IMF's Christine Lagarde calls for ‘urgent action’ to create jobs in Arab world

Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of International Monetary Fund IMF attends the opening session of the Opportunities For All economic conference in Marrakech, Morocco, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. (AP)
Updated 30 January 2018

IMF's Christine Lagarde calls for ‘urgent action’ to create jobs in Arab world

LONDON: Arab countries need to do more to create private sector jobs and bolster inclusive growth amid growing youth unemployment and regional dissatisfaction, said Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), said on Tuesday.
Speaking at an IMF conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, she said 27 million young people would join the workforce in Arab countries in the next five years in a region that has the highest rate of youth unemployment in the world at 25 percent.
Although Arab states are progressing with reforms, they must move away from being “state employers” and focus on improving social safety nets, Lagarde said.
During the two-day conference on inclusive growth, Lagarde said the public dissatisfaction that is “bubbling up” in several countries is a reminder that even more ‘urgent action’ is needed.
In Tunisia, violent demonstrations broke out again this month as anger mounts over IMF-backed measures that include subsidy cuts and tax increases.
Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CABU), told Arab News: “Frustrations across the Arab world are growing.”
Doyle said: “The region must urgently deploy more resources to tackle youth unemployment and these resources must be deployed far more effectively.”
The director said Middle Eastern governments must take action to end its “many conflicts and crises” to unlock the region’s potential.
Doyle urged the region to look at redesigning its education system to ensure it provides the right skills for a twenty first century jobs market.
“The region needs to look at skilling up for the digital economy,” he said. “However, be under no illusion, it’s a massive challenge.”
The Cabu expert said that Egypt represents a particularly pressing challenge due to its central location and large and growing population.
“[Joblessness] will have an immediate impact on the country and it’s not rosy,” he warned.
“We may well witness more protests and discontent. Governments really should be really aware that [protests] represent genuine economic weaknesses and reflect the levels of corruption in the region.”
Wes Schwalje, COO of GCC research firm Tahseen Consulting, agreed that regional education systems are struggling to produce national workforces with the skills that meet “the needs of knowledge-based economic development and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”
Schwalje told Arab News: ” A youthful, growing labor market can be beneficial to economic development if it is accompanied by job creation. Without job creation, the counterfactual is youth becoming unemployed, discouraged, or entering the informal economy.
“Discontent among youth is particularly significant since there is a strong link between youth bulges experiencing economic hardship and political violence. If the public sector is unable to create sufficient jobs for Arab youth, the only other option is private sector job creation.”
High levels of public sector employment in the Arab World have been criticized as “perpetuating low productivity, lack of economic diversification, and high public sector wage bills, Schwalje said.
The COO added: “Market reforms will need to reorient Arab youth toward private sector jobs… A number of Arab countries are piloting ambitious labor market reforms, such as unemployment benefits, minimum wages, fees on foreign workers, and increased mobility of foreign workers, but their success is far from certain.”


STC postpones its acquisition of Vodafone Egypt for second time

Updated 13 July 2020

STC postpones its acquisition of Vodafone Egypt for second time

  • Kingdom’s largest telecom company says it will need an additional two months to complete the deal

CAIRO: The Saudi Telecom Company (STC), the Kingdom’s largest telecom company, said that it will need an additional two months to complete a deal to purchase a 55 percent stake in Vodafone Egypt.

In January, STC was in agreement to buy the stake for $2.4 billion. In April, it extended the process for 90 days due to logistical challenges stemming from the spread of COVD-19. The company said in a statement that it would extend the period again to September for the same reason.

The Public Investment Fund, the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, owns a majority stake in STC. The ownership of Vodafone Egypt is divided between 55 percent for Vodafone International, which is the target percentage of the Saudi purchase offer, 44.8 percent for Telecom Egypt, and the remaining 0.2 percent for small shareholders.

Telecom Egypt is awaiting the results of Vodafone’s evaluation of the final share price to announce its position on the deal. A Telecom Egypt official stated that the company is still awaiting STC’s position regarding the purchase of the share. If the deal is not completed, it may be presented with its rights to acquire Vodafone’s share, which would allow it to take over 99.8 percent of the company’s shares, leaving 0.2 percent for small investors.

Ashraf El-Wardany, an Egyptian communications expert, pointed out the importance of waiting until the procedures between STC and the Vodafone Group are complete. The results will determine the next steps by Telecom Egypt.

El-Wardany said that the Saudi operator must, after completing the relevant studies, submit a final binding offer at the share price and any conditions for purchase. If approved by Vodafone, it must submit the offer with the same conditions and price to Telecom Egypt, provided that the latter responds within a maximum period of 45 days to determine its position regarding the use of the right of pre-emption and the purchase, or lack thereof, of Vodafone’s share.

According to El-Wardany, there are other possible scenarios. Vodafone International may not be convinced of the offer or the conditions presented by the Saudi side and the sale may be withdrawn, or the Vodafone group may be ready to sell and has prepared another buyer for its stake in Egypt in the event of rejecting the Saudi offer. It may also it back away from the deal and continue to operate in Egypt for a few more years.

El-Wardany said that if Telecom Egypt decides not to use the right of pre-emption to acquire the remaining Vodafone shares for any reason, it will continue with its 44.8 percent stake.
It may also resort to selling all of its shares or part of it to the Saudi side or to any company that wants to acquire its stake.

“This raises the question of whether STC can acquire all of Vodafone’s shares,” El-Wardany said, adding that the coming months “will make the answer clear.”