Interview: Khamis bin Saif Al Jabri

How are economic diversification initiatives working to underpin the growth of strategic sectors?

KHAMIS BIN SAIF AL JABRI: The national programme for economic diversification, Tanwea’a, is a continuation of the previous government’s National Programme for Enhancing Economic Diversification, or Tanfeedh, launched in 2016. Formed as part of the ninth five-year plan and consistent with Oman Vision 2040, the programme aimed to ensure that both the public and private sectors participated in diversification efforts. To lessen the country’s dependence on the oil industry, efforts have been focused on five sectors – including agriculture and fisheries, logistics and transport, energy and mining, and tourism – as viable alternative revenue sources.

During the 10th five-year plan, Tanwea’a aims to develop economic clusters and enhance their interconnectivity to maximise added value and identify leading sectors to drive economic growth. The programme’s main criterion for economic diversification is that more than 90% of GDP growth comes from non-oil industries.

Groundwork for subsequent stages is now the main focus. This involves improving government machinery, establishing governance frameworks, removing bottlenecks, bolstering performance, developing essential capacities, managing change and launching a national safety net. We see diversification as a process that covers sectors, jobs, exports, imports and regional growth. In addition to providing improved economic stability, we view it as a critical component of national security.

To what extent is the increased pace of digitalisation affecting the local economy, and what steps are being taken to further encourage innovation?

AL JABRI: Developments in digitalisation during the Covid-19 pandemic were most notable in the education sector, which relied heavily on e-platforms as schools, universities and system management migrated online. Additionally, a fast and integrated platform known as Ijtimaati was developed locally for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and adopted by boards of directors to create and administer meetings. The platform contains the necessary features for planning meetings, conferencing and presenting papers, as well as for voting, decision making and assigning tasks. The pandemic also prompted large businesses to rely on online meeting tools and virtual attendance.

Elsewhere, Omantel developed a chatbot to assist in answering to Covid-19-related concerns from the general public using artificial intelligence.

The government has encouraged acceleration in the digitalisation of most public services. The country is developing an e-government transformation plan to achieve better efficiency, transparency and productivity in the public sector, enhancing the welfare of citizens in the face of accelerating digital change, as well as fostering a sense of security and trust between government and society. To this end, the National Programme for Digital Transformation recognises the integral role of the private sector in facilitating digital transformation.

What is the role of SMEs in national economic development plans, and in what ways is private-public cooperation being strengthened?

AL JABRI: Entrepreneurs are the driving force behind economic growth, and the government is committed to generating employment by bolstering local businesses. We view this strategy as a viable model for promoting regional growth. Moreover, the tender board supports local SMEs by giving priority to local products and materials, offering up to a 10% price differential over identical imported products and materials.

Vision 2040 aspires to increase the role of SMEs by tying them to in-country value activities and ensuring that each national programme contributes to their enhancement. The government is also actively supporting SMEs by providing incentives, improving legal and insolvency procedures, providing access to public tenders, and upgrading skills and innovation capacity.