The past one year, since His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik ascended to the throne, will be remembered in the history as a period marked by reforms aimed bringing in far-reaching economic and social benefits in the Sultanate.
In all his speeches, His Majesty the Sultan vowed to upgrade the march of nation building and enhance the pace of progress, striking a high note in Omani people’s enthusiasm for an ambitious renaissance that covers all spheres of life.
“To reaffirm the attention that we accord to the protection of citizens, we gave directives to establish a Social Security Scheme to ensure that the State honours its duty to provide decent living for citizens and spare them the impacts of measures entailed by financial policies. We will also accord attention to channeling some of the output of financial policies to the Social Security Scheme so that it becomes, God willing, an overarching canopy of social protection”, he said during his address to the nation on the occasion the 50th National Day.
To provide means of decent living for Omani citizens amid adverse global economic conditions, a Job Security System Law has been promulgated by Royal decree. His Majesty the Sultan donated RO 10 million as a personal contribution towards the foundation of the fund.
He also issued directives to speed up the establishment of a comprehensive national Social Security Scheme that provides protection to low-income groups and Social Security Fund beneficiary families against expected impacts of the medium-term Fiscal Balance Plan.
In a series of decrees, he restructured the administration and brought in changes in economic imperatives as part of a decentralisation process.
The royal decrees issued in August reduced the number of the ministries from 26 to 19 and created new ministries including a Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Economy and Ministry of Transport, Communications and Information Technology, in addition to merging and renaming of some ministries as well.
The Sultan also named some elected Majlis Ash’shura members as new ministers, integrating them into his new government. This suggests a sensitivity to public opinion as some of them have been very active in public seminars and on social media.
In his first speech, His Majesty listed the priorities on his agenda, including education, employment, and fiscal plans in alignment with the Oman Vision 2040.
In a remarkable move, a Royal Decree ordered the formation of a new authority named the Oman Investment Authority in June last year. It was established to merge the two existing investment funds of the sultanate – the State General Reserve Fund and the Oman Investment Fund.
Oman Vision 2040 is the foundation of the second Renaissance with its pillars of decentralisation, diversification of sources of national income, attractive economic environment for foreign investment and more job opportunities for young Omanis
The Vision accords priority to the development of sustainable governorates by espousing decentralisation as a style of governance as stated in the Royal Decree, “the State’s Administrative Apparatus consists of central units like ministries and councils and non-central units like authorities and public establishments.”
The Sultan was quick to take action following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. He ordered the formation of a Supreme Committee to tackle the developments arising out of the situation, monitor its spread and take steps to limit its impacts and devise strategies in accordance with survey results.
He told the nation, ‘We have taken all precautions to accommodate these circumstances and alleviate their negative impacts in all sectors of the state, with priority given to health, social and economic sectors. We reiterate our support to these sectors so that health and education services, of all types, could continue to be rendered in the best manner to all citizens of this dear country”.
His Majesty also ordered to form an economic committee to deal with the economic impacts of COVID-19 in the domestic front. Accordingly, a number of decisions were taken and resulted in the Government’s offering packages and incentives to private sector establishments and firms.
The steps included the establishment of an Emergency Loans Programme which offers assistance to segments of entrepreneurs whose businesses were most severely stricken by the pandemic.
An Endowment Fund and Anti-COVID-19 Support Fund were established as prime movers of public support to the Ministry of Health in the battle against coronavirus. His Majesty the Sultan himself donated RO 10 million as a personal contribution to the funds.
In order to tackle the economic challenges arising out of the COVID-19 situation and plunging oil prices the government rolled out several measures including a Medium-Term Fiscal Balance Plan (2020-2024).
With a set of programmes to lay down the foundations for financial sustainability in the sultanate, cut debt and raise efficiency of government spending by prioritising financial action, the plan aims to increase government income from non-oil sectors, bolster the state’s financial reserves and improve revenues from government assets and channelise these revenues in the right course for economic growth and prosperity.
The 10th Five-Year Plan, rolled out in the beginning of 2021, aims to achieve a real GDP growth rate of no less than 3.5 per cent on average and to achieve a growth rate of GDP at current prices of 5.5 per cent on average during the years of the plan.
On the foreign policy front, as soon as he assumed power, in his first nation address, His Majesty the Sultan reaffirmed the permanent stand of the country’s foreign policy, saying that the Sultanate advocates peaceful co-existence among nations, good neighbourliness and non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.