Interview: Omar Al Wahaibi
Where do you see Oman’s investment priorities for developing its water infrastructure and services?
OMAR AL WAHAIBI: Oman has overcome significant challenges in the recent past, demonstrating its resilience. The government is currently engaged in a widespread economic diversification plan under Oman Vision 2040 that is oriented around promoting investment and increasing the economic contributions of the country’s strategic non-oil sectors, as well as enhancing the role of the private sector in the economy. The utilities sector is essential to this transformation, so funding is being provided to improve the country’s water infrastructure not only in urban areas but also in rural regions. For example, the utilities provider Nama invested OR435m ($1.1bn) in critical network enhancements and efficiency gains in 2021.
The business activities centred around developing Oman’s water infrastructure are complex, and changes in economic regulations and conditions have had a direct impact on business operations and performance. Oman’s water and wastewater customer base was up 5% year-on-year to 998,666 customers in 2021 compared to 952,911 in 2020. Since we expect demand for water and wastewater services to continue to rise, it is imperative that we keep evolving to meet the country’s needs. In this sense, investment has been focused on developing infrastructure to reach more parts of the country, as well as on advanced technologies to maximise network and operational efficiencies.
How can the country improve the local workforce’s technical skills, and how might academic and business stakeholders partner to this end?
AL WAHAIBI: The local workforce provides the foundation for organisations and operations, and the specific training programmes conducted to improve their capabilities and skills are changing as new technologies become available. However, technology alone cannot increase productivity and efficiency within an organisation – the necessary technical knowledge is also required to maximise results.
Similarly, it is essential that we focus on Oman’s future workers. More must be done to improve Oman’s research and development capabilities, which in turn should have a tangible impact on operations in the utilities sector. To this end, we must develop more partnerships between institutions of higher education and the business community in the energy and utilities sectors. These collaborations are likely to promote growth and progress in these fields, as well as improve corporate sustainability and efficiency.
What is the potential for generating electricity from renewable sources, and how might international investors help in this field?
AL WAHAIBI: We feel confident about Oman’s renewable energy sector. Generating electricity using such sources is not a new idea in the sultanate, although the government has placed a stronger emphasis on this area in recent years. Indeed, the country aims to generate 20% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. This is an ambitious target, but Oman has an opportunity to make significant advancements in this space given the rapid evolution of technology, the broader market dynamics that are generating attention from international investors, and the quality and quantity of solar and wind resources available in the country.
Renewables present an attractive area for generating foreign and domestic investment in Oman. We expect this trend to continue in the coming years, underpinned by the key performance indicators put in place to measure progress. It is important to note that the stability of the country and the openness of the government to work with local and international private sector players are critical components for investors looking to fund projects in the sultanate.