Upon directives by Sultan Qaboos, Oman symposium tackles development in jurisprudence, cultural crisis suffered by nation

Global investment forum in Muscat deals with ways to enhance trade

Oman’s gas reserves to hit 19 trillion cubic feet by 2015

Oman Air capital increased to 500,000 rials

The ninth forum on the evolution of Islamic jurisprudence (Fiqh) in the Sultanate, organized by the Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs, was concluded on Monday at Grand Hyatt Hotel.

The symposium, which focused on exploring new avenues of structural jurisprudence and cultural jurisprudence, brought out at its final session several recommendations aimed at promoting further researches and experimental studies on the topics.

The conference in which 44 jurisprudential scholars representing various Arab countries in addition to Russia, Iran and Turkey presented around 50 working papers which reflected the evolution and diversity of jurisprudential researches and legislation in Islamic societies across the world.

The working papers presented on the second day of the symposium focused mainly on the importance of environment and human rights in Islamic jurisprudence.

Dr. Ali Bin Hilal Abri, scholar from Sultan Qaboos University (SQU), said such conferences would boost the spirit of independent research and scholarly analysis.

Dr. Ismail Bin Saleh Al Aghbari, expert of moral guidance at the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs, said the annual Fiqh conferences had played a great role in cultivating a penchant for deep jurisprudential studies and analysis among the scholars in the country.

Abdullah Bin Hamoud Al Azzi from Yemen said the symposium had become a platform to understand and study contemporary problems in the light of Islamic jurisprudence.

Grand Mufti of Bosnia and Herzegovina Dr. Mustafa Tsirich presented a working paper titled ‘Provision of Islamic Sharia and Conservation of Nature.’

Dr. Asamuddin Mustafa of Islamonline website, Abdullah Mohammed Fad’aq, Aflaj Bin Ahmed Al Khalili, Burhan Kor, Sheikh Ali Abdul Baqi, Dr. Abdussalm Al Wajih and Nasser Bin Khalfan Al Badi also presented papers on the second day of the conference.

Meanwhile, the Sultanate’s economy grew from 7.5 billion rials in 2000 to 18.5 billion rials in 2009, thanks to the government’s initiatives to boost tourism and encourage the private sector, said National Economy Minister and Deputy Chairman of the Financial Affairs and Energy Resources Council HE Ahmed Bin Abdulnabi Macki.

The minister was addressing the Oman Global Investment Forum, which began at Barr-Al Jissa Shangri-La Resort, on Tuesday.

The two-day event is being organized by Institutional Investor Conferences in collaboration with Oman International Development and Investment Company.

Commerce and Industry Minister HE Maqbool Bin Ali Bin Sultan, who also attended the event, said the Sultanate’s economic policy was based on market forces with an emphasis on the role of private sector as a generator of prosperity and employment. He affirmed that the law of the nation provides solid assurance that freedom to conduct business was the foundation of prosperity and that private property enjoyed full protection under the law.

Macki said the government’s economic initiatives have been broadly based on the diversification of the economy through the development of new industries and tourism. As a result, the value of industrial sector has increased by more than five times between 2000 to 2008 to about 3.9 billion rials.

He added that though oil remains the major source of revenue, manufacturing, tourism and other sectors are developing rapidly. Another major focus has been the development of the nation’s infrastructure. A new port is being built at A’Duqm and the ports of Sohar and Salalah have been expanded.

In addition, to the expansion of the Muscat and Salalah international airports, new airports are being built at Sohar, Ras Al Hadd and A’Duqm, he pointed out.

During the period 2000 to 2008, government investment has increased by four times, to some 2.2 billion rials. Between 2000 and 2008, total government expenditure increased by 2.8 times to approximately 7.6 billion rials. This increase has been kept broadly in-line with rising revenue and net borrowing has been modest.

In recent years the government has maintained tight control on public debt and has reduced debt from 34 per cent of gross domestic product in 1999 to 5.6 per cent in 2009, he added.

In 2009, Oman saw a sharp decline in earnings as the price of crude oil declined from an average of more than $110/pbl in 2008 to approximately $56.70 in 2009. The revenue was supported by an increase of 7 per cent in oil production, but oil revenues were sharply lower. Despite this, Oman’s economy registered a growth of 3.7 per cent at constant prices and a contraction of less than 20 per cent at current prices.

Based on the projected average price for crude oil of $50pbl, the government is forecasting that in 2010 the economy will grow at a rate of 6.1 per cent at constant prices or 18.4 per cent at current prices.

Maqbool Bin Ali Bin Sultan said the positive attitude towards the private sector was reflected in a number of policies and administrative aspects in areas related to attracting investment in terms of having comprehensive legal framework, developing economic and physical infrastructure, facilities and creating conducive environment to investment and providing the infrastructure needed for e-Oman initiatives.

He pointed out that the recent global financial crisis had adversely affected the developed countries in terms of reduced commodity prices and exports revenues, reduced demand on goods and services, dried up trade finance, decline in the aid for trade and protectionism in some importing countries. He added that according to WTO, there was a 10 per cent decline in world trade in 2009. The foreign direct investments also fell about 20 per cent last year.

The recent International Monetary Fund report of February 2010 lauded the Sultanate for its sound fiscal and monetary policy and its management of the crisis and noted that its impact on the nation remained limited compared to the rest of the countries in the region.

Executive President of the Central Bank of Oman (CBO) HE Hamoud Bin Sangour Al Zadjali pointed out that banking system has evolved over the years with new dynamics brought about by globalization, liberalization and technological innovations.

In the Sultanate, the banking industry has been witnessing significant growth in recent years, mainly due to sustained increase in oil prices, efforts to diversify the economy, implementation of large industrial, real estate and infrastructure projects and growing emphasis on private sector.

Total assets of the commercial banks, which were 4.9 billion rials at the end of 2004, rose to 14.2 billion rials at the end of 2009, indicating an annual average growth of about 38 per cent during the last five years.

Chief Executive Officer of the Capital Market Authority (CMA) HE Yahya Bin Said Al Jabri affirmed that the global financial crisis didn’t have a major impact on the Sultanate as the facts show that the Sultanate has a strong economy. He pointed out that MSM index increased by 17 per cent in 2009.

Chairman of the Board of Directors of Oman International Development and Investment Company Hani Bin Mohammed Al Zubair said the efforts of the government have created an environment which helps the growth of the business sector. He added that the economic forecast for 2010 is very promising.

Meanwhile, Oman plans to increase gas production by nearly 44 percent by 2015, the country’s oil and gas minister said on Wednesday.

"Average output stood at 85 million cubic meters per day (three billion cubic feet per day) in 2009 and is expected to reach 122 million cubic meters in 2015." Oman Tribune newspaper quoted oil minister Mohammed Al-Rumhy on Wednesday as saying.

Proven gas reserves in the Sultanate stand at 13.14 trillion cubic feet, but the potential was much higher at 18.66 trillion cubic feet, the Tribune reported Al-Rumhy as saying.

The cost of extracting gas in 2009 rose to 0.73 US dollars for every 1,000 cubic feet compared to $0.27 for each 1,000 cubic feet in 2000, the minister said.

In related news, oil quickly slid two US dollars a barrel to under $80 on Wednesday after US energy department data confirmed a rise in crude stocks that surpassed expectations, but gasoline demand figures helped stem the price decline.

US crude oil futures for May touched a low of $79.88 a barrel and by 1445 GMT were trading down $1.28 at $80.63. Crude futures have traded between $69 and $84 so far this year.

London ICE Brent for May was down $1.13 at $79.57 after earlier dipping to a low of $78.90.

US crude stockpiles jumped 7.3 million barrels in the week ended March 19, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said, broadly confirming a 7.5 million barrel build reported by the American Petroleum Institute (API) on Tuesday.

"The EIA data essentially mirrors that of API, with gasoline being the exception. Larger-than-expected builds in crude oil reduced prices, not to ashes, but to $80," said Jay Levine of Enerjay LLC, based in Portland, Maine.

Brad Samples at Summit Energy said the build mostly came from imports and refineries could process more oil as the US driving season got underway.

"The big build all comes from imports, which rose to their highest level since September, 2009," he said.

"Refinery utilization rates have been rising along with import levels, and the rise will probably continue as we head toward the (US) driving season. We’ve been eating away at gasoline stocks," he added.

The EIA said gasoline stocks fell 2.7 million barrels in the week ending March 19, more than the 1.3 million forecast in a Reuters poll of analysts.

Supplies of distillates including heating oil and diesel fell 2.5 million barrels while gasoline stocks were little changed. On the other hand, State run Oman Air has raised its capital by 67 percent to $1.3 billion and plans to add new destinations, while its CEO said 2010 was expected to be a difficult year for the airline and the whole industry.

In a statement issued on Saturday, Peter Hill, CEO, said: "Looking forward to 2010, I am under no illusion that this again will be yet another tough year for the aviation industry worldwide, and for Oman Air in particular."

Oman Air hiked its capital to $1.3 billion from $779.2 million and will fly to eight new destinations this year, the statement quoted Ahmad bin Abdul Nabi Mekki, the Gulf Arab sultanate's economy minister, as saying.