Muscat: Senior government representatives agreed at the Oman Debate 2012 that transparency and accountability are the key factors that will take the country into the future.
No-holds-barred discussions and heated exchanges about how the Sultanate is gearing up for the future marked the fourth edition of the national forum held yesterday at Oman Auditorium, Al Bustan Palace Ritz Carlton Hotel.
Organised by Oman Economic Review (OER) and hosted by renowned television host Tim Sebastian, the founder and chairman of 'The Doha Debates' and former BBC Hard Talk presenter, the debate brought together key government representatives, private sector leaders and the public to hold animated talks on the most pressing issues facing the country such as job creation, ease of doing business in the country and the need for a more robust private-public partnership.
Divided into two sessions titled 'Is Oman Future Ready?' and 'Freezones and Industrial Areas: Powerhouses of tomorrow — opportunities and challenges', the debate featured a panel of speakers from the government, the Majlis Al Shura and the private sector to represent a cross section of opinions.
The strategic partners for Oman Debate 2012 were ahlibank, Galfar and Nawras while Octal was the associate partner. The support partners were Al Habib, Port of Salalah, Sharq Sohar Steel and Muriya Tourism Development. The media partners of the event were Times of Oman and Al Shabiba newspapers, while Mazoon Printing was the print partner and Infoline the official call centre. Travel City and Travel Point was the travel partner.
Setting the tone for a day of thought-provoking debates and deliberations, Ali bin Masoud Al Sunaidi, minister of Commerce and Industry, who delivered the keynote address, called for more collective efforts and meaningful collaboration to increase the efficiency, productivity and capacity building. He also said that the government is ready to take follow-up action on key issues raised at the Oman Debate. "We have more challenges today than ever. At a time when unemployment is rising and resources are depleting all over the world, collaborations is much more meaningful than competition."
The minister highlighted the importance for having more collective efforts between the private and public sector as the country is heading for a great future with massive development projects coming up in Sohar, Duqm and Salalah. While government spending in areas of infrastructure service is expected to grow during the sixth Five-Year Plan, the next five-year plan will focus more on human resources development and expanding production base. He added that training and education are both vital for the current stage of Oman's development.
Manal Abdwani, director-general at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, who was one of the panellists in the first session, agreed that the government needs to take more action to ensure that people's aspirations are taken into account and turned into immediate action plans. She stated that Oman which has sustained on an average growth of 6 per cent in the past is expected to post a growth rate of 7 per cent in the coming years. "We are expecting to generate 8,000 more jobs in the oil and gas sector this year," she added.
Tawfiq Al Lawati, member, Majlis Al Shura and the Economic Committee of Majlis Al Shura, stressed the importance of listening to and implementing the requirements of people. He also called for more freedom of expression in the country. "Listening to people is not the end, but a means; we need to translate them into action. We also need to ensure that megaprojects invested by the government must benefit the citizens. Bringing expats is not an option, we have to survive with Omanis," he said.
Abdulaziz Al Balushi, chief executive of ahlibank, said there must be more positive and constructive criticism instead of promoting negative criticism. Stephen Thomas, chief executive of Renaissance Services, said future economic prosperity of the country depends on how many Omanis are in work and how productive they are. Ahmed Al Wahaibi, chief executive, Omanoil Company, said more Omanis are getting qualified enough to take up new jobs. "However, the fact that we have more expats in Oman means that they have trust in our country," he added.
The second session of the debate on freezones and industrial areas opined that productivity, value and competitiveness are more important for the growth of Oman's manufacturing sector. The session featured an eminent panel of speakers such as Musab Al Mahrouqi, chief executive of Orpic; Henk Pauw, chief executive of Sohar Aluminium; Marcos Beluco, chief executive of Vale Oman; Peter Ford, chief executive of Port of Salalah and Nicholas Barakat, chief executive of Octal.
Towards the end of the debate, Oman's top 20 companies for 2011, based on OER's listing of the 20 largest companies on the Muscat Securities Market, were felicitated. The listing has established itself as an authoritative way of looking at companies in Oman over the last nine years.