Observer Year-End Special- Business

A chronological listing of key milestones, events and developments of significance to Oman’s business and economic landscape during an eventful year roiled by the devastating effects of a global economic slowdown and made worse by the coronavirus pandemic
(Part 1: Jan–June)

JANUARY
Jan 1: Royal Decree 1/2020 ratifies the 2020 State Budget based on oil price assumption of $58/b with a fiscal deficit projected at around RO 2.5 billion or 8 per cent of GDP.
Jan 1. The National Centre for Employment commences operation with a commitment to train 10,000 young Omanis for employment during 2020-2021
Jan 2. The Initial Public Offering (IPO) of Aman REIF, the Sultanate’s maiden Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT), opens
Jan 3: The UK’s International Hospitals Group secures funding to the tune of £500 million for design and construction of hospitals in Salalah, Al Suwaiq and Khasab under a PPP arrangement with Oman’s Ministry of Health.
Jan 7: A renewable energy development plan unveiled recently by the Oman Power and Water Procurement Company (OPWP) envisions the procurement of 3,050 megawatts (MW) of renewables-based capacity by 2025, representing 16 per cent of total electricity output by this timeframe.
Jan 7: The new Foreign Capital Investment Law comes into force, enabling 100 per cent foreign ownership of Omani businesses, with the exception of a small number of predominantly low-skilled trades and services
Jan 10: Oman is plunged in national mourning following the passing of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos
Jan 11: His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik is sworn in as the new Sultan of Oman during a joint session of the Council of Oman and the Defence Council
Jan 20: A key section of the Al Sharqiyah Expressway, featuring the first-ever road tunnels in the Sultanate, is opened to traffic.
Jan 21: Construction work has commenced on the Barka — Suhar water transmission system, one of Oman’s biggest water transmission projects, valued at RO 82 million.
Jan 27: An agreement is signed for the establishment of a local Omani company that will support the development and commercialisation of hydrogen as a zero-emission energy source as well as feedstock for use in various industrial and petrochemical applications.
Jan 29: The Ministry of Commerce Industry (MoCI) has announced new guidelines for companies responsible for importing building materials, including cement, steel, and dyes, as part of the efforts to ensure the quality of buildings constructed in Oman. The new guidelines will come into effect from February.

FEBRUARY
Feb 2: Construction work on the National Autism Centre – Oman LNG’s “Gift to the Nation” — is now complete. The project has been implemented as part of a strategic partnership with the Ministry of Social Development (MoSD) and Oman Autism Society to help provide autism care to sufferers in the Sultanate.
Feb 2: Travel agencies in the Sultanate have reported a dramatic decline in outbound business travel and inbound leisure holidays stemming from the outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) pandemic.
Feb 9: Rakiza, an infrastructure-focused fund set up by the State General Reserve Fund (SGRF) — the largest sovereign wealth fund of the Sultanate of Oman — is keenly eyeing opportunities to invest in the country’s burgeoning renewable energy space.
Feb 14: Port of Salalah says it has reached a settlement with its insurer for a sum of $67.75 million as damages arising out the destruction and disruption caused by Cyclone Mekunu when it struck the southern part of the Sultanate during May 2018.
Feb 16: In a move that bodes well for efforts to harness Oman’s untapped offshore hydrocarbon potential, the local subsidiary of global energy major Eni has commenced drilling of what is billed as the first deep-water well in the Sultanate’s history.
Feb 18: Under the leadership of the Ministry of Oil and Gas and in collaboration with prominent local and international industries, technology providers, academic institutions and investment organisations – EJAAD is coordinating the efforts to create a national strategy for hydrogen as a promising economic engine.
Feb 23: The Ministry of Technology and Communications (MTC) and Asyad Group sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to leverage ICT in developing the logistics sector in the Sultanate.
Feb 24: Oman LNG has tapped international energy technology firm Baker Hughes and Oman LNG to undertake the EPC for the turbo-machinery scope of its debottlenecking project — an initiative that will lift Oman LNG’s production capacity by 10 per cent to 11.4 million metric tons per annum.
Feb 24: The Sultanate expresses solidarity with countries around the world grappling with the deadly effects of the coronavirus epidemic.
Feb 25: The Ministry of Technology and Communications (MTC), Gulf Business Machines (GBM) and The Research Council (TRC) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to implement the Artificial Intelligence projects within the Smart City Platform, which will be a consortium for AI solutions and knowledge sharing in Oman.
Feb 26: The Ministry of Transport unveils the National Aviation Strategy 2030, aimed at strengthening Oman’s economy through improving the aviation industry in the Sultanate, which will significantly and directly contribute to the gross domestic product.
Feb 26: Public bidding for the first two ‘pre-approved’ mining blocks opens, marking the start of a new, energetic and transparent effort to open up Oman’s promising minerals sector to local and international investment.

MARCH
March 1: His Majesty Sultan Haitham issues 10 Royal Decrees which, among other things, promulgate the Internal Security Service Law, and appoint a new Minister of Heritage and Culture.
March 3. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has announced that visitors from coronavirus-hit countries will not be allowed to enter the Sultanate.
March 3: A contract for the implementation of the health insurance information exchange platform — the centrepiece of the Mandatory Health Insurance System (Dhamani) due to be rolled out in the Sultanate — has been awarded to a consortium led by well-known Omani IT solutions specialist Infoline.
March 4: In a major shot in the arm for Oman’s nascent ambitions to foster the growth of a ‘green hydrogen’ economy in the Sultanate, a Belgium firm and its local partners have unveiled plans to set up a large-scale ‘green hydrogen’ project in the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Duqm.
March 7: Sandan Development celebrates the official opening of Madinat Sandan as the first fully-integrated city for light industries managed by the private sector in the Sultanate.
March 7: Sohar Port and Freezone witnessed considerable growth, seeing an average throughput of over 1 million tonnes of cargo per week over the course of 2019 and bringing in investments of RO 10.4 billion ($27 billion) to-date.
March 11: His Majesty the Sultan orders the setting up of a Supreme Committee to prep the country for all eventualities likely to be unleashed by the pandemic as it sweeps across the globe
March 15: Units of Aman Real Estate Investment Fund — the first Real Estate Investment Fund (REIF / REIT) in the Sultanate — are listed on the MSM
March 15: In cooperation with the Public Establishment for Industrial Estates (Madayn) and Oman Telecommunications Company (Omantel), the Ministry of Technology & Communications (MTC) launches the Knowledge Oasis Muscat Smart City pilot project.
March 16: ASYAD Group announces the integration of Oman Shipping Company (OSC) and Oman Drydock Company (ODC), in alignment with the Group’s strategy to offer integrated and highly efficient services — cementing its competitiveness across global markets and maximising the returns of Oman’s logistics sector.
March 16: The Capital Market Authority (CMA) has instructed all public joint stock companies, auditors and legal advisors to observe COVID-19 preventive measures curb the spread of the disease during their general meetings.
March 17: The State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC), one of the largest public utilities in the world, has completed the 49 per cent equity acquisition of Oman Electricity Transmission Company (OETC) together with seller Nama Group.
March 17: The Competition Protection and Monopoly Prevention Centre (CPMPC) has threatened to invoke a tough new statute against local businesses found exploiting an upsurge in consumer demand for goods linked to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
March 18: The Capital Market Authority has issued circular suspending the general meetings of public joint stock companies and investment funds until further notice.
March 18: The Central Bank of Oman (CBO) has unveiled a raft of policy measures and financial incentives designed to unlock an estimated RO 8 billion in additional liquidity for the benefit of businesses impacted by the economic downturn and the COVID-19 threat.
March 24: A landmark endowment fund dedicated to the financing of healthcare services in the Sultanate has been formally established. The Endowment Fund for Enhancing Health Services, as it is called, will be based on Islamic sharia principles governing the regulation of endowment funds.
March 25: Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI) has approved a contribution of RO 2 million towards the establishment of a Social Responsibility Fund (SRF), which will be utilised to supplement the government’s efforts to mitigate impacts to the private sector from the downturn caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
March 27: In a personal gesture to support the efforts combatting the pandemic, His Majesty the Sultan donates RO 10 million to the Fund established for this purpose.
March 30: Oman’s Ministry of Finance has issued a circular directing all state-owned companies to implement recent Royal directives underlining the need for urgent fiscal measures to alleviate the impact of slumping oil prices on Oman’s finances.

APRIL
April 12: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said that the policies and precautions of the Sultanate of Oman respond well to coronavirus (COVID-19) developments and the current slump in global oil prices.
April 16: The Capital Market Authority (CMA) has issued new rules vide CMA Decision E/25/2020 on convening general meetings of ‘Public Joint Stock Companies and Investment Funds through Electronic Means’.
April 19: As part of the new measures to cut expenditure in the Sultanate, the Ministry of Finance has decided to reduce the 2020 budget spending by RO 500 million.
April 20: The Capital Market Authority (CMA) has announced the resumption of general meetings of joint public stock companies and investment funds via the electronic portal of Muscat Clearing and Depository Company (MCDC), which were suspended in mid-March in line with the guidelines of the Supreme Committee tasked managing the COVID-19 pandemic.
April 21: Oman’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) has introduced a plan to provide telecom services to 500 rural villages at a cost of RO 15 million.
April 28: Leading oil producers in the Sultanate are preparing to slash output during May and June 2020 in line with a pledge by the Opec+ alliance, which includes Oman as a signatory, to cut global production and help shore up record low international oil prices.

MAY:
May 1: Ownership of Manah Power — the first privately procured Independent Power Project (IPP) in Oman and the wider Middle East region at the time — transfers to the Omani government, marking a key milestone in the history of this pioneering venture.
May 3: The Board of Directors of the Public Authority for Privatisation and Partnership (PAPP) held its first meeting of the year, endorsing a strategy for the privatisation of a number of projects, along with the underlying business rationales for privatisation, implementation methodologies, and accompanying timeframes.
May 5: The Ministry of Technology and Communications (MTC) signs a memorandum of understanding with leading telecom solutions provider Huawei to launch a new collaborative effort to develop Oman’s digital society and ICT ecosystem.
May 9: With a view to strengthening the partnership between the public and private sectors (PPP), the Public Authority for Privatisation and Partnership (PAPP) has unveiled a portfolio of 49 initiatives related to the health sector, education, environment, transportation, government services, agriculture and fisheries, for implementation under the PPP model.
May 10: OQ (formerly Oman Oil and Orpic Group) — the Sultanate’s energy powerhouse — has announced the start of the commissioning phase of Liwa Plastics Industries Complex (LPIC), a mammoth petrochemicals project that seeks to optimise value generation from Oman’s hydrocarbon resources.
May 20: The Public Establishment for Industrial Estates (Madayn) signs a memorandum of cooperation with Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) to establish an industrial city within the industrial and logistics complex in Marmul.
May 28: The Sultanate has officially brought into commercial operation its first utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) scheme — a 105 MWac capacity Independent Power Project (IPP) located at Amin in the south of the Block 6 licence of Petroleum Development Oman (PDO).
May 30: Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), the Sultanate’s biggest oil and gas producer, achieved record production of 1.210 million barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe/d) in 2019, bolstered by a strong uptick in condensate output.

JUNE
June 4: A landmark initiative to procure Oman’s first national satellite programme has formally commenced with the government inviting qualified international consultancy firms to bid for a contract to provide financial and technical advisory services linked to the implementation of this strategic project.
June 4: His Majesty the Sultan issued a Royal Decree to establish the Omani Investment Authority
June 7: Oman has agreed to slash crude output by 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) during July in line with an accord reached by global oil producers on Saturday night to extend record production cuts for another month.
June 11: The Opec Fund for International Development has reaffirmed $130 million in funding assistance for the Al Sharqiyah Expressway Tunnels Project — a strategic carriageway that will enhance road connectivity as well as boost the Sultanate’s transport infrastructure.
June 19: An array of Omani agencies spanning the aviation, shipping, logistics, customs and regulatory sectors are working in concert to achieving a trebling of the Sultanate’s airfreight volumes to around 700,000 tons per annum by 2030.
June 29: Oman is opening up opportunities for private sector investment in as many as nine key sectors under the government’s newly unveiled Public Private Partnership (PPP) regulatory framework.
(To be continued next week)

 

CONRAD PRABHU
@conradprabhu