Currency Arrangements and Banking Legislation in the Arabian Peninsula

International Monetary Fund. Research Dept.
Published Date:
January 1975
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Michael e. Edo *

Only two decades ago the Arabian Peninsula1 was predominantly on a metallic standard. It was not until 1970 that the last country in the area issued its own paper currency. In the past few years, however, against a background of rapidly rising oil revenues and of considerable expansion in commercial banking activity, important developments have resulted in the establishment of seven central banks or equivalent institutions. The present study examines these rapid developments in currency arrangements and banking organization, as well as the relevant financial legislation that has been enacted.

I. History of Currency Arrangements and Financial Organization

use of metallic coinage

Full-bodied metallic coins have long circulated in the Arabian Peninsula. Foreign coins were in use from the times of ancient Greece, and copies of many of these were made in the Peninsula from what were once rich local deposits of gold and silver.

In the recent past, the two most widely used coins were of silver: the Maria Theresa thaler and the Indian rupee. The Maria Theresa thaler, first minted in Austria in 1780,2 contained 433.1363 grains of silver five-sixths fine. It was liked by users because of its exact silver content and attractive design. From the early years of the nineteenth century, the thaler became the principal medium of exchange in the Red Sea area, particularly along the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa; it circulated as such in the region for more than a century, even though in 1858 it ceased to be legal tender in Austria.

The Indian rupee was a coin of 180 grains of silver eleven-twelfths fine. It was made legal tender in India in 1818 (Jain, 1933, pp. 2–3) and also circulated in the Middle East and the eastern part of Africa. Like the thaler, it was introduced in the Arabian Peninsula through commercial relations, which have existed between India and the Peninsula since ancient times (Landen, 1967, p. 131). The introduction of the rupee in the Peninsula area was facilitated by Great Britain’s financial arrangements for its colonial operations.

The thaler and rupee silver coins were copied in the Peninsula. North Yemen in 1924 and Muscat and Oman in 1961 introduced silver coins of the same weight and fineness as the thaler. In 1935 Saudi Arabia minted a silver riyal of the same weight and fineness as the Indian rupee. Saudi Arabia also used and copied a gold coin of wide circulation, the British gold sovereign. Several other metallic coins circulated in various parts of the Arabian Peninsula in the early twentieth century, including two gold sovereigns (Ottoman and Egyptian), a gold dinar (Hashemite), and three silver riyals (Ottoman, Egyptian, and Hashemite). Some of these coins were copied, but none of them attained the widespread use and importance of the Maria Theresa thaler and the Indian rupee silver coin.

Metallic coinage suffers from a number of well-known disadvantages. When transactions are large, full-bodied metallic coins become inconvenient to use. Young wrote in 1953 (p. 369): “The [Saudi Arabian] riyal is a heavy coin in relation to value. For any sizable transactions, there have been problems of carrying large weights of metal and counting numbers of coins.” This disadvantage is of little consequence when the level of economic exchange is low and the size of transactions is small,3 but it becomes more evident as the monetization of the economy increases.

Furthermore, the value of a commodity coinage is not stable. In the first place, instability results from seasonal changes in the demand for currency, since the supply is relatively inelastic. Even more important is the fact that attempts to fix the value of the coinage by official decree result in a shift of the metal from its coinage use to its commodity use whenever the commodity price is sufficiently high and in the reverse shift whenever the commodity price is relatively low. As there have been periods when world market prices for silver tended to fluctuate over wide ranges, this instability in value has been a major disadvantage of a silver coinage. If there are two full-bodied coins of different metals, further uncertainties arise from their fluctuating exchange ratio.

These disadvantages, which eventually led to the abandonment of metallic currency, are illustrated by the Saudi Arabian experience in the three decades ended in 1960. In 1927, the Saudi Arabian Government introduced a Saudi Arabian silver riyal to replace various silver coins that had previously circulated in the country. The British gold sovereign was established as the standard base, and the riyal/sovereign ratio was fixed at 10:1. However, as changing international prices for gold and silver resulted in the smuggling out of silver in 1931 and in speculation by money changers, the Government withdrew the silver riyal and minted another silver coin of smaller weight and size (the same weight and fineness as the Indian silver rupee coin). This new riyal was minted in 1935 and was put into circulation in 1936.

By 1952, the Saudi Arabian currency consisted of two principal coins: the Saudi Arabian silver riyal and the British gold sovereign. The riyal was the backbone of the currency system and was the main unit used in retail trade. The sovereign was used for larger transactions, and its use was more widespread in the western and central part of the country than in the eastern part, where Indian influence was more marked and had left a preference for the silver coin. In addition to the silver riyal and the British gold sovereign, there were fiduciary coins of small denominations which were exchanged against the riyal in a fixed ratio.

The system suffered from the unstable riyal/sovereign relationship and from the changing external value of each coin. From 1945 to October 1952, the exchange ratio between the two coins on the market varied between 89 riyals and 40¾ riyals to the sovereign, with the riyal tending to appreciate in value against the sovereign. The rate of the British sovereign in terms of U. S. dollars varied between $20.00 and $10.25, and that of the silver riyal varied between 30 and 20 U. S. cents. The value of the silver riyal represented a price for silver that was at times as much as 25 per cent below the New York price and 70 per cent below the Bombay price, leading to extensive outward smuggling (as happened in 1949 and 1950). There were sharp seasonal variations in the demand for Saudi Arabian currency, increasing considerably during the Hajj (pilgrimage season) and decreasing to low levels at other times in the year.

To rectify this situation, Saudi Arabia took two measures in October 1952. One was the introduction of a Saudi Arabian gold sovereign of the same size, weight, and fineness as the British gold sovereign, which it replaced. This measure was necessary because the British gold sovereign was being used in several countries, and its value could not be controlled by the Saudi Arabian authorities. The Saudi Arabian gold sovereign was a fiduciary coin, perhaps the only fiduciary gold coin in history. Secondly, a central monetary institution, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA), was established to issue and manage the new currency. The riyal to sovereign ratio was fixed at 40:1, and the external value of the sovereign was set at about $11.00. The seignorage value of the coin was fully backed by gold and foreign exchange.

The experiment with the new currency arrangements was of short duration. In the fall of 1953, increasingly good counterfeits of the Saudi Arabian gold sovereign began to appear, and the sovereign was withdrawn in December 1953 and January 1954. In 1955, a substantial rise in the price of silver in New York tended to drive silver coins out of circulation (Ali, 1971). The riyal was withdawn in October 1955 and replaced by the one-riyal “pilgrims’ receipt,” which strictly considered was a warehouse receipt and not a currency. However, it was not until 1960, when the Saudi Arabian paper currency was introduced, that silver and gold coins were officially demonetized in Saudi Arabia.

use of paper currencies issued outside the peninsula

The first step away from the metallic standard was the use of paper currencies issued outside the Arabian Peninsula.4 In Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the Trucial States (now the United Arab Emirates), parts of Oman, and eastern Saudi Arabia, the Indian paper rupee took the place of the Maria Theresa thaler as the principal currency during the twentieth century and became sole legal tender in some of these countries.

Commercial banks obtained rupees through sale of sterling to the Reserve Bank of India and could convert rupee holdings into sterling at the Reserve Bank. Furthermore, the Gulf was an active area for transactions in gold. Dealers, mostly in Kuwait and Bahrain, smuggled gold into India and Pakistan and smuggled out Indian rupees for conversion into hard currencies which were used for more gold purchases. Conversion of rupees into hard currency by the dealers was at a discount, but the discount was more than offset by the profits on the gold sales inside India. Until 1956 the volume of this smuggling activity was on a limited scale, but in 1957 and 1958 the redemption of notes and the resulting decrease in India’s foreign exchange holdings assumed large proportions. Therefore, in 1958 India and Pakistan adopted stringent security measures against the gold trade and on May 11, 1959 India issued a currency specifically for use in the Gulf. Called the Gulf rupee, the currency was at par with the Indian domestic rupee (0.186621 gram of fine gold 5 or Rs 13.3 = £1) and its notes were similar to the domestic rupee notes, except that they were of a different color and were obligations of only the Bombay branch of the Reserve Bank of India. The Government of India stipulated that domestic rupee holdings outside India should be presented for conversion into sterling during the six-week period from May 11 to June 21, 1959.6

Aden decided in 1951 to adopt as its legal currency the East African shilling, which had been issued at par with sterling since 1919 by the East African Currency Board (EACB). There were well-established trade links between Aden and the East African countries of Kenya, Tanganyika (now Tanzania), and Uganda, and the East African shilling was already in use in Aden. The shilling was a stable currency, and the EACB paid profits to member governments in proportion to the estimated share of the total currency that circulated in the respective states. In 1960 the EACB moved its seat from London to Nairobi, and the Aden Government (along with the other member governments) was given representation on the Board.

political and economic developments

The issuance of national currencies and the establishment of currency boards and central monetary institutions in the Arabian Peninsula was spurred by rapid constitutional and economic changes in the 1960s and 1970s. On the constitutional side, full independence was achieved by Kuwait in 1960, South Yemen in 1967, and by Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates in 1971, and the newly independent countries naturally sought to establish or expand national monetary institutions.

The change on the economic side had an even greater impact. The discovery of oil transformed the prospects of an area which was traditionally characterized by subsistence agriculture and animal husbandry and where productivity was limited by the scarcity of water and of arable land. The first oil strike in the Peninsula was made in Bahrain in 1932. By the end of the 1930s, oil had been discovered in Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. Discoveries were later made in Abu Dhabi, Oman, and Dubai during the 1960s. Oil production in these countries has expanded rapidly in recent years—with the exception of Bahrain, where output has remained relatively modest, and Oman, where there has been little or no increase since 1970 following substantial initial gains.7

The only Peninsula countries in which no oil has yet been found are the Yemen Arab Republic and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. Receipts from oil have been rising substantially, and they provide the bulk of budgetary receipts and foreign exchange earnings. Because of their limited opportunities for domestic investment, the oil producing countries have been accumulating large foreign exchange reserves since the mid-1960s.

The availability of these funds has attracted foreign commerical banks and encouraged the establishment of domestic banks, with the result that the growth of commercial banking in the Peninsula over the past five years has been remarkable both in terms of the total number of banks and of the total assets of the banking system. The only country where banking assets have declined is the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, following the adoption in 1969 of a law which nationalized the banking sector and merged all the commercial banks into one bank.

In U. K. dependencies, the first banks were generally banks based in the metropolitan areas. They financed mainly export and import trade and aided in making the payments necessary for the British administration. The credit they extended (or contracted), using (or withdrawing) resources from their head offices, influenced the level of money and quasi-money as well as economic activity in the respective territories. The U. K. banks operated according to the norms and practices of banking in the United Kingdom, frequently applying an interbank agreement which governed interest rates and other aspects of banking behavior. After the U. K. dependencies gained political independence and had increased oil revenues, new banks from different countries opened branches in the area at a time when the international role of sterling was diminished. As a result, the former working rules based on close relationships with London proved difficult to maintain; thus, it has been necessary for the Peninsula countries to establish central monetary institutions to supervise the expanding commercial banking sector.

currency boards and the issue of currency

In most countries of the Arabian Peninsula, currency boards preceded the establishment of more comprehensive central monetary institutions. These boards (or equivalent institutions) were based on a formula used by the British Authorities for several of their overseas territories and colonies, giving rise to what was sometimes referred to as the “colonial sterling exchange standard.” The currency board’s function was to issue and redeem a currency that was in effect a surrogate for sterling; issues and redemptions of the currency were made locally on demand against the deposit or payment of sterling in London at a fixed sterling rate, with the board charging a small commission on each transaction. The board’s transactions were for amounts exceeding a stated minimum, in practice restricting its operations to the commercial banks and the government treasury; the general public could buy local currency for foreign exchange from the commercial banks.

The currency board was required to maintain a 100 per cent cover for the currency in foreign assets, which were usually held mainly in sterling securities. There was a cover limit (usually 110 per cent of liabilities) beyond which net income could be transferred to the government treasury.

The operations of the currency board were automatic and passive in character. The board was in effect a currency changer. As a rule it had no regulatory powers over the commercial banks, no powers over credit, and no role in the determination of official monetary policy. In these circumstances, flexibility in the monetary system was provided by the local commercial banks, which were generally branches of British banks (Basu, 1967, pp. 52–66; Bloomfield, 1961, pp. 5–9).

This limited concept was the basis of the currency boards established in the years 1960–70 by Kuwait,8 the Yemen Arab Republic,9 the South Arabian Federation,10 Bahrain,11 Qatar and Dubai,12 and Oman.13 All these boards issued currencies to replace the foreign coins and notes previously circulating in the area. Saudi Arabia never had a currency board; its first monetary institution, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency, was a central bank. The United Arab Emirates set up an institution under Union Law No. 2 of 1973, called the United Arab Emirates Currency Board, which belongs generically with central banks rather than with currency boards; the name originally proposed was the United Arab Emirates Monetary Authority and it has the usual powers of a central bank. Prior to the establishment of this institution, Abu Dhabi used the Bahrain dinar as its currency, and the other Emirates used the Qatar/Dubai riyal.

The history of developments leading to the establishment of these currency boards and the issuance by them of national currencies is summarized below.

On April 1, 1961—less than six months after the country’s independence—the Kuwait Currency Board introduced the Kuwaiti dinar with a value equal to 2.48828 grams of fine gold (at par with sterling). Gulf rupees circulating in Kuwait, amounting to about Rs 350 million (of the total of Rs 500 million in all of the Peninsula), were retired by the Reserve Bank of India, and the dinar became the sole legal tender in Kuwait on May 13, 1961.

In 1964 the [North] Yemen Currency Board (YCB) issued the Yemen rial defined as equivalent in value to 0.829427 gram of fine gold—equivalent to one third of the gold content of the pound sterling or to about 93 U. S. cents. This gold content appears to have been chosen so as to approximate the intrinsic metallic value of the Maria Theresa thaler, the only legal tender and principal monetary unit at the time, and the YCB was made responsible for maintaining the parity between the new paper rial and the thaler. Shortly after its establishment, the YCB began to replace the thalers in circulation with the new rial. However, only a small portion of these thalers were converted at the YCB; most conversions were made through the Aden free market, where the Yemen paper rial was sold at a discount and the thaler at a premium, partly owing to rising silver prices.

As indicated earlier, the seat of the EACB moved from London to Nairobi in 1960. The Aden authorities felt that, because of this transfer, the EACB might concentrate increasingly on the particular needs of the East African countries. Consequently, on October 13, 1964 they enacted the currency law establishing the South Arabian Currency Authority (SACA).14 On April 1, 1965 the Authority introduced a new currency, the dinar, “with a parity of one pound sterling.” When sterling was devalued in November 1967, the dinar was devalued with it. In June 1968 SACA was renamed the South Yemen Currency Authority (SYCA).15 A number of amendments were made to the Currency Law of 1964, including the elimination of the link at par between the dinar and the pound sterling.

In Bahrain the Currency Board issued the Bahrain dinar in October 1965 with a value equal to 1.86621 grams of fine gold—ten times that of the Indian rupee. A few months later, the Indian domestic rupee and the Gulf rupee were devalued by 36.5 per cent. The Bahrain dinar retained its gold parity, and Abu Dhabi decided to adopt the dinar as its legal tender in place of the rupee.

Qatar and Dubai signed a Currency Agreement on March 21, 1966, setting up a Currency Authority to issue a new currency, the Qatar/Dubai riyal. The June 1966 devaluation of the rupee occurred before this new currency could be introduced. The Qatar/Dubai Currency Authority borrowed 100 million Saudi Arabian riyals from SAMA against sterling collateral deposits in London, and Saudi Arabian riyals were used temporarily in place of the Gulf rupee. On September 18, 1966 the Qatar/Dubai riyal was introduced, with a value of 0.186621 gram of fine gold, at par with the predevaluation rate of the Gulf rupee. It became the sole legal tender in the two countries, as well as the principal currency in the other Trucial States except for Abu Dhabi.

In Oman a national currency was introduced in May 1970. Currency Decree 1390 (1970) set up the Muscat Currency Authority to issue the rial Saidi with a gold content of 2.13281 grams of fine gold, at par with sterling. Later a new decree, Currency Decree 1392 (1972), replaced the Muscat Currency Authority with the Oman Currency Board, which has expanded powers. The name of the currency was changed from the rial Saidi to the rial Omani, but its gold content remained unchanged. With the issue of the rial Saidi in 1970, the Maria Theresa thaler and the Indian rupee ceased to be legal tender anywhere in the Peninsula.

Regarding the above-mentioned names of the monetary units in the Peninsula countries, it may be interesting to note that the word dinar is derived from the Roman denarius (there was a Roman gold denarius and a silver denarius); a gold dinar at one time circulated in many Moslem countries.16 The riyal or rial is derived from the Spanish real, a monetary unit and silver coin formerly used in Spain. The word fils, a unit of the dinar of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, comes from phollis, a small coin of ancient Greece, and the baiza, an Omani coin, from the pice, paise, or paisa, a unit of the Indian rupee. The dirham is from the drachma, an ancient Greek silver coin and also the monetary unit of modern Greece.

While all the currency boards of the Arabian Peninsula conformed basically to the pattern described above, some of them were endowed with, or developed, limited central banking functions. One such board (SACA) could prescribe liquidity ratios for the commercial banks and was empowered to extend credit to the Government under certain conditions.17 Another expanded currency board was the Oman Currency Board, which was given a limited role in the licensing of commercial banks after its reorganization under Currency Decree 1392.

establishment of central institutions

Eventually, the currency board framework became too restrictive, and the conduct of monetary policy required the development of instruments associated with comprehensive central monetary institutions. The currency boards were replaced by central banks or equivalent institutions, and relevant legislation was passed on the dates indicated as follows: in Kuwait (April 1, 1969), the Yemen Arab Republic (July 27, 1971), the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (1972), Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (May 19, 1973), Bahrain (December 5, 1973), and Oman (November 14. 1974). The charters of several of these central monetary institutions were drafted with assistance from the International Monetary Fund. Their main provisions are analyzed in the following sections.18

II. Structure and Functions of Central Monetary Institutions


Three countries in the Peninsula (Kuwait, Oman, and the Yemen Arab Republic) have given the name “central bank” to their central monetary institutions. The People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen calls its institution simply the Bank of Yemen. Saudi Arabia called its a monetary agency, and this example has been followed by Bahrain and Qatar. The United Arab Emirates initially considered designating its institution as a monetary authority but then decided to call it a currency board.

These differences in nomenclature are not associated with important dissimilarities in the institutions concerned. Legislation for Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates is as broad as the legislation for similar institutions that have the term “central bank” in their designations. The adoption of the term “monetary agency” may reflect the fact that some central monetary institutions were expected to be active on a limited scale initially and to develop only after some time the full use of the powers provided in their charters. In one case the use of the name “agency” rather than “bank” can be traced to religious reasons. When the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency was established, a major concern was to avoid a violation of Islamic precepts. Consequently, the term “central bank” was discarded, as it was felt that it would suggest the payment of interest, which is forbidden by Islamic law (Young, 1953). It may be noted in this connection that commercial banks in Saudi Arabia are not permitted to charge interest, but they do charge “commissions” on their loans.


A main purpose of a central bank or similar institution is to ensure the stability of the currency (cf. Basu, 1967, p. 108). Indeed, this objective is the first stated in the purpose clauses of the charters for all of the central monetary institutions in the Arabian Peninsula. This perhaps reflects the historical evolution of central banks, which at their beginning were simply issuers of currency or “banks of issue.”

It is interesting to note that the charters of some currency boards—as, for example, those of the Muscat Currency Authority and the South Arabian Currency Authority—did not contain a purpose clause.

The attainment of monetary stability implies the need for regulation of credit and for supervision of the banking system. This second function is reflected with varying formulations in all the purpose clauses of the institutions discussed here, with the exception of the charter for the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA).

All of the Peninsula countries belong to the developing world. Accordingly, a third objective specified in several purpose clauses is the promotion of economic development. In particular, this is mentioned in the charters of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and the Yemen Arab Republic.

The purpose clauses for SAMA specifically reflect the events that led to its creation. After World War II, the Saudi Arabian Government’s revenues from oil and its expenditures rose rapidly, but there was no effective budgetary authority. While the Ministry of Finance exercised some central banking and public finance functions such as the issue of coins, the collection and disbursement of public revenue, and the management of the public debt, it was not properly organized to handle the rapid increases in transactions. In addition to the problem of budgetary control, there was the problem of the relationship of the Saudi Arabian riyal to foreign currencies. On account of the Moslem pilgrimage to Mecca, there was an active money-changing center at the port of Jidda, trading in most world currencies. The exchange value of the riyal, a full-bodied silver coin, fluctuated widely in this market. The SAMA charter of 1952 was introduced in order to deal with these problems. It was a simple document consisting of 12 short articles, and it treated as purposes the conditions that led to its creation:

The objects of the Agency shall be: (a) To strengthen the currency of Saudi Arabia and to stabilize it in relation to foreign currencies, and to avoid the losses resulting to the Government and the people from fluctuations in the exchange value of Saudi Arabian coins whose rates have not so far been fixed in relation to foreign currencies which form the major part of the Government’s income, (b) To aid the Ministry of Finance in centralizing the receipts and expenditures of the Government in accordance with the items of the authorized budget and in controlling payments so that all branches of the Government shall abide by the budget.

board of directors

Since a central monetary institution is expected to provide advice on financial and monetary matters, it must have a measure of detachment from the government’s daily operations. On the other hand, the government has ultimate responsibility for stability and growth, and its role in the direction of the economy is particularly important in developing countries. Therefore, such institutions cannot be entirely divorced from their respective governments. These aspects of the relationship between a government and a central monetary institution are reflected in the provisions of the laws governing the terms of appointment, composition, and decisions of the boards managing these institutions.

Members of the boards of directors of the central monetary institutions in all Arabian Peninsula countries are appointed by the head of state on the recommendation of the responsible minister,19 a measure of the importance attached to these institutions. Board members may be removed from office only for specified cause. Members of the board in most of these countries serve three-year terms, while officers of the board serve five years.

The various central banking laws have provisions designed to effect coordination between the central monetary institution and the government. The composition of most boards provides that one member shall be a representative of the ministry of finance or equivalent agency. In the United Arab Emirates, the minister responsible for finance is ex officio chairman of the board. In Kuwait and the Yemen Arab Republic, one other economic ministry, in addition to the ministry of finance, is represented on the board of the central bank; in these two countries, the representative of the finance ministry is empowered to stay any board decision pending referral to the Minister of Finance and, if there is a disagreement between the minister and the board, the matter is referred to the council of ministers for determination. In Bahrain and Qatar, regulations issued by the boards must be approved by the Minister of Finance.

Bahrain’s arrangements for a central monetary institution have an interesting feature, providing for a director-general whose powers are all derived by delegation from the chairman. This official acts for the chairman in the chairman’s absence but, although he may participate in meetings of the board, he has no vote, even when he presides. This concept has been used in some currency board constitutions to permit the employment of a professional, in particular one from another country, who is expected to limit himself largely to technical operations (but could, of course, be asked for advice on policy issues discussed by the board).20 Such a concept is unusual for a comprehensive central monetary institution.21

ownership and capital

In the Arabian Peninsula, all of the central monetary institutions are exclusively owned by the governments of the respective countries, and there has been no case where private individual shareholders, commercial banks, or parastatal bodies have had any part in their ownership. This fact reflects the relatively recent establishment of these institutions, during a period when it was recognized that governments must direct the economy and that central banking institutions have important functions relating to economic stabilization and to development.

The capital requirements of the institutions vary from country to country, as shown in Table 1. In most instances, there is a provision for the expansion of authorized capital when desired. The legislation of Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates provides for the use of noninterest-bearing, nonnegotiable government obligations to remedy any impairment of the capital of the institution; the redemption of these obligations is given a high priority in the allocation of profits from the institution’s operations. The paid-up capital at the time of establishment of the central monetary institution usually includes capital transferred from any predecessor institution, such as a currency board.

Table 1.Arabian Peninsula: Capital Requirements of Central Monetary Institutions
CountryCapital RequirementDate of Payment of Capital
BahrainBD 1 millionAt least one fourth on establishment
KuwaitKD 2 millionNot specified
OmanRO 2 millionAt least half on establishment
QatarQR 10 millionIn full on establishment
Saudi Arabia500,000 gold sovereigns (1952)At least two thirds prior to commencement of operations
United Arab EmiratesDh 10 millionPart on establishment to be determined by Board and approved by the Minister
Yemen Arab RepublicYRls 10 millionNot specified
People’s Democratic Republic of YemenYD 1 millionHalf at establishment
Source: Legislation for the respective central monetary institutions.
Source: Legislation for the respective central monetary institutions.
currency and external reserve requirements

The importance attached to the issue of currency and the maintenance of its value is reflected in the detailed formulations of the relevant sections in the charters for the central monetary institutions. The 1952 charter of SAMA, the first in the Arabian Peninsula, was unusual in that it barred the Agency from issuing any currency notes. Article 7 of the charter stated: “The Agency shall not undertake any of the following functions … (f) issuing currency notes.” However, this prohibition was made at a time when the use of full-bodied metallic coins was standard in most parts of the Peninsula, and government officials were uncertain whether the public was ready to accept a paper currency.

During the pilgrimage season of 1953, SAMA introduced a one-riyal “pilgrims’ receipt,” a paper receipt issued for coins deposited with the Agency. The receipt proved generally acceptable to the public and in the following years it became an increasingly important component of the currency, and gold sovereigns and silver riyals were withdrawn from circulation in 1960.

In the mid-1950s, Saudi Arabia incurred large budget and balance of payments deficits, and the SAMA charter was amended to enable the Agency to lend to the Government. As a result, the Agency’s holdings of government paper rose to 86 per cent of the currency issue and the pilgrims’ receipts were no longer fully backed by metallic coinage. The free market rate of the riyal depreciated considerably. A stabilization program initiated in May 1958 imposed stringent controls on government spending. A dual exchange market was set up, with imports of foodstuffs and other essential commodities permitted at the official rate, while other transactions were included in the free market, to which SAMA channeled part of its foreign exchange reserves. These measures succeeded in liquidating the Government’s indebtedness. In January 1960, it was possible to declare the riyal convertible at the unified official rate of SR 1s 4.50 = US$1, which had prevailed on the free market for some time.22

Against this background of monetary developments, Saudi Arabia made two important amendments in the SAMA charter in January 1960. The first of these, Royal Decree No. 6, known as the Currency Statute, authorized SAMA to issue a paper currency in place of the pilgrims’ receipts in circulation (subject to regulations and decisions of the council of ministers), required that the currency be backed 100 per cent by gold or by currencies convertible into gold, and authorized SAMA to invest foreign exchange reserves in foreign securities in accordance with the usual practice of central banks, a provision which could be interpreted to mean that SAMA would not forgo interest on its foreign investments. Under this decree, the paper riyal was issued for the first time in June 1961, following Saudi Arabia’s acceptance in March of the obligations of Article VIII of the International Monetary Fund’s Articles of Agreement. The second important amendment to the SAMA charter was Royal Decree No. 10, which empowered SAMA to buy and sell gold and foreign exchange for the purpose of maintaining the stability of the currency.

The issuance of national currencies in Kuwait, the Yemen Arab Republic, the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, Bahrain, and Oman has been described earlier in the section on currency boards. In addition, two other national currencies exist in the area. The Qatar monetary agency issued the Qatar riyal in May 1973 with the same value as the dirham and the Qatar/Dubai riyal which it replaced: 0.186621 gram of fine gold. The United Arab Emirates currency board issued the dirham also in May 1973 with a value of 0.186621 gram of fine gold, the same value as the Qatar riyal, and the dirham became legal tender in November 1973, replacing the Bahrain dinar in Abu Dhabi and the Qatar/Dubai riyal in Dubai and the five other Emirates.

The parities of the currencies of Kuwait, Oman, the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, and the Yemen Arab Republic were related to the pound sterling (see Table 2). Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates related the par values of their currencies to the Gulf rupee prior to the devaluation of June 1966. Saudi Arabia set its parity in relation to the U.S. dollar, the currency in which it receives its oil revenues.

Table 2.Arabian Peninsula: Gold Content of Currencies(In grams of fine gold)
CountryCurrencyYear IssuedGold Content at IssueRemarks
BahrainBahrain dinar (BD)19651.86621Gold content ten times that of Gulf rupee (1965)
KuwaitKuwaiti dinar (KD)19612.48828Same value as pound sterling (1961)
OmanRial Omani (RO)119702.13281Same value as pound sterling (1970)
QatarQatar riyal (QR)19730.186621Same value as Gulf rupee2 (March 1966)
Saudi ArabiaSaudi Arabian riyal (SRI)19610.1974823Value put at SRls 4.5 = US$1 (1961), the rate then prevailing on the free market
United Arab EmiratesU.A.E. dirham (Dh)19730.186621Same value as Gulf rupee2 (March 1966)
Yemen Arab RepublicYemen rial (YRl)19640.8294274Value put at YRls 3.0 = £1 (1964), or approximately the value of a Maria Theresa thaler (1964)
People’s Democratic Republic of YemenYemeni dinar (YD)19642.488285Same value as pound sterling (1968)
Source: Legislation of the respective central monetary institutions.

Formerly rial Saidi (RS).

The Qatar riyal and the U.A.E. dirham issued in 1973 were given the same gold parity as the Qatar/Dubai riyal, which was issued in March 1966 with the gold parity of the Gulf rupee prevailing on that date.

The SRI was revalued by 5.08 per cent in August 1973 and the present gold content is 0.207510 gram per riyal.

This gold content of the YR1 was stated in the Currency Law of 1964. No gold content for the YR1 was specified in the Central Bank Law of 1971.

The YD was linked to sterling at par in 1964 and followed the sterling devaluation of 1967. The gold content is now 2.13281 grams.

Source: Legislation of the respective central monetary institutions.

Formerly rial Saidi (RS).

The Qatar riyal and the U.A.E. dirham issued in 1973 were given the same gold parity as the Qatar/Dubai riyal, which was issued in March 1966 with the gold parity of the Gulf rupee prevailing on that date.

The SRI was revalued by 5.08 per cent in August 1973 and the present gold content is 0.207510 gram per riyal.

This gold content of the YR1 was stated in the Currency Law of 1964. No gold content for the YR1 was specified in the Central Bank Law of 1971.

The YD was linked to sterling at par in 1964 and followed the sterling devaluation of 1967. The gold content is now 2.13281 grams.

In addition to designating a gold content for the currency,23 most charters for central monetary institutions indicate the method by which this parity may be changed, and they define what assets qualify as external reserve assets, what minimum proportion of the currency in circulation (or of total demand liabilities) is to be backed by external assets, and the method by which this proportion may be altered.

All laws relating to central monetary institutions, except those of the Yemen Arab Republic and Oman, provide for a strong backing in foreign assets. A 100 per cent cover is required in Bahrain, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia for the currency in circulation. When the South Arabian Currency Law was written in 1964, it specified a 70 per cent backing in external assets for all demand liabilities;24 this ratio was approximately equal to the actual backing that the EACB had for its currency at that time.25 The same ratio has been included in the charter of the United Arab Emirates. Kuwait requires a 50 per cent backing in gold; this rather unusual provision in the 1969 Central Bank Law is carried over from the 1960 Currency Board Law. The Kuwaiti provision specifically permits some government and short-term commercial papers to serve as reserve assets for central monetary institutions.

Wherever central monetary institutions have been established, there has generally arisen the issue of the advisability of specifying a minimum reserve backing in the charter. For a country wishing to maintain convertibility, confidence in the currency may be promoted by holding substantial reserves. It may also be argued that a provision for currency cover leads to greater prudence in monetary management, since it serves as a restraint on increases in currency issue and thus helps to prevent inflationary situations.

Critics of the policy of prescribing a minimum requirement in the charter would argue that the ultimate backing for a currency is the economy as a whole and that there will be confidence in the currency if the economy is performing satisfactorily. Such critics might well favor keeping high levels of external reserves in actual practice to assure convertibility of the currency, but they would argue against a statutory provision on the grounds that, in situations of strain, altering a minimum prescribed in a charter may be more destabilizing than merely changing a level which it has been the practice to maintain. The argument is also made that, in capital-scarce developing countries, there is a trade-off between the currency-backing function and investment in development projects.

This debate has not been fully resolved. The general trend of practice for the central monetary institutions would seem to be in the direction of decreasing the use of minimum levels for currency backing. The reverse situation in the Arabian Peninsula is, therefore, a return to the orthodoxy of an earlier period, made possible by the substantial oil resources of the region.

Since circumstances may arise in which available external reserves are not sufficient to provide the prescribed cover, most charters have procedures for altering the minimum. This is a step to be taken rarely, and procedures have been written accordingly. In Bahrain, the council of ministers may change the cover requirement. In Oman, the decision is reserved for the Sultan. The charters of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates provide a maximum of six months for each period in which changes in the specified minimum can be effected; for a more permanent change, an amendment would presumably be required. The Kuwaiti charter has no provision for altering the prescribed cover, and an amendment would apparently be necessary to make a change.

In the period when the Arabian Peninsula had currency boards, the boards controlled only the amount of external reserves needed to back the currencies. Management of additional reserves was either vested in one ministry, such as the ministry of finance, or dispersed among a number of government bodies. With more comprehensive central monetary institutions, the expectation is usually that management of the external assets will increasingly be centralized in these institutions; however, this is not usually provided for in the relevant legislation. The Kuwaiti law permits the Minister of Finance and Oil to entrust the central bank with the management of the government foreign assets, but the bulk of these assets continues to be held and managed by the ministry.

A change in par value is an important step, expected to be taken only in exceptional circumstances. The charters that specify an initial parity contain procedures for altering it when necessary. Generally, the decision must be taken by the head of state, on the joint advice of the board and of the ministry of finance or equivalent agency.

The oil exporting countries in the Arabian Peninsula maintained the gold content of their currencies unchanged from the dates of their first issue until the middle of 1973, with the result that these currencies became revalued against the U.S. dollar in December 1971 and February 1973.26 In August 1973, Saudi Arabia revalued its currency against gold by 5 per cent. For transactions purposes, these countries linked their currencies to the U.S. dollar through the equivalent gold parities and determined third currency rates through the quotation of third currencies against the dollar. This arrangement, however, caused these currencies to depreciate, along with the dollar, against several major currencies in 1974, including the currencies of major industrialized countries which supply the bulk of Peninsula country imports. In response to this situation, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar (following a similar decision by Iran) decided in early 1975 to link their currencies to a basket of currencies (the SDR basket in the case of Kuwait and Qatar) rather than to the U.S. dollar.

In the case of the non-oil producing countries in the Peninsula, the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, as mentioned earlier, devalued its currency in line with the devaluation of the pound sterling in 1967. Balance of payments problems caused the Government of the Yemen Arab Republic to apply a system of multiple exchange rates between 1964 and 1970; these multiple rates were replaced in June 1971 by a unitary monetary rate which has since been fairly stable.

The charters of the central monetary institutions describe in detail the assets that qualify as reserve assets. Gold and currencies convertible into gold, or convertible according to some other specified definition, are generally among such assets, as well as short-term obligations of foreign governments denominated in foreign convertible currencies.27 Other types of securities are also allowed, but due attention is given to maintaining the overall liquidity of the reserve by placing conditions on the maturity distribution of such holdings. The more recent charters have included SDRs as well as the International Monetary Fund gold tranche position as external reserve assets.

Traditionally, the foreign assets of most Peninsula countries were held predominantly in sterling. Early efforts toward diversification tended to the holding of more U.S. dollars. Recent diversification has tended toward holdings of deutsche mark, Swiss francs, Netherlands guilders, and other currencies.

In order to perform its function of maintaining the internal and external stability of the currency, the central monetary institution is permitted to buy, sell, or deal in gold, convertible currencies, and specified securities. It may also be empowered to open and maintain accounts abroad and open and maintain accounts, or be an agent or correspondent, for foreign central monetary institutions, foreign governments or government institutions, and international financial institutions. The Kuwaiti and Saudi Arabian laws include silver among the instruments in which the institution can deal; the Qatar text adds, after gold, “and other precious metals.” The charter of the United Arab Emirates is unusual, because no reference is made to gold or any other metal; it simply states, in Article 15, that “… the Board shall buy and sell such internationally recognized intervention currency or currencies as the Board of Directors may determine from time to time.” Convertible currencies are usually not defined restrictively for the purpose of the institution’s operations. For example, they may be defined as “such currencies as shall from time to time be determined to be convertible by the Board.”

services to the government

Central monetary institutions in the Arabian Peninsula render five categories of services to their respective governments.

(1) They may act as banker, fiscal agent, and depository of the government. This service was given prominence in the charter of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA), because reorganization of budget procedures was one of the main goals for the establishment of the Agency. Since an institution may initially be unable to carry out the fiscal agency function, there is sometimes a provision (as in the case of Bahrain) that the government can maintain accounts with one or more commercial banks for a period. There may also be a provision that the institution shall pay no interest on amounts outstanding on the government accounts.

(2) Some of the central monetary institutions in the Arabian Peninsula are empowered to administer the public debt, as well as to buy, sell, and deal in various government securities.

(3) They act as advisors to their governments on financial and monetary matters, and they are usually expected to gather, analyze, and publish statistics on money and banking for which they can request relevant data from financial institutions and government bodies. The charter of SAMA explicitly mentions that the Agency shall “establish a Research Department to collect and analyze data and to aid in the… formulation and implementation of monetary and economic policies.” (cf. the 1946 charter of the Central Bank of the Philippines). Provisions permit the publication of such information gathered from financial institutions only in summary and consolidated form or only in a manner that does not divulge confidential matters.

(4) Central monetary institutions act as agents for the administration of exchange control regulations.

(5) Finally, they may have some authority to lend to the government, although this provision is usually worded carefully to discourage excessive recourse to such credit. For example, the maturity of treasury borrowing may be subject to conditions, and there may be a limitation on the overall level of credit, expressed as a proportion of the average annual ordinary revenue of the government.

relations with and regulations of financial institutions

The central monetary institutions are endowed with a number of powers giving them authority to regulate financial institutions.

One group of powers enables them to determine the structure and capital requirements of the commercial banking system and to oversee its operation. To this end, they may be empowered to license the banks, withdraw licenses, require that applications for a license be accompanied by certain types of information, and determine the type of institutions that may be called “banks.” In addition, limitations may be placed on the freedom of financial institutions to merge, transfer assets, alter their charters or other instruments of establishment, open new branches or close existing ones, or cease operations. Any of these actions would usually require prior approval of, or at least advance notification to, the central monetary institutions.

Provision is usually made for the audit of financial institutions. The central monetary institution is authorized to examine their books at any time in order to check on possible violations. Financial institutions are required to furnish all information and records necessary for the inspection; on the other hand, the relevant legislation usually indicates that an inspection should be conducted so as to disrupt normal operations as little as possible.

Central monetary institutions may have the authority under certain conditions to seize a financial institution, declare it insolvent, or order its compulsory liquidation. Such provisions may be carefully defined in order to give the central monetary institution the ability to act for the purpose of protecting the reputation and sound functioning of the commercial banking system and at the same time to safeguard commercial banks against undue pressure or interference. While many charters, such as that in Kuwait, simply provide that inspection, seizure, or compulsory liquidation shall be carried out according to procedures to be set out in the order that accompanies the action, the Bahrain charter has a long section setting out these procedures in detail.

In the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, with the exception of the United Arab Emirates and the Yemen Arab Republic, the relevant legislation specifies an authorized (or, in the case of a foreign bank, an “assigned”) capital requirement for commercial banks. The minimum capital required is BD 0.5 million in Bahrain, KD 1.5 million in Kuwait, QR 5 million in Qatar, SR1s 2.5 million in Saudi Arabia, and RO 0.5 million in Oman. In the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, the only existing commercial bank had at the time of its establishment a nor-minal capital requirement of YD 5 million, of which 1.5 million was paid up. The capital provision may be linked to a requirement for the incorporation of domestic banks, as in the case of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar (as implied in Article 50), and Saudi Arabia. The United Arab Emirates has no incorporation requirements, nor is such a requirement provided in the Yemen Arab Republic under Law No. 14 of 1971. No country in the Peninsula requires branches of foreign banks to incorporate locally.

A second group of powers at the disposal of central monetary institutions makes possible the control of credit in the interests of monetary stability. These powers include the establishment of statutory reserve requirements, domestic asset ratios, and the discount rate, as well as the authority to regulate interest rates. The ability to use such control measures is provided for in the charters of the comprehensive central monetary institutions of the Arabian Peninsula, although it is recognized that not all of the instruments may be effective for several years.

With regard to statutory reserve requirements, the central monetary institution is permitted as a rule to differentiate between different classes of deposits but not between different banks. Reasonable notice to the commercial banks is provided for. It is also allowed to prescribe the method of computation of the ratios, usually involving some kind of averaging over a number of days. There may be upper and/or lower limits to the statutory reserve ratios that it can specify. Reserve ratios may apply to total deposits (of all or some specific classes) or only to additions to those deposits (marginal reserve requirements). The central monetary institution may also call for special deposits from the commercial banks. To protect commercial banks against undue losses from any of these requirements, the charter may place a time limit on some actions or it may specify that the institution must pay interest on required deposits above a specified level. Assets considered as reserves may include cash only or all liquid holdings. Changes in required reserves affect the credit base and hence the money supply, but this effect may be weak in countries where commercial banks maintain reserves substantially above the statutory level, since this makes it difficult for the central monetary institution to use the reserve ratio without enforcing a large and potentially disruptive change. There may also be leakages caused by drawings by the branches of foreign banks on the resources of their parent institutions.

Central monetary institutions may be authorized to determine what proportion of the total assets of commercial banks should be held in domestic assets. A corollary to this is the power to specify the levels of working balances in foreign currencies.

With respect to open market operations and the bank rate, the relevant legislation in the countries of the Arabian Peninsula specifies securities that central monetary institutions may buy from, sell to, and discount or rediscount for commercial banks. There is usually a provision that the central monetary institution should announce at appropriate times any proposed new discount rates.

Lastly, in most cases the central monetary institution is given the authority to control interest rates on bank loans and deposits and to set aggregate ceilings, maturities, cash margins, or collateral requirements on bank loans. As in the case of Bahrain, however, there may be no specific power to set mandatory interest rates.

In addition to their regulating function, the central monetary institutions perform a number of services for the commercial banks, including the following: (1) In some cases, in the absence of action by the banks themselves, it may organize and operate a clearinghouse; thus, in Saudi Arabia, SAMA established such a facility in Jidda. Elsewhere, the banks have taken the initiative in this respect; for example, in Bahrain they have established a clearinghouse which has its accounts kept with the Bank of Bahrain, one of the commercial banks. (2) It may make short-term “bailing out” or rescue loans to banks experiencing financial difficulties.28 (3) It may open and maintain accounts for and with domestic banks; specified conditions may be attached to these accounts, such as the provision in Bahrain that banks receiving such deposits must fully back them with cash holdings in excess of any other statutory reserve requirements.

The scope of the jurisdiction of the central monetary agencies over financial institutions is partly defined in the charters or in other legislation such as company law, commercial registration regulations, insurance laws, and rules governing foreign trade. However, there remains a degree of ambiguity in regard to the type of financial institutions subject to control by the central monetary institution. As creators of money, deposit money banks must be regulated by the central monetary institution. However, it is not always clear what should be considered as deposit money banks or what financial institutions other than deposit money banks should come under the regulation of the central monetary agency. One definition of deposit money banks cites as their distinguishing characteristic the operation of current accounts. This definition is clearly set out in the charters of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, but the laws of other countries are not as precise. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia would seem to include savings banks in their definition of deposit money banks. The Qatar charter sidesteps the issue by defining as a bank any institution so licensed. Concerning what other financial institutions should be covered by the regulatory powers of the central monetary agency, most charters allow for discretion in extending the list of the financial institutions it can regulate. Money changers, who play a vital role in all countries of the Arabian Peninsula, are included by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in their definition of “banking business.” The charter of Bahrain specifically includes agents and correspondents of foreign financial organizations. As regards nonfinancial institutions, some charters prohibit the central monetary agency from dealing with them, while others require special approval procedures before permitting it to do so.

The path of historical developments with regard to the subject discussed in this section may be demonstrated by the experience of Saudi Arabia. Prior to the establishment of SAMA on October 4, 1952, there were six foreign banks and a number of local banks and money changers in the country. The banks dealt mostly in transfers, letters of credit, and purchase and sale of foreign exchange. They offered deposit and checking facilities in perhaps a score of different currencies, including sterling, Indian rupees, Egyptian pounds, East African shillings, and Lebanese pounds (McCleod, 1955, pp. 1–3).

In October 1952, SAMA required commercial banks and money dealers to register with the Agency and to submit monthly reports, with the money dealers subject to somewhat less detailed reporting requirements than the banks. The reports were used mainly for the compilation of statistics. In 1955, SAMA began to process applications by foreign banks to open branches in Saudi Arabia, forwarding its recommendations to the Minister of Finance. The expansion of the banking sector during the next decade was substantial, reflecting the rapidly growing volume of foreign trade, the high rate of return for the banks, and the financial and exchange stability that prevailed in the early 1950s. However, SAMA did not do much by way of regulating the banking system, partly because it was not provided with the necessary powers under existing legislation (Ronall, 1967; Ali, 1971; and SAMA reports, especially 1960/61).

In the late 1950s, SAMA was mainly preoccupied with a stabilization program (see above under currency and external reserve requirements), but it widened the scope of its regulatory activities after that program was completed. In 1959, the Agency for the first time prescribed statutory reserve requirements, maintenance of adequate liquidity ratios, and margins on the establishment of letters of credit and the extension of guarantees. In 1960, regular annual reporting was required of the commercial banks on the basis of a format more detailed than previously. SAMA also began to recommend specific policies to the banks, particularly with respect to lending and the opening of branches. In 1961, the statutory cash reserve requirement was decreased from 15 to 10 per cent to relieve pressures caused by a rising demand for credit. In 1962, the stamp duty on checks was abolished, and in 1964, Royal Decree No. 37 of February 2, 1964 was promulgated. This decree put into effect the Commercial Papers Act, which constituted the first official recognition and regulation of bills of exchange, promissory notes, and checks. During 1963 and 1964, SAMA carried out a survey to determine the adequacy of banking facilities throughout the country. An agricultural bank was established in 1964, and work was started on the establishment of an industrial bank.

To cover the gap in legislation, SAMA in 1960/61 drafted a Banking Control Law, which was eventually enacted in June 1966 by Royal Decree No. M/5. This law was in part a systematic codification of the practices developed by SAMA. In 1967 the Agency prescribed the amount of “assigned” capital required of foreign banks. Royal Decree No. M/2 of March 3, 1971 amended paragraph 2 of Article 13 of the Banking Control Law to provide that no bank could pay dividends or remit any part of its profit abroad until its aggregate foundation expenditures, together with any losses suffered, had been completely written off; banks were required to use for that purpose at least 10 per cent of the annual value of capitalized expenditures.

commercial banking functions

There has been an extensive debate over the question of whether a central monetary institution should have commercial banking functions. A mixed central monetary institution—that is, one engaged in such functions—may find itself serving conflicting objectives. While it is a regulator of credit, at the same time it makes profits from lending activities and must maintain impartiality among the commercial banks although it is one of them. For this reason, mixed central monetary institutions are not recommended for countries with commercial banking systems that are reasonably developed. However, where the commercial banking sector is not yet firmly established, or does not fully cover the range of operations expected of it, the central monetary institution may act to fill the gap either by temporarily carrying out commercial banking functions itself or by assisting in the establishment of one or more commercial banks (Sayers, 1957). In the Peninsula these institutions have not generally assumed commercial banking functions, but in Saudi Arabia SAMA has played an active role in encouraging the establishment of bank branches in different parts of the country and, as indicated above, in the creation of specialized banks.

central monetary institutions and economic development

A central monetary institution can do much to help economic development. It can promote proper accounting in the private sector by requiring that bank loans above a certain size can be made only on submission of audited statements from the loan applicants. Through its dealings in securities, it can assist in the emergence of a domestic capital market. Moreover, it may be given some role in development financing. This is not part of the traditional role of a central monetary institution, but various developing countries have experimented with such involvement in development activity. The Peninsula countries have shown some interest in this aspect of the functions of a central monetary institution, and this interest is reflected in a number of the purpose clauses in the charters. In Kuwait the Central Bank is permitted under Article 37, upon approval of the Minister of Finance, to “own or sell shares or stocks of any Kuwaiti joint-stock company or concessionary company or public establishment in Kuwait … for the purpose of financing development projects.”

prohibitions on operations of central monetary institutions

By law central monetary institutions are prohibited from performing certain operations.

(1) They are usually not allowed to engage in trade or to own all or part of any financial, commercial, agricultural, industrial, or other undertaking. There may be exceptions, as in the above-mentioned case of Kuwait, to permit participation in development projects and, in the case of Bahrain, where the central monetary institution is permitted to participate in any scheme approved by the Minister of Finance for the insurance of deposits with financial institutions. Moreover, a central monetary institution is often permitted to engage temporarily in the above operations in connection with the settlement of debts owed to it (the United Arab Emirates, Article 23, is an exception here).

(2) Central monetary institutions are usually prohibited from ownership of or dealing in real estate, except as necessary for housing its offices or its officers and employees or for accepting temporary ownership (but not permitted in the United Arab Emirates under Article 23) in connection with the settlement of debt obligations to it.

(3) A central monetary institution is not permitted to make advances other than as specifically provided in the law.

The actual wording of the clauses dealing with prohibited operations may differ widely from one law to another. The SAMA charter of 1952 (since amended) had clauses designed to limit strictly the functions of SAMA at that time. On the other hand, the Qatar law has no specific clauses on prohibited operations, but this is somewhat unusual.


Mr. Edo, an economist in the Eastern Division of the Middle Eastern Department, holds degrees from Princeton and Columbia Universities and received his doctorate in economics from Harvard. He has served on the staff of a United Nations Institute for Development and Planning and has been a member of the faculty at George Washington University.

Countries in the Arabian Peninsula are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (formerly the Trucial States), Saudi Arabia, the Yemen Arab Republic (formerly North Yemen), and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (formerly South Yemen), of which the first five (which border on the Persian Gulf) are sometimes referred to as the Gulf States.

Other coins impressed with the likeness of Maria Theresa had been issued since 1751. For references on the Maria Theresa thaler, see Loynes (1964, p. 24) and Peach (1961). A comprehensive historical essay on the thaler is found in Hans (1961), available only in German.

Peach (1961, p. 2) states that in North Yemen in 1961 most of the population had little contact with currency during their lifetime. At that level of monetization, the bulkiness of full-bodied metallic coins is not a noticeable disadvantage.

Some foreign paper currencies, including the U. S. dollar and the pound sterling, circulated in the area during the period of the metallic standard.

This gold content of the Indian rupee was established in September 1949, following the devaluation of sterling against the U. S. dollar, in order to maintain the value of the rupee at 1 ½ shillings sterling.

Reserve Bank of India, Report on Currency and Finance for the Year 1958–59 (Bombay, 1959), p. 88. The Reserve Bank of India at the same time issued special Hajj notes for pilgrims going to Saudi Arabia, to prevent the presentation of rupees in the Gulf through Saudi Arabia, where the Indian paper rupee was not a circulating currency.

Oman’s output is expected to increase by 23 per cent in 1975 with production from newly discovered oil fields.

Decree No. 41 of 1960.

Law No. 6 of 1964. At that time the country was called North Yemen.

Law No. 10 of 1964. The South Arabian Federation later became known as South Yemen and is now the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen.

Finance Decree No. 6 of 1964.

Qatar-Dubai Currency Agreement of 1966.

Currency Decree 1390 (1970).

Aden had become part of the South Arabian Federation in January 1963.

By Law No. 15 of 1968.

The letter d, which formerly represented the sterling penny, was also derived from the denarius.

Its successor (SYCA) was given some additional functions. The YCB was another currency board empowered to extend credit to the government under certain conditions.

Important provisions of the various charters are available from the author on request.

In the Yemen Arab Republic, some board members are appointed by the Minister of Finance.

Thus, the constitution of the South Arabian Currency Authority provided for a nonvoting secretary appointed by the board.

In Barbados, where there is a provision for a general manager whose powers are also derivative, the general manager may vote at board meetings.

For a discussion of the monetary history of Saudi Arabia, see Ali and Hitti (1965).

The charters of Oman, Qatar, and the Yemen Arab Republic do not specify gold parities for their respective currencies but provide for the establishment of such parities by degree. Oman and Qatar (but not the Yemen Arab Republic) have established gold parities for their currencies.

This requirement was reduced in August 1968 to 50 per cent. Since 1969, the currency board or the central bank has held virtually all official foreign assets in the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, as government holdings have been drawn down to finance budgetary deficits.

As indicated above, the EACB had been empowered since 1955 to make fiduciary issues of currency against the debt obligations of the constituent governments.

Before a paper currency was issued in Saudi Arabia, the riyal receipt declined in external value for a period in the mid-1950s.

Where convertible currencies issued by third countries were previously legal tender in a Peninsula country, these currencies, called the “existing currencies,” are often made permissible reserve assets for stated periods. The charter of the United Arab Emirates is an example of such an arrangement.

This is represented by the provision in Bahrain’s charter, Article 29 (d), enabling the central monetary institution to grant advances “secured or unsecured, in exceptional circumstances and with the approval of the Minister” to a bank when such action is necessary to forestall insolvency. There is a similar provision in the Qatar charter.

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