Qatar draws up a new medium-term development strategy

Much has changed in Qatar since the government launched the current National Development Strategy (NDS) in 2011. The document, which covers 2011-16, was drawn up before the nation was awarded hosting rights for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, for instance – before the push began to build stadia and other large-scale infrastructure projects.

Similarly, in 2011 Qatar’s Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics (MDPS), which is responsible for the NDS, was unaware of the coming surge in foreign workers entering the country as a result of the construction boom. Consequently, according to the MDPS, from 2010 to October 2015 Qatar’s population increased by 40%, from 1.7m to 2.4m residents. Despite these unexpected developments, the 2011-16 NDS is widely considered to have been carried out successfully, albeit not uniformly so. “There has been a great deal of advancement in the implementation of our objectives,” Saleh bin Mohamed Al Nabit, the minister of development planning and statistics, said in a speech in Doha in late 2015.

Digging In 

With these mixed results in mind, the MDPS announced in September 2015 that it had begun planning the next NDS, for 2017-22. Preliminary consultations on the new plan have taken place with a wide array of participants from various ministries, public entities and international organisations, including the World Bank, which will assist the MDPS in drawing up the plan. Broadly speaking, the second NDS, like the first, will include initiatives designed to push Qatar towards the long-term objectives laid out in Qatar National Vision 2030 (QNV 2030), the country’s long-term development strategy.

Given the drop in oil prices and its effect on state revenues, the 2017-22 NDS is expected to include initiatives aimed at shoring up the country’s fiscal health, boosting private sector and non-hydrocarbons-related activities, and improving the quality of training and education for Qataris. “Since 2008 we have taken precautions against oil and gas price fluctuations in QNV 2030 and in the NDS 2011-16,” Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the emir, told Qatar’s Advisory Council in November 2015. “Despite the decline of prices in the energy market, we will continue to implement infrastructure development and human development projects.”

Planning 

The MDPS released QNV 2030 in October 2008, when the country was coming out of a decade of strong economic growth as a result of rising global energy prices. The long-term plan was organised into four pillars: human development, social development, economic development and environmental development. Each was then subdivided into a handful of more specific development areas, such as education and health, social care and protection, international cooperation, responsible exploitation of oil and gas, suitable economic diversification, and balancing the country’s development needs against a requirement to protect the environment. Taken as a whole, the 2030 plan aimed at “transforming Qatar into an advanced country by 2030, capable of sustaining its own development and providing for a high standard of living for all of its people for generations to come,” according to the document.

The four pillars laid out in QNV 2030 were honed into more specific initiatives in the 2011-16 NDS. For instance, while the long-term plan called for “broad investments in certification and training programmes by public and private institutions”, the NDS laid out a series of measureable goals in workforce training, which included increasing the share of Qataris in the private sector workforce from 5% to 15%, improving the country’s labour productivity ranking from 35th to 29th in the world, and increasing the number of International Labour Office conventions signed from six to 20.

As of early 2016, the extent to which the 2011-16 NDS had achieved its objectives had yet to be determined, as the government had not yet completed a final review of the strategy.

Based on data compiled by the UN, which in 2014 carried out a mid-term review of the plan in conjunction with the MDPS, the strategy had been responsible for “tremendous progress” in improving human and social development in Qatar. Indeed, the country’s ranking on the UN Development Programme’s Human Development Index had improved from 37th in 2011 to 32nd by 2015.

At the same time, the UN’s mid-term report identified several issues that could benefit from improvement. For instance, it noted “the need to establish mechanisms for greater sector-wide, cross-sector and inter-agency collaboration on NDS projects,” and for public agencies and ministries to develop individual executive plans that correspond with objectives laid out in the NDS. More broadly, it called for “additional project management and technical capacity and expertise within the ministries and agencies for project implementation, monitoring and evaluation, as well as for policy development”.

Pressing Challenges

More recently, a variety of pressing economic trends – including the rapid decline in the price of oil and the government’s subsequent fiscal rationalisation effort – have the potential to impact the development of the 2017-22 NDS. As Al Nabit noted in his November 2015 speech, both in Qatar and across the region, in recent years it has “become urgent to consider issues such as the rationalisation of support and providing it to target groups, development of the tax system and supporting the revenue side of the budget”.

The MDPS faces a number of challenges in drawing up a new medium-term development plan for Qatar. As of March 2016 the price of Brent crude, the international oil benchmark, had dropped by more than 65% since June 2014. This has impacted government finances across the GCC, with many member states planning to post a budget deficit for the first time in more than a decade in 2016. Qatar’s government has taken the issue of spending cuts head-on, with Sheikh Tamim warning in November 2015 that the state could no longer “provide for everything”.

The government has since carried out a ministerial reorganisation in January 2016, which involved slashing the number of ministries from 18 to 14, increasing fines for wasteful use of water, cutting subsidies for petrol and postal services, and launching initiatives aimed at streamlining operations in a handful of key ministries identified as needing improvement, including infrastructure, education and health. Additional cuts to electricity and water have already been made, and rate hikes introduced.

At the same time, the country has continued to invest heavily in infrastructure in preparation for the World Cup. The government considers continued spending in this area a key component of its long-term plans – as laid out in both QNV 2030 and the 2011-16 NDS – to diversify the economy by building up non-hydrocarbons industries (including construction) in an effort to develop new revenue streams that are not tied to oil and gas. Some 25% of the expenditure laid out in the 2016 budget was designated for continued infrastructure work.

Another key issue the government will face in drawing up an achievable, sustainable NDS for 2017-22 is the rapidly changing size of Qatar’s population. Between 2005 and 2015 it doubled and, given continued demand expected for construction labourers, it is forecast to continue to grow until at least 2017. “We are probably approaching a population peak in the next 18 months or so, then we can see it starting to go down,” Frank Harrigan, the director of environment and economic planning at the MDPS, told local media in late 2015. “We need to examine what is a sustainable community for Qatar after that. It is likely to be less than the population we see today.” Planning for this influx, and for a subsequent potential exodus, represents a considerable challenge for the country’s authorities.

Early Stages 

Specific initiatives and policy objectives to be included in the 2017-22 NDS have yet to be announced. However, in recent years the government has made its priorities known. These include continued development of the education and health systems; institution of transparent regulatory and enforcement regimes across the economy; a steady turn to the private sector, specifically in non-hydrocarbons activity; and a focus on empowering Qataris to participate in a knowledge-based economy, both by increasing training and encouraging Qataris to take positions in private business. That these issues are in line with the development objectives laid out in QNV 2030 means it is likely they will be included in the new NDS as well. At the same time, taking into account the hurdles to implementing the 2011-16 NDS, as described by the UN in its mid-term report, the 2017-22 plan is widely expected to include more detailed instructions on how to execute reforms.

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The Report: Qatar 2016

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