Theft behind Saudi mosques' recent hefty electricity bills
A hike in electricity bills for Saudi mosques is due to electricity theft by nearby private homes and gas stations, a Saudi official said in a recent interview.
It comes as the kingdom cuts back on government spending due to low oil prices and coronavirus lockdowns hit growth.
"It pains me to say that mosques are getting their electricity [stolen] by petrol stations... and homes," Abdullatif Alsheikh, Saudi minister of Islamic affairs, dawah and guidance, said in comments to the Rotana's YaHala show on Sunday.
The minister said it was up to the electricity providers to prevent such thefts, claiming companies could be made aware by reviewing their electricity meters.
Excessive use of electricity for lighting and air conditioning over long periods of time were also contributing to the whopping electricity bills, according to the official.
Alsheikh said monthly fees soared after air conditioners were installed in mosques on a large scale.
"There is no need" for such expenses, Alsheikh said, opining that the money was being spent in vain. "It's money being burnt in the air."
The ministry has said it spends nearly quarter of his budget paying off electricity for mosques.
In an earlier interview with pro-government outlet Okaz, Alsheikh said electricity used by mosques should only cost a quarter of the current expenditure.
"This is a loss for all citizens and not just the ministry. This is the money of the citizens," the official said.
The kingdom recently introduced severe austerity measures as it struggles to deal with the blow to the oil sector resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition to trippling its value-added tax, Saudi Arabia has cut 30 billion riyals ($8 billion) from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 – aimed at diversifying the economy away from oil.
The Gulf state houses some 100,000 mosques, most of which are small local sites in residential neighbourhoods that operate for prayers five times a day. Friday prayers are held at larger mosques, which make up around 17,000 of the total.
Read also: Saudi reserves continue to fall as the kingdom spends overseas
Saudi Arabia's mosques recently reopened their doors to worshippers after shutting for more than two months to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Worshipers are asked to adhere to social distancing measures inside the mosque, as well as bring their own prayer rugs and copies of the Quran from home.
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