Second-in-line to Saudi throne denounces banks

DUBAI: The second-in-line to the Saudi throne has denounced banks in the kingdom, saying they are contributing too little to society compared to what they take, Saudi media reported Wednesday.

There were no indications that the comments by Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, who was appointed to the post last month, would be followed by any concrete policies against banks in the oil-rich country.

The comments appeared to be an effort to show sensitivity to the difficulties of ordinary Saudi citizens, many of whom face a shortage of affordable housing and an unemployment rate which was officially put at 11.5 percent in the fourth quarter of last year.

“I call them a saw – they chew when they go in and chew when they go out,” Al-Hayat newspaper quoted Prince Muqrin as saying of banks while attending a charity function in Riyadh.

“They are on the short side in many things. They give little compared to the benefits they receive from citizens and from the state,” he added, responding to a question on the possibility of setting up banks for the poor.

The English-language daily Arab News reported Wednesday that combined Saudi commercial bank profits in 2013 were the highest ever at 37.6 billion riyals ($10.0 billion), a 7 percent increase over 2012.

Social welfare has become more politically sensitive in Saudi Arabia since uprisings elsewhere in the region in 2011. To ease social discontent, King Abdullah announced that year plans to build 500,000 homes, but construction has been delayed by bureaucracy and difficulties in obtaining land.

In a royal decree last month, King Abdullah, who is about 90, said Muqrin would assume the throne if the positions of king and crown prince became vacant.

“Give me one bank that has donated something or offers any support,” Al-Hayat quoted Muqrin as saying.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 10, 2014, on page 5.




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