Expanded meeting between Council of Ministers, Shura Council in Sultanate of Oman to coordinate cooperation

One billion Omani rials spending to improve citizens’ welfare, speed up social development measures

Ceremony to distribute Sultan cups for monthly agriculture contests

The Council of Ministers and Shura Council held a coordination meeting at the Council of Ministers office in Muscat following His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said’s Royal Directives to improve the cooperation between various institutions of the state.

HH Sayyid Fahd Bin Mahmoud Al Said, Deputy Prime Minister for the Council of Ministers, HE Sheikh Ahmed Bin Mohammed Al Isa’ee, Chairman of Shura Council, members of the Council of Ministers and members of the Shura office attended the meeting.

The meeting discussed all aspects that should be evaluated and developed to push socioeconomic development.

Welcoming the chairman and members of the Council, Fahd said the Sultanate is witnessing comprehensive development under the care of His Majesty, who is very keen to develop the country to meet the needs of each stage of the Blessed Renaissance.

He said the Royal Directives granting legislative and audit powers to the Council of Oman gives everyone a role in Oman’s future and progress.

He stressed the importance of the role being played by the Shura Council in supporting development of the country.

The Chairman of Council hailed the wisdom of His Majesty for all the decisions that will reflect on all citizens. He expressed his and the members’ loyalty to His Majesty and pledged they will support His Majesty and the government in the development march.

He said the Royal Directives to give wider powers to the Council of Oman will give it more responsibilities.

He said the Royal response to the needs of this stage has gone beyond all expectations and the sit-ins staged by some have become unjustified and contradicts legitimate demands and Omani values.

The council members supported the statements of the chairman and hailed the positive steps which reflect His Majesty’s keenness to meet the current and future aspirations to promote all walks of life in the country.

Meanwhile, the government has allocated 1 billion rials in the budget for the welfare measures announced by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said in his Royal Directives recently.

The decision reflects His Majesty’s keenness to improve the standard of living of citizens, speed up social development, and improve skills of Omani workforce to build the national economy, HE Darwish Bin Ismail Al Balushi, Minister Responsible for Financial Affairs, told a press conference.

The budgetary allocation will be used for appointing 40,714 citizens in defense, security and civil ministries at a cost of 444 million rials; payment of 150-rial monthly allowance for 50,000 jobless at a cost of 90 million rials; doubling the monthly pension of social security households and freezing the rule of compulsion at a cost 43 million rials; increasing monthly pension for civilians and military personnel at a cost of 89 million rials; payment of cost of living allowance for employees in military and civil units at a cost of 251 million rials; increasing allocations for students in government colleges, institutes and centers under the Ministries of Higher Education and Manpower at a cost of 10 million rials, raising the fare of school buses rented for transportation of students at a cost of 15 million rials; cost of increasing pension in the private sector at a cost of 25 million rials and support of sports and youth sector, and information sector at a cost of 14 million rials.

In addition to the above mentioned cost, the government will bear the actuarial financial deficits resulting from increase of the retirees’ pensions, he said.

The government will also provide subsidies estimated at 954 million rials this year on food items such as rice, wheat, sugar (37 million rials), electricity and water tariff (390 million rials); vehicles fuel, diesel fuel and cooking gas (500 million rials); interests on housing and developmental loans (24 million rials) and agricultural and fisheries requisites (3 million rials).

Due to these outgo, it is expected that public expenditure will rise by 9.1 billion rials this year compared to the approved expenditure estimate of 8.1 billion rials in budget for 2011.

The budget deficit will increase to 1.9 billion rials against the estimated deficit of 850 million rials.

This increase, which is 12 per cent above the approved limit, will stimulate business and service activities and lead to higher growth, Balushi said.

Although the deficit is considered high in terms of absolute value, its size as a percentage to GDP does not exceed 9.5 per cent.

The deficit is based on oil revenues estimated in the budget at an oil price of $58 per barrel. Oil revenues form about 81 per cent of the total revenues of this year.

The price of the Omani oil currently exceeds the assumed price in the budget, where it is expected to realize between $75-80 this year, and this will enable the covering of the deficit, he said.

The Sultanate’s low debt level, not exceeding 6 per cent of the GDP, is considered one of the lowest in the world. This supports the strong financial status of the banks and their ability to provide credit and banking facilities.

The economy is expected to achieve a 5 per cent growth this year, he said.

The government gives special attention to the development of the free zones and industrial estates, particularly the industrial estate at Duqum and has earmarked 1.6 billion rials for development works at Duqum.

This includes a commercial port, dry dock, international airport, fishing port and industries related to fisheries.

The investment projects planned to be implemented at Duqum include an oil refinery and petrochemical complex, facility for building ships and sea going vessels, facilities for bunkering and fuel storage, construction of two tourist hotels, 4-star hotel with 220 rooms and one 3-star hotel with 110 rooms, which will be ready by end of the year.

The Sultanate’s daily oil production this year has witnessed 27 per cent rise at 900,000 barrel per day from 710,000 BPD in 2007.

Development projects in the current Five-Year Development Plan (2011-2015) are worth 12 billion rials.

Of which, 6.4 billion rials are for ongoing projects of the previous plan. The cost of the new projects during the plan period according to the approved program is about 5.6 billion rials.

In addition this, the plan includes the funding of government companies’ investment projects at a cost of about 8.8 billion rials, such as, the investment expenditure for oil and gas production, wastewater projects and funding of the projects of Oman Tourism Development Company.

The total budget approved expenditure for all items during the plan years is about 43 billion rials.

The government adopts policies that aim to award the private sector the prime role in the development process and to encourage domestic and foreign investment.

This assists in raising the investment levels and rates, Balushi said.

The total domestic investment during the Seventh Plan increased to about 21 billion rials compared to the planned total investment estimated at about 14 billion rials.

Foreign direct investment increased from 929 million rials in 2003 to 5 billion rials in 2009.

The Sultanate, in its pursuit of sustainability of development, depends on diversification of revenue sources.

The government has exerted tangible efforts during the previous development plans to speed up the pace of diversification of revenue sources through development of non-oil activities, such as, industry, tourism, services and provision of infrastructure.

Thanks to these efforts, the share of non-oil activities in GDP at current prices is now at 54 per cent and oil activities 46 per cent.

Balushi told Oman Tribune, that the government is planning to raise Oman Housing Bank (OHB) loan disbursals to 50 million rials this year from 40 millions in the last year.

This would reduce the waiting time for loans to six months from present one and half years.

The bank has provided 600 million rials as loans to citizens till the end of 2010 and helped in construction of 35,000 housing units, 75 per cent of this was given to families with limited income.

The bank is of the most important pillars of development established by the government to contribute to the construction boom.

On the other hand, the distribution of His Majesty’s Cups and honoring the winning wilayats in the Agriculture Months Competition for 2009 was celebrated in the Wilayat of Ibra.

It was held under the auspices of HE Sheikh Abdullah Bin Salim Al Rowas, Minister of Regional Municipalities and Water Resources, in the presence of a number of ministers, undersecretaries, walis of the winning wilayats and Al Sharqiyah region’s walis, sheikhs, dignitaries and citizens.

Later, the winning wilayats were honored. In the livestock sector, the Wilayat of Ibra won the first place, Wilayat of Seeb won second place, Wilayat of Liwa came third, Wilayat of Nizwa came fourth, wilayats of Taqah and Wadi Al Mawelah came fifth.

In the agricultural sector, Wilayat of Al Suwaiq came first, Wilayat of Al Kamil Wa Al Wafi came second, Wilayat of Sumail came third, Wilayat of Shinas came fourth and Wilayat of Yanqul came fifth.

The Agriculture Months 2009 was held under the motto ‘towards sustainable agricultural and livestock development.’

The ceremony included a festival titled ‘joy of winning,’ which comprised nine tableaus that touched on the Royal contents and directives on the date palm titled ‘palm tableau.’

HE Sheikh Ali Bin Nassir Al Mahrouqi, Wali of Ibra and General Supervisor of the festival, said the competition was a major event and a great honor for Ibra for hosting this ceremony.

Later, the wining wilayats were honored. In the livestock sector, Wilayat of Ibra won the first place, Wilayat of Seeb won the second place, Wilayat of Liwa came third, Wilayat of Nizwa came fourth, wilayats of Taqah and Wadi Al Mawelah came fifth.

In the agricultural sector, Wilayat of Al Suwaiq came first, Wilayat of Al Kamil Wa Al Wafi came second, Wilayat of Sumail came third, Wilayat of Shinas came fourth and Wilayat of Yanqul came fifth.