per cent higher than this year.
"The higher spending will boost employment and create about 30,000 jobs for students expected to graduate in 2012, and 50,000 more jobs will be given those who are already on the waiting list," he told the council in an address carried live on television.
The budget for 2012 is based on an estimated average oil price of US$75 (Dh275) a barrel.
This year's deficit was 850 million rials, with oil averaging at $58 a barrel. Mr Balushi said oil production was forecast for 917,000 barrels next year, up from 870,000 this year.
Those who were involved in the protests welcomed the spending boost to create jobs for Omanis, but doubt the government can hit its target.
"The figure is too big to create jobs in just a year. They created about 40,000 jobs this year, just after the protests, from the 70,000 jobs promised," Mohammed Marhoon, a leading activist, told The National.
"I cannot see how the government would be able to create more jobs in 2012 because the private sector is reluctant to open up enough opportunities since it prefers cheaper labour from expatriates."
Two people died in the industrial city of Sohar in February when security forces fired on stone-throwing demonstrators; mainly unemployed youths demanding more jobs and better pay.
But another former activist said the higher spending showed the government was serious about honouring its jobs' pledge.
"It is a positive step, but the government alone cannot create all these jobs," said Hareb Al Mahrizi, a former activist.
"They must force the private sector to offload expatriates to create job opportunities for graduates. If it fails, then there will be another backlog being pushed forward to another year."
About one million of Oman's 2.7 million people are expats, largely from the Indian subcontinent.