Interview: Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Salim Al Futaisi
Considering Oman’s infrastructural needs, which projects require the most attention for the sultanate to reach its development goals?
AHMED BIN MOHAMMED BIN SALIM AL FUTAISI: In light of the vision put forth to transform the transport sector into one that contributes heavily to GDP, all of our projects are equally important because they are so closely connected. If Oman wants to position itself as an advanced logistics centre recognised on a global scale, we must develop our infrastructure in an integrated way. The five airports now under construction, for example, are all essential projects, with Muscat International Airport being top priority. This airport will be completed with all of the associated facilities for cargo, catering and maintenance, and will fulfil all requirements for international passengers. Commercial and cargo capabilities, meanwhile, are focused on the three main seaports at Duqm, Salalah and Sohar, which are being built to the highest specifications. We are also developing the port in Muscat around tourism and waterfront activities, which will serve the tourism industry as well as cruise liners. The ports are in turn connected by our strong road network, ranked third best in the world. The new expansions will only strengthen this and better facilitate the movement of goods. The railway project is also key, and once complete will further strengthen the country’s transport and logistics capacity. Every port will have railway and airport links, which will facilitate growth of commerce and, therefore, of the wider economy.
Where are the private sector’s competencies best placed to assist with major infrastructure projects?
AL FUTAISI: We are highly dependent on strong and competent companies, and we have therefore structured these projects in such a way that international firms can participate, while also raising the capacity of local ones. A good example of this is the railway project, in which we saw 109 global companies express interest in the prequalification stage alone. The private sector’s ability to design and build such projects has improved considerably, and this will help drive the ongoing development of local companies.
From an operational standpoint, there is an even bigger role for the private sector to play. The planned mega-structures will need experienced manpower to operate efficiently. Our ports, for example, are run by international companies, either fully or through joint ventures. For the future, we are looking at the possibility of giving the private sector the opportunity to develop infrastructure projects that are economically feasible – for example, the operation and maintenance of the railway once it comes on-line. Ultimately, the government will not be able to oversee every aspect of these mega-projects, and we will need private companies to help develop, deliver and operate these facilities. Once we assess the feasibility and commercial viability of these projects, the country will start to see more private sector activity in infrastructure.
What more needs to be done to eliminate the bottlenecks that are currently having a detrimental effect on the logistics sector?
AL FUTAISI: We first need to finish the current projects. Once the ports and the railway are completed, we will be able to say confidently that Oman is a global logistics player. The three economic zones, linked to a strong road and railway network, will serve as the base for a strong logistics sector. If this industry is to be developed as a potential replacement for hydrocarbons, we will need more than just infrastructure. We have thus set up a team to facilitate meaningful growth in the sector through the logistics strategy, which consists of national and international advisers and will address issues such as marketing, capacity building, training, human resource development, information technology, regulations and industrial segmentation. This strategy is very important to fully utilise the infrastructure we are now building, as opposed to taking a fragmented approach. Globally, Oman now ranks 59th for logistics, but the end goal is to be in the top 10 by 2040.
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