Embattled Syria govt posts ‘promising’ economic figures despite unrest

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The slide in the value of the Syrian pound has crippled purchasing power of ordinary people. Photo – Anwar Amro/AFP

The Syrian Investment Agency on Wednesday released its sixth annual report on investment in the country, which includes number of projects, their overall costs, and the job opportunities they provide, without giving any details of the losses suffered during the 18-month long uprising.

In a press conference, Director of the Agency Abdelkarim Khalil said the report focuses on the period of the 10th five-year plan which is 2006 to 2011, asked the government to devise a new investment law that is comprehensive and up to the standards of the national regional planning project.

The report covered 182 projects in 2011 with an estimated investment cost of SYP 96,645,000,000 ($1.4bn), with overall 1,196 projects from 2007 to 2011 completed at an estimated cost of SYP 879,474,000,000 ($13.4bn).

The government report said industry sector benefitted from the largest number of projects, with 97 projects making up 53.3% of overall projects, followed by the transport sector with 58 projects making up 31.9% of projects. Twenty five agricultural projects made 13.7%, with two other projects constituted the remaining 11%.

The report also claimed that 16,874 job opportunities were created by projects initiated in 2011, compared to 22,034 in 2010, admitting a significant drop.

The government-sponsored findings said Syria’s industry sector has the largest percentage of the 746 completed projects and projects in progress between 2007 and 2011, with 539 such projects making up 72.2% of them, followed by the transport sector with 108 projects making up 14.5% and agriculture with 82 projects making up 11%, with 17 other projects making up the remaining 2.3%.

According to the report, 30 industrial projects were completed in 2011, adding up to 162 completed projects between 2007 and 2011 with an overall capital of approximately SYP 99,864,000,000 ($1.5bn).

Revenues of industrial cities and zones between 2007 and 2011 soared while annual increase also witnessed a considerable increase, the study claimed.

The facilities in the four industrial cities also employed 393,965 workers in the aforementioned period, it added.

During the press conference, the senior Syrian trade official said 25 agricultural projects provided 1,745 job opportunities in 2011 in projects worth 33,871,000,000 ($517m).

Despite the unrest which has gripped most of the country since March 2011, the government claimed it invested SYP 543,000,000 in 25 projects related to petroleum, mineral resources and energy sectors from 2007-2011, 13 of them in the cement sector, followed by 6 energy and 5 petroleum projects.

The senior investment authority figure said investment in the tourism sector, such as hotels and restaurants, amounted to SYP 238,000,000,000 ($3.6bn) by August 2011.

The official statement released said foreign investment projects covered by the investment encouragement law between 2007 and 2011 amounted to 140 with an estimated investment cost of SYP 366,114,000,000 ($5.5bn). There was no mention of the losses suffered during the 18 month long uprising which has claimed the lives of at least 20,000 people and caused widespread damage to the country’s infrastructure.

Many economists expressed their surprise over Syria’s $27 billion 2012 budget which was the biggest in its history. Bankers say the spending surge was motivated by the regime’s desire to create more state jobs and maintain subsidies to help ward off wider discontent.

While private sector has suffered large scale layoffs, workers in the public sector have kept their jobs and receive steady wages despite a salary freeze.

Financing the spending has proven difficult. The central bank has exceeded borrowing limits from public banks, and private banks are reluctant to buy government bonds, one of the bankers said.

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