Interview: Nasser Al Maqbali
How have regulatory changes affected foreign direct investment in the sector, and what are the main opportunities for expansion?
NASSER AL MAQBALI: The sector has been transforming since the main governing body changed from the Public Authority for Mining to the Ministry of Energy and Minerals in August 2020. The ministry allocated 12 concession areas to MDO in March 2022 which has kickstarted several projects and is expected to increase private sector participation. Additionally, there has been a lot of interest from local and international companies, starting with the first tender of three blocks for potash that the ministry announced in April 2022.
Oman is striving to create a business environment that will appeal to large international investors. For example, the previous system of awarding small land concessions has been abandoned in favour of a strategy that focuses on attracting larger and longer-term leases. These types of initiatives aim to facilitate communication between the government, regulators and investors, and improve the overall investment process.
What sector developments are expected to contribute to overall GDP growth, and to what extent can infrastructure development fuel the economy?
AL MAQBALI: After the government awarded MDO 12 concession areas, the company has pursued systematic exploration to understand what resources are available. Nevertheless, exploration remains the sector’s biggest challenge, and there is more work to do on this front, especially regarding metallic minerals. In the meantime, several ongoing projects have the potential to contribute to Oman’s GDP, with the help of investors.
The country has made significant strides in its infrastructure development, with a solid road network and well-connected ports across the country – including in Sohar. With most ports connected to free zones; ample access to utilities, reliable power and water supply; and affordable land and a flexible tax regime, Oman’s ongoing infrastructure development will continue to strengthen the country’s competitive advantages in the global market. In this context, our proximity to the GCC, Africa, Asia and Europe, as well as the existing free trade agreements with many global strategic markets, will help grow mining exports.
In what ways can downstream activities in the sector be promoted in line with the goals of Oman Vision 2040 to add value to exports?
AL MAQBALI: Beyond its geopolitical position and business environment, Oman’s raw material and industrial mineral wealth offer significant growth opportunities. In this regard, the country can harness its potential through Omanisation by building citizens’ capacity through skills-based training and education to contribute to the country’s development. Additionally, MDO offers investment opportunities that allow for private participation in the expansion of the sector, in accordance with Vision 2040.
Which emerging technologies can have the greatest impact on operations, and what is being done to protect the environment as the sector matures?
AL MAQBALI: Technology continues to play an important role in mining operations, and Oman is committed to adopting the latest technologies. MDO plans to modernise the industry, while simultaneously considering the overall impact on the environment.
Oman is a pioneer in terms of sustainable mining practices and was among the first countries in the Middle East to establish an authority responsible for environmental protection. It is important that the environment is not compromised in any way, and that projects are executed within feasible environmental parameters. If done properly, mining activities and environmental sustainability are compatible. In fact, the mining industry has given rise to many green technological innovations and this trend is expected to continue.