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Newsletter January 2021

Newsletter January 2021 - The Sultanate of Oman

The Sultanate of Oman - Celebrating Renewed Renaissance, Setting Further Milestones

Wednesday 18 November 2020 was a special day for the Sultanate of Oman as it marked its 50th National Day anniversary, celebrating five decades of rich history.

The 50th National Day marked a very special anniversary as it celebrated the outstanding achievements of beloved leader, the late His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Bin Taimour, who sculpted this Arabian edifice from scratch, his vigilant eye not missing a flaw in any side of the monument.

With firm resolve, Omani citizens continue to make more achievements under the wise leadership of His Majesty Sultan Haitham Bin Tarik, who vowed to upgrade the march of nation building and enhance the pace of progress, striking a high note in Omani people’s enthusiasm for an ambitious renaissance that covers all spheres of life.

 

1. Dialogue… at the heart of it all

Two royal decrees ruling the Administrative Action were created for the “streamlining of procedures, maximizing benefits from services […]” and “the establishment of sustainable development, utilization of resources in the most ideal manner […].” The new leader of the country also met several tribal chiefs (sheikhs) in order to listen to the ideas for innovating and developing their governorates, which shows the commitment to dialogue.

Dialogue is a key word for the Foreign Policy of Oman since years, which the new Sultan reaffirmed: the Sultanate “advocates peaceful co-existence among nations, good neighborliness and non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.” By choosing for dialogue, supporting values of justice, tolerance and advocating for the settlement of conflicts following International Law, the country has grown to be an accepted mediator in the international arena.

2. A historic move

On 11 January 2021, Sultan Haitham Bin Tariq Al Said issued a royal decree which promulgated a new Basic Law of the State, setting a specific and stable mechanism for the transfer of power in the sultanate.

The royal decree does not only set the mechanism for the appointment of a crown prince, but will also outlines his duties, specializations, and prerogatives. The latter does not specifically name Oman’s next Crown Prince but it says that it shall be the duty of the Sultan’s oldest son, who is Dhi Yazan Bin Haitham, a popular figure in the sultanate. Arrangements for the transfer of power in the event of the death of the crown prince are also detailed in the decree.

This is the first time ever that Oman names a crown prince, which, according to experts, will improve long-term investor confidence. “The increased transparency creates a more conducive investment atmosphere for FDIs and long term investors, promising to accelerate the Sultanate’s progress towards becoming a globally competitive economy with effective governance. This in turn will improve the country’s credit ratings and provide it with long-term stability.”1


1. https://www.arabianbusiness.com/politics-economics/457294-omans-appointment-of-crown-prince-will-boost-investor-confidence-say-experts?utm_source

3. COVID-19

The commitment is also visible in the management of the Corona pandemic: firstly, a Supreme Committee was formed (headed by the Minister of Interior) in order to limit its impact and find solutions to the ongoing challenges. Secondly, the “Waqf (Endowment) Fund was created to support the Ministry of Health. Since the start of the crisis, the government imposed partial or total lockdowns, depending on the governorate.

Decisions of His Majesty Sultan Haitham also included the forming of an economic committee “offering packages and incentives to private sector establishments and firms” and the creation of an Emergency Loans Program, in order to assist entrepreneurs hit severely by the crisis.

4. Oman Vision 2040

The much-awaited Oman Economic Vision, scheduled to be implemented upon the start of the 10th Five Year Plan in January 2021, meets with serious challenges, including the slump in international oil prices and the global spread of coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

These challenges prompted the government to undertake stringent measures, including a Medium-Term Fiscal Balance Plan (2020-2024) which features many initiatives and programs aimed at establishing solid foundations for financial sustainability, reducing general debt, upgrading the efficiency of government spending, enhancing the State’s financial reserves, improving revenues from investment of government (to help the country deal with any challenges) and, thus, setting economic growth upright.

The government of the Sultanate, represented by the Ministry of Finance, also cut down budgets of government units by 5%, downsizing operational budgets and financial plans of government firms by at least 10% and slashing remunerations of boards of public authorities and establishment and affiliate committees by 50% applying a 5% Value Added Tax by next April (2021). All these measures are expected to supply the budget with a sum of RO 400 million.

The aggregate revenues of the 2020 Budget stood at RO 10.7 billion calculated at a rate of $58 per barrel, while general expenditure was estimated at RO 13.2 billion, which entails estimated deficit of about RO 2.5 billion or 8% of the Gross Domestic Product.

In his speech last February, His Majesty Sultan Haitham Bin Tarik outlined the features of the next stage of development. He pointed out that the tasks of government firms will be fully revised with a view to developing them and augmenting their contribution to the economic system. His Majesty said, “We will study government decision-making with the aim of realizing the supreme national interests of the country. We will accord this aspect our full attention and our support.” Accordingly, Oman Investment Authority restructured the boards of directors of 15 government firms coming under its supervision. Also, ICT sector firms were restructured and a project for the foundation of an all-round agricultural products marketing company was announced. The vegetable and fruit marketing company will report to Oman Food Investment Company.

Due to the vital role of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in economic growth, the government of the Sultanate, represented by the Ministry of Labour, worked to establish a suitable environment for SMEs. The steps included the exemption of SMEs from Omanisation percentages and the allocation of some professions to expatriate manpower. Also, the portal Invest-Ease has introduced many electronic services to the business community. In this respect, His Majesty the Sultan said, “We understand the significance of the Small and Medium Enterprise Sector and the Entrepreneurship Sector, notably projects based on innovation, artificial intelligence and advanced technologies. Attention will be accorded to training and empowering youth to help them benefit from opportunities offered by these vital sectors so that they could establish the core component of a smart national economy. Our government will follow up the progress made in these domains step by step.”

The schema of laws and incentives related to investment helped furnish an attractive climate for investments from home and abroad. These include the Foreign Capital Investment Law.

The government capitalizes on investment in Omani ports, particularly the Port of Sohar and the Port of Salalah, in addition to special economic zones (like the Special Economic Zone in Duqm and the Port of Duqm). The tourism sector also forms one of the basic pillars of economic diversification. The government has devised clear-cut strategies to maximize benefits from investment in the tourism sector.

5. Job Security System Law

To provide means of decent living for Omani citizens amid adverse global economic conditions, a Job Security System Law has been promulgated by Royal decree. His Majesty the Sultan donated RO 10 million as a personal contribution towards the foundation of the fund. He also issued directives to speed up the establishment of a comprehensive national Social Security Scheme that provides protection to low-income groups and Social Security Fund beneficiary families against expected impacts of the medium-term Fiscal Balance Plan.

6. Education and Research Sector

His Majesty Sultan Haitham accorded top priority to the sector of education. He gave directives to provide a supportive environment that enhances learning, research and innovation. The aim is to enable Omani citizens to contribute to the forthcoming stage of development.

The National Strategy for Research and Development has been modernized to keep pace with Oman Vision 2040, notably the development of a cognitive community that is capable of competing and converting knowledge into economic revenue. The setting up of University of Technology and Applied Sciences last August is testimony to this approach of encouraging research and innovation and benefit from advances of artificial intelligence and the 4th industrial revolution (4IR). For the same purpose the name of Ministry of Higher Education has been changed to Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation.

The Sultanate’s modern renaissance is influenced by the memorable quote of the late Sultan who said, “We will educate our sons and daughters even under the shade of a tree” (way back in the 1970s). since then, the march of education has gone a long way and, today, educational establishments are set up on each mountain and plain in Oman.

The recent Royal directives to set up six priority schools in the forthcoming stage to the tune of RO 8.85 million reflect the attention accorded by His Majesty the Sultan to the needs of citizens. It is a gesture that denotes his Royal support to education, being the basic requirement for nation building.

7. Environment

Since the outset of its blessed renaissance, the Sultanate has been implementing a policy of environment protection and pollution prevention. This policy comes within the framework of a comprehensive strategy for sustainable development, conservation of wildlife and preservation of renewable resources.

The government supported this approach by encouraging environment research, exchanging expertise, gathering information, spreading public awareness and instilling basic values and principles that support the goals of sustainable development.

The Environment Authority undertakes the mission of issuing laws deemed necessary for the protection of natural reserves, marine ecosystems and biological diversity. It also introduces the principle of environmental management as a means of raising the capacity of development projects. This is in addition to environment inspection tasks that seek to monitor the situation, assess any negative impacts to the environment and undertake necessary action.

The Environment Authority also seeks to reaffirm the principle of setting balance between development requirements and maintaining environment safety.

The government takes keen interest in analyzing impacts of projects on the environment. This applies to all sorts of industrial, service and infrastructure projects. Regular programmes for monitoring, detection and inspection have been conducted right after the operation of projects, so that field feedback on the environmental situation around the site could be received and negative impacts addressed immediately.

The Environment Authority executes laws, regulations, decision and national strategy programmes and drafts environment protection plans in keeping with the Sultanate’s commitment to international environment agreements within the context of basic goals for sustainable development. National strategies in this field are updated regularly for the management of chemicals and pollutants. The authority issues licenses and environmental clearances. It sets up national networks for the analysis of air quality, among other tasks.

The Environment Authority follows up laws and national plans for the management of coastal areas and control of desertification. It drafts proposals for the establishment of nature reserves, including temporary protected sites and important sites in cooperation with global organisations.

8. Freedom of expression

The renewed renaissance led by His Majesty the Sultan accords importance to the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Basic Law of the State’s Article (29).

The article provides that the law secures to the individuals of society the freedom of expression either through speaking, writing or other means within the boundaries of the law. This has been reaffirmed by His Majesty the Sultan, who said that the State is founded on grounds of freedom of speech, justice and equality of opportunities where people’s dignity, rights and liberties are preserved.

9. Omani Women

One of the bright aspects of renewed Omani renaissance under the leadership of His Majesty Sultan Haitham Bin Tarik is the Royal attention accorded to Omani women. The vital role of women in the nation building march has been highly recognized. His Majesty the Sultan said, “We all have to ensure that women get their full rights guaranteed by law, including their right to work side by side with men across all sectors to serve their country and society.”

10. Youth Sector

His Majesty the Sultan described youth as “the inexhaustible wealth of nations…its hands that build.” He voiced his sincere desire to listen to youth, explore their interests, address their concerns and achieve their aspirations.” The celebration of Omani Youth Day on 26 October came as reaffirmation of the Sultanate government’s commitment towards this segment of society and its determination to provide them with all means that facilitate their march forward as they contribute to their country’s progress.

HH Sayyid Theyazin bin Haitham al-Said, Minister of Culture, Sports and Youth, gave a speech at the event, saying, “Omani youth have shown that they are highly capable of shouldering their national responsibility. This confidence stems from their full awareness about their cause and how to serve by it espousing means of advancement, coupled with clear vision and firm resolve to participate in the rejuvenating renaissance of Oman. They are open to the culture of co-existence, love and peace.”

His Majesty Sultan Haitham pledged, as he leads the promising reign of the renewed renaissance, that he will elevate Oman, in the coming stage, to the level of aspirations of its people in all spheres. Citizens participation will be the main pillar of national action, he said, asserting his absolute confidence in the abilities of loyal Omani people to cope with the requirements of the age and the next stage of development, with clear vision, extreme wisdom, steadfastness and self-denial.


The Arab-Belgian-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce extends special thanks to H.E. Najeem Al Abri, Ambassador of the Sultanate of Oman in Brussels for providing the material and the pictures for this article. Almost one year ago, the Chamber and the Embassy worked hand in hand to facilitate the visit of a high-level delegation from Oman accros Belgium. On this occasion, they also co-organised, with the Special Economic Zone at Duqm (SEZAD), a highly successful business forum in the presence of H.E. Minister Al Jabri, and with all the ABLCC stakeholders.

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