Interview: Ali bin Masoud Al Sunaidy
What more needs to be done to achieve the targets set for diversifying the country’s economy?
ALI BIN MASOUD AL SUNAIDY: Improving the ease of doing business is our top priority, with three programmes now in motion to achieve this. The first is the so-called One-Stop Shop, an electronic platform that makes company registration easier, consolidating the eight relevant agencies under one roof. This will not only reduce the time it takes to register, but also remove associated barriers to entry for all companies. The second is the electronic visa processing system, while the third is a system to streamline Customs. These initiatives, which are expected to be completed by the end of 2015, will greatly enhance the business environment in the near term.
Another priority is to change the regulations for minerals, which have potential to add value and further diversify the economy. By 2015 we will start to see more concrete efforts at changing the law and slowly restructuring this sector. However, we cannot run away from the fact that oil and gas will continue to fuel our economy – in fact, we should be happy at new discoveries. While Vision 2020 outlined a plan to reduce the percentage of GDP coming from hydrocarbons and to replace this with commerce, industry, tourism and other sectors, in reality the oil and gas sector kept growing in tandem with the others, thus it continues to account for a large portion of our income. The solution is not to fixate on hydrocarbons versus non-hydrocarbons, but to increase in-country value (ICV), which will leave behind a legacy of oil-related activities. This is why we have focused on raising ICV from 18% to 32%, meaning we will manufacture locally more of the products that would otherwise be imported.
Whatever a country’s development plans, structural GDP change requires increased contribution from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Omani SMEs, though high in number, are not equipped with the proper technology and often are not really managed by Omanis. The goal is more genuine partnerships that add local value and create more jobs. Hence, we are very optimistic about SMEs and their involvement in the local economy. The possibilities span every sector, from tourism to hydrocarbons, food and beyond.
How is the government prioritising the needs of the private sector in the pursuit of a sustainable environment for national growth and development?
AL SUNAIDY: There is more communication now between government and the private sector. For example, Sharakah, a joint public-private initiative, has begun highlighting projects that would benefit most from the public-private partnership model, with tourism and fisheries topping the list. The private sector is also more active in finding areas that need attention for such partnerships to succeed. Suggestions include legal changes to foster a more business-friendly environment and align private-sector efforts with the government policy of creating more jobs and added value.
We are also looking at changing the way training programmes work. The state institutes that produce bankers and nurses are doing very well, but we must start training technicians in the same way. Only then can we begin to solve the manpower conundrum Oman now faces. Drawing from the UK experience, we have conducted a pilot programme that looks into training Omanis in transport and logistics. The private sector must also play its role to ensure there is both synergy and communication with respect to industry needs.
The government’s role is also to enable the private sector. We have identified opportunities like addressing food security by growing produce in greenhouses and building food storage areas at the ports. Similarly, using treated waste at industrial estates could reduce usage of potable water, and we can boost the digital economy through broadband connectivity. We are already using solar and wind technology to generate electricity, and expect more renewable energy to come on-line in the near future. Our priority is to ensure that the right regulations and infrastructure are in place so that the private sector can capitalise on opportunities.
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