Aden (AFP) – Yemen’s cash-strapped government on Sunday released its first official budget since the Huthi rebels overran the capital Sanaa in 2014 and following a bailout from ally Saudi Arabia.
Prime Minister Ahmed bin Dagher said spending in the 2018 budget is projected at 1.5 trillion Yemeni riyals ($3.9 billion), with revenues estimated at 978 billion riyals ($2.6 billion).
The Aden-based government projected a deficit of $1.3 billion, based on the official exchange rate of 380 riyals to the dollar — higher than the market rate of about 450 riyals to the dollar.
In a post on Facebook, the prime minister painted a devastating picture of the country’s economy, saying that oil and gas production — the main source of revenue before the war — had ground to a halt and that $5 billion in foreign reserves and stocks of the local currency had been “looted” by rebels who maintain a separate central bank in Sanaa.
Bin Dagher did not offer details on revenue sources for the budget but it comes on the heels of a massive bailout by Saudi Arabia, the main backer of the internationally recognised government.
The prime minister vowed “optimal use” of Saudi Arabia’s $2 billion deposit to the central bank, which has buoyed the local currency in recent days, and said the new “austerity budget” would nonetheless guarantee wages for civil servants and the military.
Saudi Arabia leads a military coalition that intervened in Yemen in March 2015 with the stated aim of rolling back Huthi rebel gains and restoring the country’s “legitimate” government to power.
More than one million civil servants lost their jobs in 2016, when President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi moved the central bank from rebel-held Sanaa to Aden.
For more than a year, the government has been unable to pay salaries and the riyal dropped sharply against the dollar, leaving Yemenis unable to afford food staples and bottled water.
The Yemen conflict has left more than three-quarters of the population in need of humanitarian aid and 8.4 million at risk of famine, according to the United Nations.