MUSCAT, JAN 10 – Great leaders are forged in the furnace of adversity, crisis and challenge, and measured by their ability to respond to all the three. Late His Majesty Sultan Qaboos had weathered political and social storms, mainly of local and regional concern, to build a vibrant, modern and progressive nation. Today, His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik is facing unprecedented challenges, a hydra with two extraordinarily malevolent heads in the form of the coronavirus pandemic and a globally weak oil market.
For His Majesty the Sultan, however, these are global challenges, and every move is monitored and critiqued by an international media seeking to divert attention from their own woes. One year, you may say, is too short a time to judge a ruler. However, rebutting such opinions, His Majesty the Sultan’s many Royal Decrees, and positive and effective actions during the last 12 months prove that both he and the Sultanate are staying the course, even as unleashing structural reforms to right those imbalances within state governance, commerce and society.
In the Royal Speech on February 23, he said, “Youth are the wealth of a nation, its inexhaustible resource and the hands that build it. They are its present and future. We will always listen to them, and sense their needs, interests and aspirations which will definitely be accorded the attention that they deserve.” The Sultan donated a massive RO 10 million as seed money for the fund, in a truly noble gesture since the Omani population is one of the youngest in the world: As an extraordinary 46 per cent of its citizens are under the age of 19. He promised a Youth Job Security Fund after assuming power, and he has followed through and delivered on that promise.
His Majesty is implementing people-centric policies through a more participatory decision-making process. His recent meetings with shaikhs of wilayats in the Governorate of Dhofar is just the first step in creating a direct dialogue between the leader and his people. This opportunity to listen to their views about ways to improve social services and enhance the effectiveness of government responsiveness is the key to compassionate and responsive governance.
In response to the initial threat of coronavirus, His Majesty the Sultan set up a Supreme Committee with wide-ranging powers and authority, though he regularly chairs the meetings offering his support and guidance. His government has spared no effort in addressing the Sultanate’s needs in response to the demands of the pandemic with the primary objective of safeguarding the health of all citizens and residents.
Consequently, the Sultanate appears to be managing the spread of coronavirus effectively, with the lowest numbers of deaths and infections within the region. The pandemic has been controlled by a combination of effective travel bans, lockdowns, effective social distancing, mandatory masks and hygiene measures that have proven extremely effective.
In December 2020, the Ministry of Health approved Pfizer and BioNTech vaccines as the Sultanate’s immunization partners in the fight against COVID-19. Dr Ahmed Mohammed al Saeedi, Minister of Health, launched the National Campaign for Immunization against COVID-19 under the theme of ‘Immunization Is a Prevention’ by taking the first jab. To date 7,500 frontline workers and seniors have been vaccinated, with priority treatment for those most at risk.
The pandemic has tested the resilience of the nation’s diversification and investment strategies, but it has also highlighted the robustness of its society and led us to appreciate the strength of what is undoubtedly becoming one of its most important assets – its entrepreneurial and innovative young talent.
According to Azzan al Busaidi, Chief Executive Officer, ITHRAA, Oman’s long-standing investment in, promotion of, and support for, entrepreneurship, and its focus on creating a tech-savvy society looks to be paying dividends during the pandemic as Oman’s entrepreneurs generate and implement diverse ideas and processes to both combat the virus and invigorate the economy.
In February, Oman’s Industrial Innovation Centre rallied innovative tech start-ups and SMEs to form a team which produced ventillators and manufactured 3D produced facemasks, now deployed across the country. The youthful talent at Oman Maker’s Centre, based in Innovation Park Muscat, has developed a digital artificial respiration device that simulates a commonly used ventilation system. Tested and subjected to rigorous quality checks, the device has already been approved for use in hospitals nationwide. Meanwhile, serial entrepreneur Raif al Harthy’s digital platform Wareed provides a home delivery service for prescription medicine to the elderly, the infirm and other service users.
In March 2020, The Research Council Oman set up a COVID-19 research programme with a clinical and public health scope to cover areas including telemedicine, therapeutics and diagnostics, and the environmental impacts of the virus. All funded projects are planned to be executed over the next three to 12 months with growing confidence in applied and practical outcomes. To-date, the programme has received 442 research proposals, 103 in the clinical category, and 339 in the non-clinical spectrum.
The Oman Technology Fund (OTF) has allocated $2.6 million to support those start-ups developing ideas for short and long-term pandemic-related projects. One such start-up is Behar. Based in the coastal town of Barka, this young company has created Behar market to help local fishermen in overcoming the challenge of closed markets and reconnecting them with their customers.
His Majesty the Sultan has placed the welfare of his population ahead of all other considerations. His government has introduced several initiatives to assist small businesses, supported scores of citizens who have lost jobs, and offered interest-free loans for entrepreneurs whose businesses were upended by COVID-19.
Half a century ago Oman had 10 kilometres of paved roads, one hospital and no secondary schools. Today, the Sultanate has national highways ranked among the best in the world. It has four international airports and three major seaports. Nearly 90 per cent of Oman’s population has access to mobile broadband and a burgeoning system of government cloud services. This country of 4.6 million is also home to over 55 universities, colleges and training institutes.
His Majesty the Sultan’s launch of Oman Future Vision 2040 moves to consolidate the gains and objectives of the Renaissance and to unlock the economic potential of the Sultanate.
“All those who have had the privilege of participating in the making of Oman 2040 will now join hands to realise its directions and goals, into a future bursting with ambitions, where everyone has a role to play. Towards that future we shall move forward sure footedly, hastily and with confidence’’, His Majesty the Sultan said in Oman Future Vision 2040.
“Oman Vision 2040 is the Sultanate’s gateway to overcome challenges, keeping pace with regional and global changes, generating and seizing opportunities to foster economic competitiveness and social well-being, stimulate growth and build confidence in all economic, social and developmental relations nationwide.”
His Majesty is stamping his seal on the throne and the Sultanate, responding effectively to adversity, calmly to crises, vigorously to challenges, covetous of the compassion and concern he has for those who look to him for protection, advice, and guidance, a man destined to rule with the wisdom of myth and magic, the love of a Sultan for his people.