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Oman celebrates National Day amid sustainable development
Global Arab Network - - Adam Turner
Sultan_Qaboos_bin_Saeed
The Sultanate of Oman celebrates its 39th national day anniversary amid tremendous transformations and a glorious renaissance led by Sultan Qaboos bin Saeed since 1970 when His Majesty took the reins of power.

During the past period, a comprehensive development was achieved in all walks of life and considerable strides were made in the political, economic, social and cultural spheres.

Thanks to His Majesty’s enlightened and strategic vision, outstanding achievements were accomplished in all sectors including education, health, social development, roads, communications and tourism.

The Sultanate has made steady strides in terms of achieving the prospective sustainable development. The Sultanate is also doing well in the plans that aim at striking a real and strartegic partnership between the private sector and NGO on one side and the public sector on the other side. Such partnership is expected to meet and achieve  the interests of the nation in general.

Achieving stability is a cumbersome challenge for many countries of the world due to the sophisticated situations in many hot areas in the world. The Sultanate , thanks to the wise vision of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said , managed to avail security and stability for citizens as well as expatriates. This is really a great blessing we should do our best to preserve.

The impressive achievements made by the Sultanate is worthy of respect and appreciation by everyone. We are therefore required  to double our efforts to achieve further progress and prosperity and join hands with the wise leader – His Majesty the Sultan , to steer the nation to new heights of prosperity and welfare.

Within a short span of time , Oman has managed to become a modern country that has its presence in the world map ; thanks to the wise policies implemented by His Majesty the Sultan inside and outside Oman.

The annual meet-the-people tour of His Majesty the Sultan is one of the main characteristics of the Omani society. His Majesty the Sultan shows great interest in meeting his subjects , listen to their aches and problems and then take whatever action deemed appropriate to ensure prosperity for all.

The annual meet-the-people tour has its importance as its outcomes touch the different aspects of life .

The current five-year-development plan (2006-2010), is the most ambitious among successive development plans that began in 1976. It attaches particular emphasis on human development programmes, social welfare, regional development, better opportunities for education and employment, improved living standards, price stability, the development of the tourist, industrial, agricultural and fisheries sectors, the encouragement of investment and the preservation of national heritage.

Basic Law of the State

The Basic Law of the State has been promulgated to affirm the principles that guide the policies of the nation in the different fields since His majesty the Sultan’s accession to the throne in 1970. It also reflects the Sultanate’s determination to build better future for Omanis and enhance Omanis presence at the world map and its pioneering role in serving peace , stability and cooperation among nations. The Basic Law of the State is the legal framework that  governs the functions of the different authorities and separates their powers. It also safeguards and guarantees the freedom, dignity and rights of the individual. At the same time it provides the maximum protection for the dignity and freedom of Oman. It also establish the supremacy of the law , as per the best known international practices in this field.

The Basic law of the State comprises 81 articles  that are divided into seven chapters. This historic document, the first of its kind in the history of Oman, sets out Oman's system of government and the guiding principles behind the state's policies and also details public rights and duties. It contains specific principles covering the Head of State, the Council of Ministers and the judiciary. It made reference to the specialized council , the financial affairs and the Council of Oman. Laws are regularly issued to regularize the performance of the different bodies of the state but in no contradiction with the Basic Law.

The Council of Oman

The Council of Oman (Majlis Oman) is made up of member of the State Council (Majlis A'Dawla) and Consultation /Shura Council (Majlis A'Shura). The Council meets at the request of Sultan Qaboos.

His Majesty the Sultan opens the annual session of the Council of Oman , which represents at the same time the beginning of the annual session for the State Council and Majlis AShura. His Majsty the Sultan deleivers his annual speech which outlines the State’s policies ,plans and priorities. These guidelines are used as a reference by the different bodies of the state.

The State Council

The State Council (Majlis A'Dawla) plays an important role in national development as well as the socioeconomic and political development of the Omani society. The State Council acts as a legislative council.  Its Chairman and members are appointed by Royal Decree. The Council reviews the legislations raised to it by Majlis A’Shura or the other respective departments of the state.

It reviews matters referred to it by the Sultan, drafts laws before promulgation – save as the draft laws needed for public interests which are then raised directly to His Majesty the Sultan. It  prepares studies on development-related issues including human resources. It also provides proposals that help in implementing the various development plans and programs and finding suitable solutions for the hindrances that hamper socioeconomic development, encouragement of investment , development of human resources and the better performance of the state administrative bodies.

The State Council also study issues referred to it by His Majesty the Sultan or the Council of Minister and prepares its view on them. While the State Council  raises its recommendations about the draft law referred to it to the Council of Minister, still the Chairman of the State Council raises an annual report to His Majesty the Sultan on the activities of the Council. The term of the members is four years renewable. The number of members is 72 including 14 women ( 2009).

Majlis A’Shura

Majlis A’Shura is another platform that integrates the Shura principle which has always been one of the traditions and features of the Omani society. The Council includes members elected by the different wilayats. Voters , who are 21 years old and above, nominate their representatives at Majlis A’Shura ; in light of the guidelines set in this respect especially those that make the voting and nomination right one of the basic rights of the Omani individual subject that he/she meet the requirements. The government has no interference in the voting and the nomination process.

In a bid to develop the Shura process in the Sultanate, the authorities of Majlis A’Shura has been extended with relation to revising the draft laws, the five-year development plans and the state budget referred by the government to the council before being approved and coming out to public in the form of binding legislation. The term of Majlis A’Shura has been extended to four years instead of three. Members were also given the right to re nominate themselves for a new terms.

His Majesty the Sultan has given his directives to organize open meetings among members of Majlis A’Shura and State Council especially at the beginning of each term for  both councils. Such meetings aim at ensuring maximum coordination between the legislative and executive bodies of the state.  Majlis A’Shura also takes part at the meetings of the Arab, Islamic and international parliamentary unions. It also conducts talks with national councils at the sisterly and friendly countries. To this end , Majlis A’Shura hosted in 2007 a meeting of the Arab Parliamentary Union.

The Omani balanced and wise foreign and diplomatic policy

Oman’s foreign policy and its relations with other countries around the world are shaped by historical experience; now - as in the past - the focus is on building bridges and creating opportunities for increased bilateral co-operation, whenever and wherever such occasions arise.

The Sultanate has sought to play a constructive and influential role in the international arena, applying principles which form the basis of international law and legitimacy, such as respect for sovereignty, noninterference in the internal affairs of other states, a commitment to good neighborly relations and the resolution of all differences and disputes by peaceful means

It supports all sincere efforts to develop closer relations or resolve differences through dialogue and within the context of international law and legitimacy, believing the establishment of peace and stability can best be achieved through tolerance and recognition of common interests. By fostering peace, security, stability and confidence at home and with its neighbors, Oman's foreign policy has evolved to become an instrument for promoting economic and social development.

The Sultanate’s leadership and candid, straightforward policies are trusted and admired internationally for their consistency. Oman respects international principles, treaties and charters and its credible, unambiguous political stance has helped create conditions for fruitful dialogue between various states and peoples. The country‘s measured approach to global diplomacy and the sound policies implemented at home have helped it build strong ties with neighbors in the Gulf, the Arab region and the wider global community.

It is worth mentioning that the Sultanate’s initiative in this respect gains momentum and thrust by the fact that the Sultanate is not part of any regional or international conflict. It deals with different stakeholders within the framework of the rule of law and international legitimacy. The Sultanate also deeply believes in the great strategic and importance for this region and understands that challenges surrounding it which might affect it.

All this has enabled the Sultanate to play an active role not only on the AGCC level but on the Gulf , Arab Peninsula , Arab and international levels. The Sultanate’s efforts also contributed to enhancing and promoting peace , stability and achieving more understanding among nations. This in turned resulted in diffusing a number of crises and tensions that faced the region.

Economic Freedom and transparency

The Sultanate’s economic development has gained international interest. Oxford Business Group report pointed out that the Sultanate , under the leadership of His Majesty the Sultan , remains an oasis for peace ; thanks to the carefully-studied plans and programs and wise policies of the Omani government.

The Report 2009 , published in March 2009 said that the Sultanate has made numerous achievements in 2008 in oil and gas sectors. ‘At the same time the Sultanate continued its commitment to move ahead with the economic diversification programs and improving education’, the report added.

Moody’s International credit rating report has placed the Sultanate at A2 level alongside South Korea, Chili and Botswana. The report foresees stable economic future for the Sultanate.

This rating for the Sultanate came as a result of a number of factors covered by Moody’s report, such as the increase in the strength of the economy, the institutional power, the financial power for the government and the slow speed of being affected by risks.

The report pointed out that the increase in the strength of the economy came as a result for the relative increase in the GDP and ability to pay the debts liabilities, as well as the increase in the GDP per capita in terms of purchase power, which is estimated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) at $22,000. These factors placed the Sultanate at the 36th place among 181 countries covered by the IMF report.

The report pointed out that the increase in the institutional power is attributed to the clean record of the Sultanate in paying its loan liabilities in time, as well as the good transparent government in terms of financial assets. The rise in the governmental financial strength comes also as a result for the financial surplus which has been collected during the last five-years and the building of foreign financial assets which will enable the Sultanate’s government to supply the expected deficit in 2009/2010 budget due to slump in oil prices.

At the Economic Freedom Index 2009 , released by U.S based Heritage Foundation , the Sultanate was ranked second on the Arab level . Oman's economic freedom score is 67, making its economy the 43rd freest in the 2009 Index. Oman also scored 63.3% in freedom of business index , 60% in the freedom of investment index , 83.6% in the freedom trade index and 75% in the freedom of manpower index.

Moreover , the Sultanate came sixth on the Arab level at the World Competitiveness Index 2008/2009 , a report related by the International Research Foundation, the official Partner of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

The Sultanate was placed sixth on the Arab level after scoring 4.55 of seven for the second successive year. The number of points collected by the Sultanate at the index has increased thus raising its rank from  the 42nd place in 2007/2008 to the 38th in the index for 2008/2009.

Oman came also third on the Arab level and 41st on the world level at the International Transparency Organization report 2008 , which was released on Nov 6th 2008.

The reported pointed out to the remarkable improvement made by the Sultanate either on the Arab level or on the international level. The Sultanate advanced form the fourth place in 2007 to the third in 2009 on the Arab level and from 53rd in 2007 to 41st on the world level in 2008.

Information Technology

The Sultanate of Oman accords great priority to the knowledge based economy by providing the required solid infrastructure for the knowledge based industries. To this end , it established an IT complex ‘ Knowledge Oasis – Muscat (KOM). It should be noted that KOM managed to achieve positive and tangible out come and attract a large number of investors to establish a cluster of knowledge based industries. It also contributed to develop the technical capabilities of the Omani companies and enterprises and provide the required care for the Omani talents.

The interest in information technology has been culminated by the establishment of the Information Technology Authority (ITA) ,as per the Royal Decree on 31st may 2006. ITA has its own independent juristic , financial and administrative personality. ITA is the main body in charge of implementing e-Oman strategy. To this end , ITA undertakes a number of infrastructure projects and oversee all the projects related to implementing e-Oman strategy.

ITA strives to build comprehensive and solid IT infrastructure and provide the required applications and portals for the e-government services. It also links all the governmental organizations through a safe and secure networks and provides the e-services through multiple access points. It also prepares the framework  for the e-administration system and provides the guidelines for the national IT&C infrastructure. Moreover, it lays the framework for the information security systems.

The efforts undertaken by ITA to transform the Sultanate into a knowledge based economy and implement the e-government scheme have received international praise and recognition. The Sultanate was ranked 50 in the World IT Report 2008/2009, which was published by the World Economic Forum. The report covered 134 countries in the different parts of the world.

The Sultanate has made also great headway and was ranked 22nd on the global level in the field of availing modern IT products .In terms of readiness for the e-government , the Sultanate was ranked 39th compared to 45th in terms of using IT. The Recruitment Solution through SMS Applications from the Royal Court Affairs (RCA) has won the prestigious World Summit Award in the e-government category this year. The award is the most prestigious international award in the field of IT. It is granted every two years for the best five e projects on the world. The Charity Organizations Donation Portal scheme also captured the Arab Content Award in 2009.

Tourism

Tourism is one of the major economic sectors that has seen radical changes during the modern Renaissance era. The government has embarked on multi-pronged measures to reach its goals, generating employment opportunities in the Sultanate, achieving at least 7 per cent annual growth rate subsequently increasing its contribution in the GDP, to per cent in 2010. It also aims at increasing the number of hotel rooms to 16,000 by 2010 and the number of tourism nights to 5 millions by 2020. The Sultanate of Oman is implementing a number of major multi-use tourism projects and high-end integrated tourism projects at various stages including 12 five-star hotels in the coming four years.

Despite the global financial crisis which ripped many of the world economies , Oman went ahead with the implementation of its tourism plans and programs as per the per set timetables. This points out that the crisis did not affect the implementation of the tourism projects in the Sultanate.

By the end of 2008, a number of projects have reached their final stages. Moreover , agreements have been signed to construct three hotels in Dhofar governorate as part of the prestigious Salalah Beach project. There will be also a tourism project at Ras Al Had ; a joint venture with Al Diyar of Qatar. The Omani government is also constructing the Convention and Exhibition Centre, which  is anticipated to have multiplier effects on Oman’s economy, giving a fillip to MICE market in Oman. The project allows Oman to bid for major regional and global business events and meetings.

In Nov 2008, Six Senses Spa & Resort in Diba was opened. The Resort , which is located at Zaghy coastal village , includes chalets in addition to other recreational and residential facilities.

Alongside with these projects , a number of major tourism ventures are also in the pipelines and in different stages of completion. Some of these projects are almost completed such as The Wave in Muscat and Blue City in Al Batinah region.

In April 2009, Glass Bottom Boat was launched.. This luxury, purpose built 12m double-decker providing guests with spectacular views of the beautiful corals and local marine life.

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