In recent years, we have spoken of the need to invest in a modern and efficient infrastructure throughout all the sectors of our land, and we are now regularly seeing the fruits of those labours. Better communications, whether by land or sea or air, more advanced technology, further development of our energy resources from which we fund our infrastructure needs, and important services like education and health are helping to improve the lives of our citizens and the expatriate workers whom we welcome into our homeland.
The government will spend $56bn on projects up to 2017 and the same amount in the following five years on improvements to the resources and wellbeing of our country and its people. A big part of this will be laying down 2244 km of railway tracks to enable connections among our industrial centres, and also a link with the planned GCC rail system and the world beyond. This is no long-distant dream but a reality that will begin construction in 2014 and be complete four years later.
Though our citizens will immediately benefit from enhancements to road, rail, port, technology, extraction of energy – the source of our ability to build a modern state – and health and education services, there are also longer-term gains. While large foreign contractors will be using their experience to improve our infrastructure, some will simultaneously be working with local construction companies, imparting their skills and knowledge as well as providing employment.
As education is the basis of development, we have worked hard to assure the quality of output from educational establishments and introduced enhanced curricula and training programmes. Young people are our future and we are paying greater attention than ever to gearing education towards the needs of the labour market. The natural progression is to give practical help to our aspiring entrepreneurs to set up their own businesses, using the skills they have learned and the knowledge they have acquired. This too is happening. In past years there have been various sources to support Omani youth in setting up businesses. The main one is the Sanad programme, which has been successful, but there are other resources in different government departments. These will be combined under the Al Rafd fund, which will assist young men and women with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The fund’s initial OR70m ($180m) will be increased by OR7m ($18m) every year.
The SME Development Symposium at Saih Al Shamekhat produced 14 binding decisions, not just recommendations for time-consuming debate. Some will be adopted immediately. Among the most significant was a decision to allocate land to entrepreneurs, whether for industrial, commercial or agricultural use. This will aid our young men and women on the road to self-sufficiency, success and social responsibility.
SMEs the world over are the prime source of job creation and some of these new ventures will grow into big enterprises. The first step is often the hardest and, with God’s assistance, our helping hand will ease the taking of that first step for our young people. Their energies and their creative spirit will be given the opportunity to blossom and build solid enterprises to benefit their fellow citizens, their families and themselves.
None of this runs counter to our regard for expatriates and the role they have played in building our infrastructure and helping our businesses to thrive. We need them. However, we created a reasonable ratio of expatriates and the figure we considered was always 30-33% of the population. The current ratio is higher than that, but this is understandable in view of the scale of infrastructure projects. Inshallah, Omani manpower will be present in all professions and projects. The government and the Council of Oman are developing a time frame to return to the statutory expatriate ratio.
We would again like to salute and express our appreciation to all dedicated workers from our Omani sons and daughters, wherever they are and whatever responsibilities they bear, and to all those who have helped to create a better future for the sultanate and raise its status to new heights, while protecting its gains and safeguarding its achievements, security and stability.
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