Oman on flurry of political and diplomatic activities in January 2012

Oman celebrates Muscat as Arab Tourism Capital 2012 festival

390 million Omani rials to build power and water projects

The Sultanate of Oman, since the beginning of the new year, has witnessed remarkable political, diplomatic and economic activity in a bid to enhance relations with friendly countries and achieve joint interests between Oman and the other countries.

During the period January 10-12, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands paid an official visit to the Sultanate and had sessions of talks with His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said on means to further relations between the two countries as well as regional and international issues of mutual interest.

Queen Beatrix Wilhelmina and her delegation visited Bait Al Zubair Museum in Muscat.

She was escorted by HE Sheikh Abdulmalik Bin Abdullah Al Khalili, Tourism Minister and Head of the Mission of Honor accompanying the Queen.

The in-charge of the museum management gave her a briefing on the museum’s history. She saw the exhibits depicting the Sultanate’s ancient history and the prosperous present under the leadership of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said.

The Queen expressed her admiration for what she has seen and heard about the Sultanate’s history and its contributions to humanity, its marine role, and its communication with other civilizations. The Queen and her delegation had lunch at the museum.

The Sultanate and the Netherlands signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for economic cooperation. The MoU was signed by HE Yousuf Bin Alawi Bin Abdullah, Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs, and his Dutch counterpart Uri Rosenthal.

The deal aims at enhancing consultation and expertise exchange on economic issues through the annual foreign ministry level consultations.

Alawi and Rosenthal held a meeting, which discussed boosting ties in various fields, besides discussing the regional and international scenario and the developments in the region.

Alawi said the meeting touched on the deals signed for economic cooperation. He said the Sultanate is focusing on boosting economic relations with the Netherlands.

The meeting was attended by HE Sayyid Badr Bin Hamad Bin Hamoud Al Busaidi, Secretary-General at the Foreign Ministry, HE Ahmed Bin Yousuf Al Harthy, Undersecretary at the Foreign Ministry for Diplomatic Affairs.

A high-level Omani-Dutch meeting was also held at the Al Bustan Palace Hotel. The meeting reviewed and exchanged viewpoints on economic issues, ways of developing human resources and boosting partnership between the production sectors.

Several ministers and top officials were present.

Later, an MoU was signed for transfer of programs and policies, setting up ventures, industrial links and technical cooperation in SMEs.

The MoU was signed between the Commerce and Industry Ministry, the Directorate-General for SMEs Development and the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation.

The deal was signed by HE Sheikh Sa’ad Bin Mohammed Al Sa’adi, Commerce and Industry Minister, and the Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation.

The deal includes exchange of information on the policies, the support programs related to small- and medium-sized enterprises development, supporting the SMEs in both countries for setting up trade links and networks through trade outlets, comparing the businesses and for meetings, seminars, workshops and trade fairs in both countries or a third country to promote investment and joint ventures.

It also included the exchange of visits for the study, training and exchange of expertise on subsidy programs for the SMEs, besides encouraging the tie-up among the SMEs by informing on the exhibitions and supporting the SMEs in the light of the related incentives and legislations.

Also, businessmen from the Netherlands and the Sultanate held a meeting at Al Bustan Palace Hotel in the presence of Queen Beatrix.

It was held in the presence of a number of ministers, undersecretaries, Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry chairman and members of the delegation accompanying the Queen.

They discussed issues related to developing economic and commercial cooperation between the Sultanate and the Netherlands and enhancing the partnerships among businessmen and companies in both countries.

They focused on the importance of benefiting from the Dutch experience in the field of training and consultancy for implementing infrastructure projects such as ports and airports.

They also discussed technical education and vocational training.

The meeting also discussed how to benefit from the Dutch technology in extraction of oil and gas and its long experience in food security.

The Dutch side expressed its readiness to provide all assistance to the Sultanate in this field.

Queen Beatrix and her accompanying delegation visited the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in the Wilayat of Bausher within the framework of her current visit to the Sultanate.

Queen Beatrix was received by a number of officials at the Sultan Qaboos Centre for Islamic Culture who briefed the queen about the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and the history of its construction.

Queen Beatrix was briefed upon the major role of the mosque as a landmark that explains the tolerance of the Islam, in addition to the cultural centers in the mosque that play their role in disseminating awareness among the community and visitors on different religious and cultural aspects of the country.

The queen also viewed the architectural style of Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque through the prominence of Omani and Islamic architectural art used in a number of mosques in different Islamic countries.

The queen was accompanied by HE Sheikh Abdulmalik Bin Abdullah Al Khalili, Minister for Tourism and Head of the Mission of Honor.

The queen and her delegation also visited Sohar Industrial Port, Free Zone and Oman Maritime College in Sohar in the Governorate of Northern Al Batinah.

She was received by HE Sheikh Sa’ad Bin Mohammed Al Mardhouf Al Sa’adi, Commerce and Industry Minister and Chairman of Sohar Industrial Port Company and officials at the company at the port.

The Queen toured the liquid bulk dock, which was designed to receive large carriers. Eng Jamal Bin Tawfiq Aziz, deputy chairman of the company, presented an overview of the Sohar Industrial Port and its future projects, which include construction of more docks for dry bulk to meet future demands.

Jamal said the port attracted investors and international companies thereby enhancing its position at the regional level thanks to its strategic location.

The Queen was briefed on the environmental safety requirements at the port, the contribution of investing companies in the port to local communities as part of their corporate social responsibility, and the role of these companies in training, development and employment of national cadres to achieve sustainable development in the Sultanate in general and the Governorates of Northern and Southern Al Batinah in particular.

At the Sohar Free Zone, the Queen and her delegation were briefed about the total area of the zone, its strategic location, services and facilities provided by the zone to potential investors, major projects planned, including the food complex to be set up in partnership with companies from South Africa.

The food complex project is vital as it will help the Sultanate achieve food security and provide jobs to citizens at the Governorates of Northern and Southern Al Batinah.

The Queen later toured the exhibition on the planned projects in Sohar Free Zone where she was briefed about these projects, their contribution to the zone and the port, as well as the major Omani-Dutch joint ventures.

The Queen also visited Oman International Maritime College in the Wilayat of Sohar in the Governorate of Northern Al Batinah.

She was received by HE Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Al Bakri, Manpower Minister, HE Said Bin Hamdoon Al Harthy, Transport and Communications Ministry’s Undersecretary for Ports and Marine Affairs, and officials at the college.

She was briefed about the college and its academic programs and facilities. She toured the college, including the simulator building and its driving simulator room, and the library. She also met students.

Sohar Industrial Port is a joint venture between the Port of Rotterdam and the Sultanate to establish and manage it on a 50-50 per cent basis. The joint venture deal was signed in 2002 and work started in 2003.

Eng. Jamal Aziz said that since its opening, the port got investments estimated at $14 billion. He said the investments were the result of sound planning and availability of power, electricity and gas at the port.

In a statement to Oman News Agency, he said the meeting touched upon the issue of water management projects as the Dutch have experience in this field. “It is possible to enter a partnership to set up these projects that depend on water and go in line with the wishes of citizens in the zone,” he said.

Jamal said introducing modern technologies and setting up industries in this field will open job and investment opportunities.

Omani marine dances and cultural programs were performed on the occasion of the Queen’s visit.

The Queen was accompanied by HE Sheikh Abdulmalik Bin Abdullah Al Khalili, Tourism Minister and Head of the Mission of Honor, and HE Sayyid Mohammed Bin Harib Al Said, Sultanate’s Ambassador to the Netherlands.

On January 14, Sultan Qaboos received at Bait al-Baraka the South Korean Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik who paid a three-day official visit to the Sultanate.

Kim was received by HH Sayyid Fahd Bin Mahmoud Al Said, Deputy Prime Minister for the Council of Ministers.

A reception was held for Kim at the Royal Airport. HE Sayyid Hamoud Bin Faisal Al Busaidi, Minister of Interior, and HE Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdullah Al Hinai, Minister of Justice, were present.

A number of ministers, the Lebanese ambassador and the mayor of the diplomatic corps, the Korean ambassador, senior officers at Sultan Armed Forces and Royal Oman Police were present.

The South Korean delegation includes Park Suk-hwan, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Kim Seok-min, Deputy Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office, HE Choe Honhyun, Korean Ambassador to the Sultanate, Kim Ho Won, Second Deputy Minister for Administrational Affairs at the Prime Minister Office.

HH Sayyid Fahd Bin Mahmoud Al Said, Deputy Prime Minister for the Council of Ministers, held talks with Kim Hwang-sik, Prime Minister of South Korea.

Fahd welcomed the guest and his delegation. Fahd said that the ties between the Sultanate and Korea are deep rooted and the effective cooperation between the two countries got a special thrust during the Blessed Renaissance era in the early 70s. These ties have witnessed rapid growth in the past period; thanks to the keenness of the wise leaderships of both countries to develop these relations.

Fahd pointed to the importance of giving the Omani-Korean Joint Committee a bigger role in enhancing the ties between the two countries. The Omani-Korean Business Council should also play a similar role, he stressed.

Kim stressed the importance of enhancing the cooperation with the Sultanate, expanding it to cover joint investments and increasing the trade between the two countries.

He said that Korean companies should benefit from the privileges and facilities provided by the Sultanate to encourage investment, especially in industrial zones.

The talks touched on supporting the economic and technical cooperation between the two countries in communications, IT, SMEs development, energy, mineral resources, transportation, construction, health and higher education and scientific research fields, as well as exchange of expertise and training of the Omanis.

It also covered the role of the Joint Omani-Korean Business Council and the important role played by the private sector in promoting bilateral trade, exchange of information on business opportunities, expanding the joint investments in industry, tourism, agriculture and fisheries fields and encouraging participation at the international conferences.

The Sultanate will have to actively participate at Expo Yeosu that will be hosted by Korea in 2012. It also covered the cooperation in culture, youth and sports fields.

The talks also comprehensively covered various regional and international developments. The two countries also stressed the importance of cooperation among all countries to maintain peace and security to ensure stability for all peoples.

The talks was attended by the minister responsible for foreign affairs, oil and gas minister, information minister, higher education minister and transport and communications minister, commerce and industry minister (head of the mission of honor accompanying the prime minister), the secretary-general of the council of ministers, the assistant secretary-general for the office of the deputy prime minister for the Council of Ministers, the Sultanate’s ambassador to the Republic of Korea, the adviser of the finance ministry in charge of the ex-national economy ministry.

Fahd hosted a dinner in honor of the prime minister of Korea and his accompanying delegation.

Kim met HE Yahya Bin Said Al Jabri, chairman of special economic region authority in Duqm, at Al Bustan Palace Hotel.

They discussed bilateral economic ties and ways to enhance them. Al Jabri said the discussions focused on Korean investments in the Sultanate, especially in Al Duqm.

The meeting also discussed the possibility of opening the door for Omani youth for training in Korea or in Korean projects being implemented in the Sultanate.

It reviewed Korean projects and investments in the Sultanate, including the Dry Dock project which is owned by the government and managed by Korean company Daewoo. The number of Omanis in the project is 260.

HE Mohammed Bin Salem Al Harthy, Omani ambassador accredited to Korea, and the Korean PM’s delegation attended the meeting.

The visit by Kim Hwang-sik, Prime Minister of South Korea to the Sultanate, last week will enhance bilateral cooperation, according to HE Mohammed Bin Salim Al Harthy, Sultanate’s ambassador to Korea.

Al Harthy said bilateral trade ties were quite strong and Korean companies were engaged in construction and investment projects in the Sultanate. The trade volume between the two countries had touched $5 billion in 2011, he added.

According to Al Harthy, the Omani Embassy in Korea was keen on exploring new areas for investment in the Sultanate so has to strengthen trade and investment cooperation between Omani and Korean businessmen.

He said a delegation of businessmen led by the Chairman of the Korean Chamber of Commerce will soon visit Muscat while an Omani delegation with officials from Special Economic Zone Authority at Al Duqm visits Korea.

The Oman-Korean joint Committee has contributed a lot in pushing forward the horizons of cooperation in different fields, Al Harthy said adding that the committee’s next meeting will be held in Seoul.

On January 17, Sultan Qaboos received a message from the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia pertaining to boosting brotherly bilateral relations between the two countries and aspects of existing cooperation in all spheres.

The message was conveyed by Saudi envoy Minister of State Dr. Mutleb Abdullah Al-Nefisa.

Sultan Qaboos also received on January 15 a message from Congolese President Joseph Kabila Kabange on the bilateral relations between the two countries and matters of common interest.

The Envoy of the Congolese President handed over the message to the Omani Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah during a reception in Muscat.

Meanwhile, HE Sayyid Saud Bin Hilal Al Busaidi, State Minister and Muscat Governor, presided over the inauguration of Muscat Arab Tourism Capital 2012 at Al Bustan Palace Hotel.

The logo for Muscat Arab Tourism Capital was inaugurated at the event, which was attended by Their Highnesses and Excellencies ministers, entrepreneurs, owners of hotels and other tourist establishments. The logo depicts the geography and heritage of Muscat. The Arabic letters on it include aspects such as Omani jewelry, construction and artifacts.

Logo designer Muna Bint Musallam Al Mashani and the team which prepared the file for nominating Muscat as Arab Tourism Capital were honored.

At the event, which began with the Royal Anthem, 10 reasons were given for nominating Muscat as the Arab Tourism Capital this year. They are: easy access to Muscat from Muscat airport, availability of tourist and historical sites, infrastructure and road network, tourism offices and guidance, hotels, entertainment and shopping centers, environmental tourism, pleasant climate, Muscat as a hub of Arab tourism, and its pioneering position internationally.

A display showcased Muscat and its natural and historical attractions. “The design of the logo reflects Omanis’ hospitality through the coffee jar and the letters which reflect Omani jewelry and artifacts,” said Her Excellency Maitha Bint Saif Al Mahrouqi, Undersecretary at the Ministry of Tourism and Chairperson of the Central Committee of the event. She said over 380 persons participated in the contest for designing the logo.

On the other hand, Mohammed Bin Abdullah Al Mahrouqi, Chairman of the Public Authority for Electricity and Water (PAEW), said 390 million rials have been allocated for expansion of the electricity and water sector for 2012.

The cost of power supply in 2012 is expected to be 591 million rials, about 28.7 baisas per kw/hr, compared to 495 million rials and 26.8 baisas per kw/hr in 2011. Estimated revenue from subscribers in 2012 is 329.3 million rials. Initial revenue for 2011 was 296.4 million rials.

He said government support to the power sector is expected to rise to 263.3 million rials in 2012, from 199 million rials in 2011, because the actual required support is expected to be 13 baisas for kw/hr, compared to 10.9 baisas per kw/hr in 2011.

He attributed this rise to increase in the capital budgets of electricity transmission and distribution companies to implement projects to meet the growing electricity demand.

Also, there is increase in electricity purchased from Barka plants (third stage) and Sohar plant (second stage), which is expected to be partially operational in the second quarter in 2012. Another reason is the rise in operational expenditure owing to increase in salaries and additional employment of 500 employees in 2011.

Cost of water supply in 2012 will be 192 million rials, compared to 169 million rials in 2011, Al Mahrouqi said. The total revenue for 2012 is estimated at 63 million rials, up 13 per cent from the 2011 gross revenue of 55 million rials.

Government subsidy in 2012 is expected to be 126 million rials in 2012, up 11 per cent from 114 million rials in 2011.

He attributed the increase in government subsidy for 2012 to the growth in water demand for expansion water networks in the governorates.

He added that government subsidy per cubic meter will decrease from 1.075 rials in 2011 to 1.057 rials in 2012.

Al Mahrouqi said the concerned departments are considering construction of new power plants in Salalah and A’Duqm, and work is under way to complete construction of four power plants in various governorates, he said.

The first power and water desalination plant in Salalah in the Governorate of Dhofar will generate 450MW of power and 15 million gallons of water, he said. Partial operation of the project began in mid-2011 and is expected to start commercial operation in April 2012.

The second power plant in the Wilayat of Sohar (second stage) will generate 750MW and is expected to be completed in 2013.

The third project, the 750MW Barka power plant (third stage), will start commercial operation in 2013.

“The operation of the first stage of the two plants is expected to start in the second quarter of 2012. The fourth project is the Sur plant, which will generate 2000MW and is expected to start commercial operation in mid-2014,” Al Mahrouqi said.

Work is underway to float a tender for construction of a water desalination plant with capacity of 40m gallons per day in Al Ghubra. It will be operational by 2015.

The PAEW is designing a treatment plant in Wadi Daiqah to supply potable water to the wilayats in the Governorate of Muscat. Also, the authority plans to construct new plants in the Governorate of Northern Al Batinah, besides Quriyat in the Governorate of Muscat, each of 44 million gallons per day capacity, he said.

Al Mahrouqi said technical and non-technical loss of electricity decreased from 24.6 per cent in 2004 to 16 per cent in 2010, down 29 per cent and resulting in direct cost savings of 12 million rials. Also, there was 63 per cent rise in power generation.

Al Mahrouqi pegged the estimated electricity loss at 14 per cent.

Also, PAEW has developed regulations for electricity companies to reduce the loss rate to 11 per cent by 2015.

He said complaints of customers are responded to and that PAEW audits electricity company data to ensure accuracy of meter reading and billing. The Electricity Holding Company has made a feasibility study to implement electronic meter readers for electricity and water at a cost of 250 million rials.

The study proposes to implement the project first on a limited scale to ensure accuracy and efficiency, and compatibility of the system with available infrastructure.

He added that the system will help customers to monitor and control their consumption.