Viewpoint: Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani
Qatar has moved forward with confident strides, implementing national development programmes as planned. In 2018 the country’s GDP grew by about 15%, while non-hydrocarbon GDP increased by around 9%. The government has sought to restore balance to the state budget, cutting public expenditure without affecting priority projects.
In my 2017 address before the Shura Council in the aftermath of the unjust blockade imposed on us, I stated that it would strengthen our resolve and push us forward to deal in a better way with the new circumstances that ensued, which is what actually happened. I will therefore focus on the initiatives, projects and policies we have adopted. These show that we have overcome the negative impacts of the blockade and that we are steadily moving towards the goals set by the Qatar National Vision 2030.
In preparing the second national development strategy, we benefitted from experience gained from the first one, while taking into consideration new regional circumstances and significant changes in the energy market caused by the discovery of shale oil and gas. Reports indicate significant progress in economic diversification, encouraging the private sector, increasing the production capacity of power generation plants, and establishing an advanced agricultural and livestock and fish production system. The progress made has been notable, but we have much still to do in the areas of diversification, food and medicine security, renewable energy, revitalisation of the private sector, and cutting red tape hindering progress.
As for the legislative tools needed to achieve reforms, the new Foreign Investment Law was promulgated in early 2019 to reorganise foreign investment by providing facilities and incentives. At the same time, a law supporting the competitiveness of national products was also issued, followed in October 2019 by a decree law regulating and managing the strategic stock of food and consumer goods. The latter aims to protect national production while at the same time controlling and improving its quality.
As a result of our efforts to cut expenditure and increase efficiency, the big budget deficit in 2017 was turned into a surplus. Although spending was reduced, the general state budget has continued to focus on priority sectors, including education, health and infrastructure. We have been able to restore state reserves to levels higher than those seen in pre-blockade times. The Qatari riyal’s value and stability was also preserved despite the various challenges it faced, while Qatar managed to maintain a robust credit rating from international rating agencies. Meanwhile, we have fulfilled our commitments with regard to combatting money laundering and terrorism financing, with a new law addressing this issued in September 2019.
The years 2018 and 2019 have witnessed a development in the energy sector that will reinforce the strength of Qatar’s economy and the status of Qatar in the international natural gas market. We are on the right track in terms of achieving a qualitative and quantitative leap in liquefied natural gas production and export. Qatar Petroleum has continued to pursue its goal of becoming global by participating in exploration and production projects in 10 countries across Africa, Latin America and Asia, with two of these projects involving Arab countries. Energy will remain a major source of income in Qatar as a resource to finance development projects, and we are committed to preserving the rights of future generations in that aspect. As for the infrastructure, the exerted efforts are clearly visible and the achievements are evident, whether on the level of roads, bridges and tunnels, or on the level of public parks and general landscapes of our towns. The private sector had an essential role in that regard, participating in QR27bn ($7.4bn) worth of projects since 2014. The state will act to increase private sector participation in these projects in the future.
While all these successes are welcome, we cannot achieve full development and make our homeland join the ranks of the developed countries unless we pay greater attention to human development, as it is the pillar of any nation’s progress. Development is not only measured by buildings and facilities, but also by the ability of people to plan, build and maintain them; by the schools that provide them with education; by the universities from which they graduate; and by the quality of education, culture, and the prevailing values and ethics they are taught.
We feel content and happy for the capability that the state has developed in providing services and a decent standard of living. Yet we cannot contribute to human progress if a pattern of entitlement to privileges starts to emerge, bringing with it endless expectations from the state instead of a deep sense of duty from the individual citizen towards society and the homeland. He who does not give, does not appreciate what he obtains. Citizenship involves rights, not privileges. Not only does it involve rights, but also responsibilities and duties; chief among them is the duty to work sincerely and with precision. In a similar way, fellow residents who live with us in Qatar are not here as a result of a favour conferred on them, but by virtue of their work, which is indispensable to us, and through their contribution to the building of this country.
I have previously spoken about the importance we attach to the development of the judicial system, so as to consolidate the independence of the judiciary and the execution of a prompt justice. Significant steps have been taken, such as updating a number of laws pertaining to litigation procedures in order to provide speedy and easy procedures for litigants. I have received reports on the establishment of mechanisms to expedite the enforcement of rulings, particularly those regarding alimonies, debts and labour disputes. All this is not enough, and efforts must be made to modernise operational procedures in the judiciary. Work is under way to increase the number of judges and members of the public prosecution, and to further expand the establishment of specialised courts and of new court premises.
The Gulf region is witnessing accelerated events, with very serious and delicate developments threatening the security and the stability of the region. These circumstances compel us and the international community to further increase our efforts to improve the situation and to adopt dialogue as the most viable way of settling disputes.
Despite the unjust blockade imposed on our country, Qatar has reinforced its status, consolidating its role as an active partner on both the regional and international stages. In our foreign policy we have chosen a strategy based on a balance between firm principles, our security and our economic interests. These elements represent our view of Qatar’s civilisational, geographic and strategic position in this world, as well as of its potential.
We have chosen to assume the role of a dialogue facilitator, offering solutions and peaceful settlement of disputes. We have participated in all international and regional efforts that aim to achieve peaceful coexistence, protect the environment, fight poverty and combat terrorism.
The 74th session of the UN General Assembly was an appropriate occasion to remind the international community of the strategic importance of the Gulf region. It is an area that requires political stability as well as security to prosper. This objective will only be achieved through peaceful means and through making the Middle East, without exception, a weapons of mass destruction-free zone.
The viewpoint was adapted from the opening speech given at the Shura Council’s 48th session in 2019.
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