OMANI marks 50th National Day, celebrating a renewed renaissance under a new Sultan
(See Translation in Arabic section)
On November 18, the Sultanate held its 50th National Day anniversary as Omani citizens continue to make more achievements under the wise leadership of His Majesty Sultan Haitham Bin Tarik, who vowed to lift the pace of nation-building, striking a high note in Omani people’s enthusiasm for an ambitious renaissance that covers all spheres of life. Yet, this year’s celebration is impinged by sentiments of sour sorrow for the loss of the father of Omani renaissance, the late Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Bin Taimour, who sculpted an Arabian edifice from scratch, his vigilant eye not missing a flaw. Despite the immense calamity that befell Oman, the Arab world and the Islamic nation upon the death of the late Sultan on January 11 was a virtually unforgettable day in the Omani history. On this day, Omanis depicted a unique national saga of loyalty and devotion when the Sultanate surprised the whole world with a smooth transition of power. In gratitude and tribute to the late Sultan, the Royal Family endorsed, with unwavering certitude, the successor chosen by the late monarch to take the helm, given his proven wisdom and farsightedness, Haitham Bin Tarik as the Sultan of Oman.
HIS Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik restructured his government through 28 royal decrees issued on August 18 marking the most significant government reshuffle in 50 years, removing more than five governmental entities and merging more than 10 ministries
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 late Sultan Qaboos, during his nearly 50 years as head of state, brought immeasurable progress to Oman and reshaped this country into a sparkling oasis of peace and stability. That the Sultanate is today prosperous and secure, is a monument to his decades of singular resolve and sweat.
Immediately after ascending the throne, his successor His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik vowed to uphold the principles of his predecessor. He called for efforts for further development of the country and pledged to continue working towards raising the standard of living of the people.
In a speech on February 23, 2020, His Majesty Sultan Haitham clearly outlined the most important principles and steps that would guide his governance of the country.
The Sultan also pledged to “take the necessary measures to restructure the state’s administrative apparatus” in order to “achieve good governance, performance, integrity and accountability.” He has adopted an approach which delegates more power to other parts of government.
He restructured his government through 28 royal decrees issued on August 18 marking the most significant government reshuffle in 50 years, removing more than five governmental entities and merging more than 10 ministries.
The number of ministries was reduced from 26 to 19. The changes came as part of efforts to address the nation’s looming challenges, including unemployment, fiscal deficit, and maintaining a foreign policy of neutrality amid regional conflicts.
The Sultan’s measures turned the page in other ways as well, reorganising ministries, liquidating many state bodies, and appointing new heads for various government-owned institutions. He also relinquished portfolios of foreign affairs and finance.
His Majesty the Sultan has appointed Sayyid Badr bin Hamad al Busaidy as the Foreign Minister, replacing veteran Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdallah. Sayyid Badr is no stranger to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as he has been working at the ministry for many years, with his most recent post being the Secretary-General of the Ministry.
Royal Decree 94/2020 establishes the Ministry of Economy nine years it was abolished. The new ministry seems in keeping with the government’s commitment to directing its financial resources in the most ideal and sustainable manner to ensure the reduction of sovereign debt and an increase in revenue.
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.
The announcement of the royal decree regarding Oman’s accession to the International Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance is seen as an encouraging sign by experts.
They also view this decree as an indication of more legislative and legal reforms to come. Several regional and international civil society organisations also welcomed Oman’s accession to these conventions, considering it a step towards a greater commitment to human rights.
This was followed by an important step concerning workers’ rights, namely, the abolishment of Article 11 of the Foreigners’ Residence Law.
This legal provision had obliged workers to obtain a no-objection certificate from their employer to move from one job to another within the private sector, which was considered by many international organisations to be a form of human trafficking.
MEETING THE PEOPLE
His Majesty Sultan Haitham met tribal chiefs (shaikhs) in Dhofar Governorate in the Wilayat of Salalah last September. An aura of dialogue prevailed in the meeting in a style reminiscent of the late Sultan’s meet-the-people tradition. His Majesty Sultan Haitham expressed his keenness to meet citizens, study their needs and listen to their proposals for the development of their respective wilayats and their views on how to enhance the role of government departments and their services within the country’s comprehensive development plans.
Apart from the role undertaken by Oman Council, through its bicameral chambers (State Council and Majlis A’Shura), coupled with the role of municipal councils in promoting development, such face-to-face meetings represent a practical application of Omani Shura (consultation) method—which is a value derived from the habits and traditions of Omani society.
His Majesty the Sultan’s attention to the people crystalized in the way he tackled the coronavirus pandemic since its outbreak. His Majesty gave orders to form a Supreme Committee to find scopes to deal with the virus: monitor its spread, follow up regional and international efforts to limit its impacts and to devise solutions in accordance with assessment of general health results.
The Supreme Committee, headed by Sayyid Hamoud bin Faisal al-Busaidi, Minister of Interior, has been on ongoing session and it has embarked on implementing the Royal directives of His Majesty the Sultan, who presided over one of its meeting last March. In the meeting, His Majesty pledged the government’s full support to the Committee. He said that the government “in its mandate to protect the health of citizens and residents and will spare no effort in combating its spread.”
Meanwhile, an Endowment Fund and an “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 RO10 million as a personal contribution to the funds. The Royal gesture reaffirms full collaboration between the leader, the government and members of the public, both citizens and residents, to help eliminate the threat of the virus.
In view of the heavy toll on the global economy from the pandemic that reflected the situation in the Sultanate, His Majesty Sultan Haitham gave orders to form an economic committee, an offshoot of the Supreme Covid-19 Control Committee, to deal with the economic impacts of Covid-19 in the domestic front.
The result was Government’s offering packages and incentives to private sector establishments and firms. The steps included the establishment of an Emergency Loans Program which offers assistance to segments of entrepreneurs whose businesses were most severely stricken by the pandemic.
As soon as he assumed power, in his first national address, His Majesty Sultan Haitham reaffirmed the permanent stands of the Sultanate’s foreign policy, saying that the Sultanate advocates peaceful co-existence among nations, good neighbourliness and non-interference in other countries. His Majesty the Sultan also stressed that he would follow the footsteps of the late Sultan Qaboos Bin Said bin Taimour.
In his speech, His Majesty the Sultan said: “We shall trace the course of the late Sultan, reaffirming the fundamentals of our country’s foreign policy based on peaceful co-existence with nations, good neighbourliness, non-interference in the internal affairs of others, respect for countries’ sovereignty and international co-operation in various spheres.”
In addition, the principles of Omani foreign policy as established in its blessed renaissance espouse dialogue as a means for solving disputes. They also support values of tolerance, justice equality and the settlement of conflicts in accordance with the UN charter and rules of the International Law. This enhanced the Sultanate’s regional and international status and made it a lighthouse of peace and security.
OMAN VISION 2040
The much-awaited Oman Economic Vision, scheduled to be implemented upon the start of the 10th Five Year Plan in January 2021, meets with serious challenges, including the slump in international oil prices and the global spread of COVID-19.
These challenges prompted the government to undertake stringent measures, including a Medium-Term Fiscal Balance Plan (2020-24) with many initiatives and programs to establish solid foundations for financial sustainability, reducing general debt, upgrading the efficiency of government spending, enhancing the State’s financial reserves, improving revenues from investment of government and, thus, set economic growth upright.
The government of the Sultanate, represented by the Ministry of Finance, also cut down budgets of government units by 5%, downsizing operational budgets and financial plans of government firms by at least 10% and slashing remunerations of boards of public authorities and establishment and affiliate committees by 50% applying a 5% Value Added Tax by next April (2021). All these measures are expected to supply the budget with a sum of RO 400 million.
The aggregate revenues of the 2020 Budget stood at RO 10.7 billion calculated at a rate of $58 per barrel, while general expenditure was estimated at RO 13.2 billion, which entails estimated deficit of about RO 2.5 billion or 8% of the Gross Domestic Product.
JOB SECURITY LAW
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.
EDUCATION AND RESEARCH SECTOR:
His Majesty Sultan Haitham accorded top priority to the sector of education. He gave directives to provide a supportive environment that enhances learning, research and innovation. The aim is to enable Omani citizens to contribute to the forthcoming stage of development.
The National Strategy for Research and Development has been modernized to keep pace with Oman Vision 2040, notably the development of a cognitive community that is capable of competing and converting knowledge into economic revenue.
The setting up of University of Technology and Applied Sciences last August is testimony to this approach of encouraging research and innovation and benefit from advances of artificial intelligence and the 4th industrial revolution (4IR). For the same purpose the name of Ministry of Higher Education has been changed to Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation.
The recent Royal directives to set up six priority schools in the forthcoming stage to the tune of RO 8.85 million reflect the attention accorded by His Majesty the Sultan to the needs of citizens. It is a gesture that denotes his Royal support to education, being the basic requirement for nation-building.
Since the outset of its blessed renaissance, the Sultanate has implemented a policy of environment protection and pollution prevention. This policy comes within the framework of a comprehensive strategy for sustainable development, conservation of wildlife and preservation of renewable resources.
The government supported this approach by encouraging environment research, exchanging expertise, gathering information, spreading public awareness and instilling basic values and principles that support the goals of sustainable development.
The Environment Authority undertakes the mission of issuing laws deemed necessary for the protection of natural reserves, marine ecosystems and biological diversity. It also introduces the principle of environmental management as a means of raising the capacity of development projects. This is in addition to environment inspection tasks that seek to monitor the situation, assess any negative impacts to the environment and undertake necessary action.
The Environment Authority also seeks to reaffirm the principle of setting balance between development requirements and maintaining environment safety.
The government takes keen interest in analysing impacts of projects on the environment. This applies to all sorts of industrial, service and infrastructure projects. Regular programs for monitoring, detection and inspection have been conducted right after the operation of projects, so that field feedback on the environmental situation around the site could be received and negative impacts addressed immediately.
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION.
The renewed renaissance led by His Majesty the Sultan accords importance to the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Basic Law of the State’s Article (29).
The article provides that the law secures to the individuals of society the freedom of expression either through speaking, writing or other means within the boundaries of the law. This has been reaffirmed by His Majesty the Sultan, who said that the State is founded on grounds of freedom of speech, justice and equality of opportunities where people’s dignity, rights and liberties are preserved.
One of the bright aspects of renewed Omani renaissance under the leadership of His Majesty Sultan Haitham Bin Tarik is the Royal attention accorded to Omani women. The vital role of women in nation-building has been highly recognised. His Majesty the Sultan said, “We all have to ensure that women get their full rights guaranteed by law, including their right to work side by side with men across all sectors to serve their country and society.”
Last month, His Majesty the Sultan conferred the Order of Royal Commendation on a number of Omani women. The Order was presented by Honourable Lady, the Spouse of His Majesty the Sultan, at a ceremony at Al Baraka Palace on 17 October 2020.
His Majesty the Sultan described youth as “the inexhaustible wealth of nations…its hands that build.” He voiced his sincere desire to listen to youth, explore their interests, address their concerns and achieve their aspirations.” The celebration of Omani Youth Day on October 26 came as reaffirmation of the Sultanate government’s commitment towards this segment of society and its determination to provide them with all means that facilitate their march forward as they contribute to their country’s progress.
HH Sayyid Theyazin bin Haitham al-Said, Minister of Culture, Sports and Youth, gave a speech at the event, saying, “Omani youth have shown that they are highly capable of shouldering their national responsibility. This confidence stems from their full awareness about their cause and how to serve by it espousing means of advancement, coupled with clear vision and firm resolve to participate in the rejuvenating renaissance of Oman. They are open to the culture of co-existence, love and peace.”