Gulf Countries Target ‘Sofa Men’ to Trim Spending
Falling oil price renews pressure on governments to cut public payrolls, spur private sectorBy Nicolas Parasie, WSJ
Updated Nov. 10, 2015 6:27 p.m. ET
In a bid to provide some relief to public budgets as oil revenues fall, Persian Gulf nations are taking renewed aim at so-called sofa men.
Government departments and state-backed companies across the region have long been a source of comfortable jobs at more-than-comfortable pay. The number of public employees has typically exceeded the amount of work to do, resulting in bloated payrolls and offices filled with (mostly) men who spend their days lounging on couches.
An adviser working with ministries in Saudi Arabia said he would see dozens of young Saudis hanging around all day in waiting rooms, with no clear responsibilities other than carrying documents from one office to another.
In another case, a former worker at a government body in the United Arab Emirates responsible for issuing debt said employees spent their days watching television or sleeping. The office hadn’t completed a deal in years.
The problem hasn’t gone unnoticed. International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde said that, given their fiscal constraints, Gulf countries should do more to switch the focus of growth toward the private sector. “Continued efforts are needed to encourage nationals to seek employment in the private sector, and for firms to hire them,” she said Sunday in Doha, Qatar after meeting with regional central bankers and finance ministers.