Muscat: Tens of Omani loan defaulters who were serving sentences in Omani prisons, were released on Tuesday, thanks to an ongoing campaign.
An Omani Samaritan, who declined to be identified, paid all the loans for the Omani prisoners who failed to pay their debts in Ibri, Yanqul and Dhank of Dahira governorate, Mohammad Al Zadjali, the head of Oman Lawyers Association and the Legislative and Legal Committee at Oman’s elected Shura Council, told Gulf News.
The campaign, dubbed ‘Fak Kurbah’ (redeeming anguish), was launched in 2012 by the Oman Laywers Association.
He added that the loan defaulters were released on humanitarian grounds after their loans accumulated. “They took loans to pay rents, water and electricity bills and other living needs,” he said.
The idea of the project is to understand the sufferings of those behind the bars — especially those who fell into debt traps.
The campaign which is slated to last through the month of Ramadan has managed to free more than 780 prisoners since 2012.
Al Zadjali expects at least 400 prisoners will benefit from the campaign this year.
Typically, those with debts under 2,000 riyals (Dh19,083) will be freed.
The campaign usually happens annually, but was halted in 2013 and 2016 due to lack of donations.
In 2016, there was 600 million riyals of unpaid personal loans, according to the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI) figures.
Al Zadjali says he hopes that funding for ‘Fak Kurbah’ will increase so that it will be able to operate the year round.
The grim statistics coincide with increasing unemployment in the country amid an economic slump due to the plunge in oil prices.
More than 5,000 Omanis lost their jobs in the oil and gas sector in 2016, according to government figures.
In April, a proposal to establish a fund to support Omanis laid off in the private sector was discussed, according to Nabhan Al Batashi, chairman of General Federation of Oman Trade Union (GFOTU).
Under the proposal, those who qualify will receive 60 per cent of their salary for a period of six months.
Thanks to intensive lobbying by the GFOTU, at least 4,000 Omani workers were reinstated in their jobs, Al Batashi said.
He added that efforts to reinstate the remaining jobless Omanis were continuing.
Oman has been hit hard by the slump in oil prices as the country’s 2017 budget suffered massive spending cuts.
The state revenue is expected to rake in 8.7 billion riyals but spending is predicted to reach 11.7 billion riyals, resulting in a 3 billion riyal deficit.
The predicted deficit is significantly lower than the 5.3 billion deficit posted in 2016.