Sultan Qaboos discusses regional developments with Clinton

Omani leader appoints 83 members in the Council of Oman, including 14 women

New amendments introduced to articles in Oman’s Basic Law

His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said gave an audience at Bait Al Barakah on Wednesday morning to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

They reviewed bilateral ties and cooperation and discussed regional and international events.

HE Yousuf Bin Alawi Bin Abdullah, Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs, HE Hanenah Bint Sultan Al Mughiriyah, the Sultanate’s ambassador to US, and HE Richard J. Schmierer, US ambassador to the Sultanate attended the audience.

A key Gulf ally, Oman helped secure since September 2010 the release of three US hikers jailed in Iran, two of them last month, earning gratitude from the United States.

Now Washington is hoping to tap into Oman's influence with the Islamic republic of Iran and share US concerns about Iran's behavior, particularly an alleged Iranian plot to murder the Saudi ambassador to Washington.

"We would expect that Omanis would use their relationship with Iran, as they have in the past, to help the Iranians understand the implications of what they're doing," a US State Department official said.

He told reporters on the flight to Muscat that Clinton would also discuss with Sultan Qaboos the brutal violence in Syria and Yemen, where authoritarian regimes are using deadly force against pro-democracy protesters.

She will also formally thank the ruler of the tiny Gulf sultanate for helping secure the release last month of US hikers Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, who were jailed in Iran after being arrested near the Iraq border.

Bauer and Fattal were arrested along with a third hiker, Bauer's fiancée Sarah Shourd, near the mountainous border with Iraq on July 31, 2009.

All three have consistently maintained they innocently strayed into Iran while hiking in northern Iraq's Kurdistan region.

Oman helped secure the release of all three US hikers, and paid their bail -- $500,000 for Shourd and $400,000 for each of the other two -- according to their Iranian lawyer.

President Barack Obama on Friday thanked Oman's Sultan Qaboos for his role in pushing Iran to free the US hikers.

Iranian officials and leaders have fiercely denied any involvement in the alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, calling it an attempt by Washington to divert attention from domestic economic woes and foreign policy failures in the Middle East.

On Monday the US State Department said Iran should extradite or prosecute the high-ranking Revolutionary Guard official accused of plotting to murder the Saudi envoy.

Oman, which maintains close ties with Shiite Iran, is member of the Sunni-majority six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council which includes oil kingpin Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile Omani state news agency reported that Clinton and Qaboos met to discuss "regional developments... and mutual cooperation," but gave no further details.

The State Department official speaking to reporters on Clinton's plane said the secretary of state was expected to follow up on talks she had with Qaboos in January about reforms as well as development and education.

Omanis voted on Saturday to elect their purely consultative Majlis Al-Shura council, which Sultan Qaboos has pledged to vest with new authorities in response to unprecedented social unrest.

Clinton arrived in Oman after paying brief visits to Malta as well as Libya, where she sought to promote the democratic transition pledged by the opposition who overthrew Muammar Gaddafi in August.

Meanwhile, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said has issued Royal Decree No. 99/2011 amending some provisions of the Basic Law of the State.

We, Qaboos Bin Said, Sultan of Oman, stemming from our belief in the importance of developing the Shura march in the country to serve the interests of the homeland and citizens and in confirmation of the importance of the participation of all individuals of society in the comprehensive development march in line with the requirements of the prospective development … and having pursued the Basic Law of the State issued by the Royal Decree No. 101/96.

And based on the public interest, decreed the following;

Article One: The attached amendments shall be introduced to the Basic Law of the State.

Article Two: Cancels all that contravenes with the decree or its attached amendments or contradicts with their provisions.

Article Three: The decree comes into force from the day following its date of publishing.

First: Replacing the Article Number 6 of the Basic Statute of the State with the following:

Article (6). The Ruling Family Council shall within three days of the throne falling vacant determine the successor to the throne. If the Ruling Family Council does not agree on the choice of the successor to the throne, the Defense Council together with chairmen of State Council, Shura Council, Supreme Court and two of its oldest deputies, shall confirm the appointment of the person designated by His Majesty in his letter to the Ruling Family Council.

Second: A new paragraph is added to Article Number 42 of the Basic Statute of the State, and it will take ‘sixth’ order among the other paragraphs of the article as follows: Establishing and regulating the units of the state administrative system and canceling it.

Third: Replacing the fourth paragraph of Article 44 from the Basic Statute of the State with the following.

Discussing development plans prepared by competent authorities after it is reviewed by the Council of Oman, submit the same to His Majesty for approval, and follow up their implementation.

Fourth: Replacing Article Number 56 of the Basic Statute of the State with the following:

Specialized Councils shall be established, their powers determined and their members appointed by virtue of Royal Decrees, and it is subjected to the Council of Ministers in case the Royal Decrees did not say any opposition.

Fifth: Replacing the fifth chapter of the Basic Statute of the State with the following:

Chapter Five: The Oman Council.

Article 58: The Oman Council shall consist of: -

1. The State Council.

2. The Shura Council.

Article 58 (bis): The State Council consists of a chairman and members not exceeding, including the chairman, the total number of Shura Council members, and they are appointed through a Royal Decree.

Article 58 (bis1): The members of State Council shall be chosen from the following:

> The ministers, former undersecretaries of the ministries, and of equivalents.

> Former ambassadors.

> Former senior judges.

> Retired senior officers.

> Citizens who are known for their efficiency and experience in the fields of science, literature, culture, and teachers of universities, colleges and higher institutes.

> Other dignitaries and businessmen.

> Persons who made great service to the nation.

> Whom His Majesty chooses and not among the previous categories.

Article 58 (bis2). Without prejudice to Article 58 (bis1), the person who is chosen as a member of State Council has to be:

> Omani national.

> Not less than 40 years old on the date of appointment.

> Not been sentenced in a criminal case or in moral turpitude case or even in case of rehabilitation.

> Not affiliated to a security or military authority.

> Not placed under the guardianship as per a court judgment.

> Not having a mental illness.

Article 58 (bis3): The State Council term is four years starting from the first meeting of the council, and in any case not less than that of the Shura Council term.

Article 58 (bis 4): The State Council should elect two deputies for the council chairman; the elected deputies should be from the council members and for the same period of the chairman, if the seat of any of them becomes vacant the council will elect another one to replace him. The election should be held by secret direct ballot and in absolute majority of the members.

Article 58 (bis 5): The membership of the State Council will end due to the following reasons:

> The end of the Council’s period.

> Exemption from membership.

> Death or total disability.

Article 58 (bis 6): The State Council member could ask for his exemption through a request to the Council chairman and the chairman in his turn will submit the same to His Majesty.

The State Council member shall be exempted if he lost one of the conditions of the membership or lost confidence or violated the membership duties.

Article 58 (bis 7): Only the two categories stipulated in item 5 and item 8 of Article 58 (bis 1) could gather between the State Council membership and public professions.

Shura Council

Article 58 (bis 8): The Shura Council should consist of elected members and represent all wilayats of the Sultanate. The number of Shura Council members identified according to the population of the wilayats.

The wilayat which has population less than 30,000 will get one representative and the wilayats which have population over 30,000 will have two representatives.

Article 58 (bis 9): The election of the Shura Council members should be conducted through general secret ballot and according to the election law.

Article 58 (bis10). The Shura Council candidate has to meet the following conditions:

> To be of originally Omani nationality.

> To be not less than 30 years old on the date of opening of nomination.

> Should hold an academic degree not less than general certificate.

> He should not been sentenced in a criminal case or in moral turpitude case or even in case of rehabilitation.

> Not affiliated to a security or military authority.

> Not placed under guardianship as per a court judgment.

> Not having a mental disease.

The member who finished his term can be nominated again to the Shura Council membership.

Article 58 (bis11). The State Council term is four years starting from the first meeting of the council, while the new council election runs during the last 90 days of the ongoing term, and in case the new council not elected before the ongoing council term finished for any reason, so the ongoing council continue working till electing the new council, and it is not allowed to extend the term of the council unless there is a necessity and as per a Royal Decree, and not exceeding one term.

Article 58 (bis 12): The Shura Council will hold a meeting upon a call by His Majesty in an extraordinary session prior to the election of the council chairman and the two deputies for the same period of the chairman.

The oldest member will chair the session. If the seat of any of the deputies became vacant the council will elect another one to replace him. The election should be by secret direct polling and absolute majority of the members.

Article 58 (bis13): If the seat of any Shura Council member becomes vacant before the end of his term, the seat has to be filled, during 60 days of the council’s report, by another candidate from the wilayat, the candidate who got most number of votes. The period of the new member is the supplementary period of the old member.

If the seat became vacant six months before the end of the Council period, it should not be filled.

Article 58 (bis 14): A Supreme Committee with independence and neutrality will supervise the Shura Council election and take decisions on election complaints. The committee will be chaired by one of the Vice-Presidents of the Supreme Court.

The law will identify the committee’s structure and duties.

Article 58 (bis 15): The membership of the Shura Council ends for the following reasons:

> The end of the Council period.

> Resignation.

> Death or total disability.

> Exemption from membership.

> Dissolution of the Council.

Article 58 (bis16): The resignation from the Shura Council membership should be submitted in writing to the council chairman and he will refer it to the council, which will decide whether to approve or reject it. The council bylaw controls the provisions of this matter.

Article 58 (bis17): The membership of the Shura Council should not be cancelled unless the member lost one of the election conditions or lost confidence or violated the membership duties. The cancellation requires the approval of two-third of members.

Article 58 (bis18). It is not allowed to hold the State Council membership and public professions, and if a government employee has been elected to the membership of the council, his service considered ended from the date of announcing the results of the election, and in case of contestation of his membership he could keep his job without salary till announcing the final decision, and if the decision was that his membership is cancelled, he can return to his job and receive salary from the date of returning to work, while if the contestation was refused, so he considered ending his service from the date of announcing the results and receive an exceptional pension defined by the law if he has not less than 10 years of service accounted in the pension.

Article 58 (bis19). His Majesty, in the cases which he appreciates, can dissolve the Shura Council and call for new election within four months from the date of dissolving.

Article 58 (bis20). In open-door session, the members of State Council and Shura Council, each before their respective councils, shall take the following oath before taking work in the council:

“I swear by Almighty Allah to be faithful to my Sultan and my country, to respect the Basic Statute of the State and the state’s applicable laws, to fully protect its entity and the main constituents of the Omani society and its original values and to perform my duties in the council and its panels faithfully and honestly.”

Before taking his work in the council, the chairman of State Council shall take the oath mentioned in the previous paragraph before His Majesty the Sultan.

Article 58 (bis 21): The Chairmen of the State and Shura Councils, their deputies and the members of the two councils shall work for the interest of the country according to the laws in force and they must not use their membership for their own interest or the interest of their relatives. The law will identify the works they should not do.

Article 58 (bis 22): The member of the State and Shura Councils should not be blamed for his opinions or views in the council or in its committees with regard to various issues.

Article 58 (bis 23): Any penal action against the member of the State or Shura Councils should not be taken, except in the case of in the very act, during the annual term unless there is prior permission from the council. The permission should be issued by the council’s chairman and not during the annual term.

Article 58 (bis 24): The memberships of the State and Shura Councils should not be held together.

Article 58 (bis 25): The State Council and Shura Council should set its bylaws. The Shura Council bylaw identifies workflow procedure, committees, discussion procedures, voting, and questioning as well as powers accorded to the members and the penalties in case of any violation or absence during the council sessions without acceptable excuse.

Terms and Responsibilities of the Council of Oman

Article 58 (bis 26): The ordinary term of the Council of Oman should not be less than eight months per year and it held upon a call from His Majesty on November every year. It should not be adjourned before the approval of the general budget of the State.

Article 58 (bis 27): As exceptional from Article 58 (bis26) His Majesty calls Council of Oman for the first meeting after the Shura Council election within one month from the date of announcing the results of that election.

Article 58 (bis 28): His Majesty can call meeting of the Council of Oman in the cases he appreciates other than the ordinary meeting of the council.

Article 58 (bis 29): The calling or adjourning of the Council of Oman in its ordinary or extraordinary terms shall be according to proper legal procedures.

Article 58 (bis 30): The State Council and Shura Council should hold meetings in Muscat city and His Majesty can call a meeting at any other place.

Article 58 (bis 31): The sessions of the State Council and the Shura Council are open-door sessions and it can be closed-door sessions in case of necessity and in accordance with the Council of Ministers and one of the councils.

Article 58 (bis 32): Majority of members of the State and Shura Councils, including the chairman or one of his deputies, should be present to hold a session. If the majority members are not present the session will be postponed to the next session.

Article 58 (bis 33): The decisions of the State and Shura Councils will be passed by the absolute majority of the attending members except in cases that require qualified majority. If the votes are equal, the side that includes the chairman wins.

Article 58 (bis 34): If the Shura Council is adjourned, the State Council session also stops.

Article 58 (bis 35): The draft laws prepared by the government should be referred to the Council of Oman to approve or amend and then directly be submitted to His Majesty to issue them. In the case of any amendments by the Council of Oman on the draft law, His Majesty will return it to the council to reconsider the amendments and then should be submitted again to His Majesty.

Article 58 (bis 36): Oman Council can suggest draft laws and refer it to the government for studying and return it again to the council, and in the term of approving, amending, or issuing these laws it comes as per the procedures mentioned in Article 58 (bis 35).

Article 58 (bis 37): The draft laws should be referred by the Council of Ministers to the Shura Council which has to approve or amend it within a maximum of three months from the date of referring, then it is referred to the State Council which has to approve or amend it within a maximum of 45 days from the date of referring, and if the two councils have a difference, they hold a meeting under the chairmanship of State Council Chairman who also calls for that meeting to discuss the differences between the two councils, and then they make a voting in the same meeting, and the decisions shall be issued in absolute majority of the member attendees, and in all cases the State Council Chairman shall refer the draft to His Majesty along with the view of the two councils.

Article 58 (bis 38): The summary of the draft law should be referred by the cabinet to the Shura Council that should give a decision of approving or amendment by a maximum of one month from the referral date then to be referred to the State Council that should give a decision of approving or amendment by a maximum of 15 days from the referral date then the Chairman of the State Council should submit it to His Majesty along with the two councils’ opinions.

Article 58 (bis 39): His Majesty has the right to issue Royal Decrees that have the same power of law between the terms of the Council of Oman and during the adjourned period of the Shura Council and the holding of the State Council sessions.

Article 58 (bis 40): The development projects and the annual budget of the state should be referred by the Council of Ministers to the Shura Council for discussion and recommendations by a maximum of one month from the referral date and then be referred to the State Council for discussion and recommendation within a period of 15 days from the referral date and then be referred back by the Chairman of the State Council to the Council of Ministers along with the recommendations of the two councils.

The Council of Ministers should inform the two councils about the recommendations which were not considered, along with reasons.

Article 58 (bis 41): The economic and social draft agreements which the government intends to sign or join to it, shall be referred to the Shura Council to discuss it and give opinions on it, and refer the same to the Council of Ministers to take suitable decisions.

Article 58 (bis 42): State Financial and Administrative Audit institution shall send a copy of its annual report to the Shura Council and the State Council.

Article 58 (bis 43): The interpellation of any of the services ministers is possible, according to a request presented by not less than 15 members of the Shura Council, relating to violation of their legal authority, and the council shall discuss the issue and refer the results to His Majesty.

Article 58 (bis 44): The ministers shall provide the Shura Council with the annual report regarding the stages of project implementation by their ministries, and the council can ask any of these ministers to provide a statement on some of the internal issues relating to the ministry.