Interview: Hilal bin Hamad Al Hasani
To what extent can Oman increase its competitiveness and attractiveness for investors?
HILAL BIN HAMAD AL HASANI: Oman has already taken a large number of important steps to improve its position as an attractive investment destination. The county’s position in this regard has been strengthened by its strategic location, the significant investments it has made in infrastructure and logistics over the years, as well as its political and economic stability. Low business taxes and key free trade agreements have also been a boon. Still, more must be done to continue attracting investment.
According to the government’s ninth five-year plan, industry and manufacturing is the number-one sector that should be developed for economic diversification. For this to happen, we need to ensure the country is as attractive as possible to investors – not only foreign investors, but local investors as well. Already, 1700 projects across all of PEIE’s industrial areas have been undertaken, representing a total investment of OR6bn ($15.6bn), with more than 48% of the capital coming from overseas and the rest coming from local investors. The question is, how do we continue along or even improve upon this path? The first thing that we must do is improve the ease of doing business. We must also invest in enabling infrastructure, including a strong ICT backbone for the country. Beyond this, the area where Oman can really compete with alternative investment destinations is in the services that it offers to investors. PEIE has been working closely with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry on its numerous initiatives aimed at improving the business environment through the Invest Easy programme. This scheme eliminates much of the bureaucracy and red tape that has plagued investors in the past, bringing together all of the pertinent authorities so that approvals and permits can be issued from one central office. Investments within PEIE industrial estates have been growing at the rate of 11% during the past few years, generating more than 3500 industrial job opportunities annually.
We are also looking at diversifying our investment offerings, and we are encouraging the development of some industrial clusters so that our investors can benefit from being in close proximity to other similar ventures. We see significant potential for this within the pharmaceutical and health care industries.
Beyond this, we are looking at engaging the private sector directly, for the development of future industrial estates and the associated infrastructure. We believe that this is an area where the public-private partnership model will be really useful.
What can be done to ensure Omanis have the necessary skills to grow the industrial sector?
AL HASANI: Omanis already form an important part of the industrial workforce. Out of a total of 50,000 employees across the industrial zones, 17,500 are Omanis and around 7% of those are women.
Oman has focused on human capital development for many years. As a result of this, we have seen many success stories. Nonetheless, human resource strategies need to be worked on continuously and perfected to ensure they continue to serve not only the country and its citizens, but also the business sector. In this case, because we are prioritising the industrial sector for economic development, we need to ensure that our human resource policies reflect and aid that.
The most important thing is to enhance training programmes and improve curricula to ensure that the right skills are in the market. These efforts are being coordinated with the private sector, the Ministry of Manpower and the country’s universities and colleges.
Beyond that, PEIE is now developing a new package for investors called Azeemati, which is aimed at developing human resources directed towards certain sectors. If an investor wants to set up a venture in Oman but there is a lack of certain skills in the market, the government will train Omanis for up to 18 months in the skills and knowledge needed for that specific project.
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