Interview: Nabil Al Ghassani
What are the central issues that need addressing to create a sustainable downstream support chain for Oman’s oil and gas industry?
NABIL AL GHASSANI: If one looks at the world economy, one sees that the first thing we need to do is focus more on developing the skills of our workforce and manpower. This major resource will continue to be at the core of any economic development anywhere in the world. Over the last 42 years the Omani government has taken many steps to further this initiative.
Oman now has a solid foundation in both economic and logistical infrastructure. The sultanate has airports, roads, ports, legal and financial systems, and a banking industry of the highest international standard. It also has good scale in upstream businesses such as metals, minerals and chemicals. Having the foundation of a stable economy, we can be more creative in meeting our challenges. As a next step, we want to create more opportunities for downstream industries. We recognise that downstream industries are a new concept to the country. Omani citizens will require more support in rising to the professional, international standards demanded, more so than in countries where downstream industries are more imbedded.
A central issue so far is the development of manpower or our “human capital”. These are the people who will lead the implementation of tomorrow’s downstream projects. There are plenty of public sector schemes and programmes that have been set up to accomplish this. Some public sector companies have had much success in developing Oman’s human capital, but more can be done by the private sector. For example, from a given project’s total cost, a certain amount of funds should be allocated for ensuring that Omani nationals are recruited, trained and hired.
One encouraging trend we have seen thus far is that companies are setting up specialised units focused on human capital development for Omani nationals. The goal is to develop manpower to meet requirements in downstream industries, and so advance this sector.
Given the lead times for getting big industrial plants into productive phases, can public-private partnerships do better? What does this mean for investors?
AL GHASSANI: We believe Oman presents strong opportunities, especially for foreign direct investment (FDI). Oman is home to many experienced companies that are more than willing to partner up to take on projects of scale. Raising capital for projects is the least of Oman’s concerns, however. Instead, right now we need to focus on attracting value-added partners – those who bring with them market experience, technology and know-how. This, not joint ventures for raising capital, are our focus. Oman has been an attractive place for local, regional and international investors. They are looking for where to invest in the sultanate. We need to develop the downstream industries that are beneficial to both Oman and the investor.
As the GCC expands downstream industries, what competitive advantages can Oman use to attract FDI, especially given similar offers by its neighbours?
AL GHASSANI: Competition enhances performance, so we should not fear it. Instead we should be creating synergy among GCC countries. The market is big and the Gulf will continue to be a region that investors look at to lead economic development for the next century or so. Economic, financial and political stability in the GCC has attracted lots of new investment, and we believe there is still plenty left out there.
As a unit, the Gulf collectively offers a competitive advantage. By creating synergy among the GCC countries, we allow ourselves to better develop our individual competitive advantages. Each country in the Gulf is unique and offers its own strengths. Oman, for instance, provides political stability, a strategic location and a hard-working, reliable workforce. These are areas the sultanate must continue to use as leverage. Current developments in Sohar, Duqm and Salalah will also assist in this: they will create new hubs for future investors, in upstream and downstream industries alike.
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