A general view of the meeting at the Diriya Palace in Riyadh during a recent Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit. The new secretary-general, Dr. Nayef Al Hajraf, needs to bring in all his acumen to get long delayed initiatives back on the agenda. Image Credit: AFP

With the advent of 2020, a new Secretary-General for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Dr. Nayef Al Hajraf, assumed his position, and the sixth since the formation of GCC in 1981. This comes against the backdrop of unfavourable regional and global conditions, manifested through conflicts at all levels.

This will place more burden and challenges on Al Hajraf’s shoulders. However, there are positives Al Hajraf can build on. First, the GCC countries have built their development models over the past four decades, despite having passed through three devastating wars. This clearly means that conflicts in the region cannot stand in the face of development programmes if there is will and good governance.

Taking unfavourable conditions as an excuse is a feeble argument by the weak. With his economic and financial background, Al Hajraf is qualified to accomplish many of the pending economic issues. His experience includes positions in both public and private sectors, which offers him greater flexibility.

Banking and governance

A former finance minister of Kuwait, he had earlier held the position of director at the Bank of Bahrain and Kuwait and at First Bahrain Real Estate Development Co. and the Arab Investment Company. He also had an academic tenure, serving as vice-president of the Gulf University for Science and Technology.

During the handover ceremony in Riyadh, the new secretary-general stressed he was looking forward to contributing to furthering Gulf cohesion. On the first day of assuming his position, he added: “I vow to maintain the Council’s path and to translate GCC leaders’ directives on the ground.”

This is exactly what is needed to be done. Thus, one of his main priorities is to get all the previous agreements out from the drawers and work to implement them. Many of these decisions had been put on freeze for long.

Back on track

One of these relates to the Gulf Railway, which was to be implemented in 2017. This project is, however, confined to the completion of some lines in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, while being postponed or under study in other GCC countries.

There is also the GCC Water Network that will link all the six Gulf countries and supply them with desalinated water. This project is of exceptional importance because of threats facing marine environment in the Arabian Gulf. This requires a network that is linked to the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman.

This will ensure vital water security in the GCC countries and reduce the enormous dangers in this regard.

Pipelines of growth

The GCC Natural Gas Network project is vital for the development of many important industries and power supply. Such a project also helps deepening Gulf citizenship and completion of the GCC Common Market, through the consolidation of economic and financial regulations and other issues that there earlier put on hold.

Despite the difficulty facing the implementation of these resolutions due to the GCC’s current situation, they are not impossible to implement if common interests are placed above all else. For instance, the planned GCC single currency is not an unattainable goal at present, since there are all the needed fundamentals for its realisation.

No doubt the secretary-general’s personality and future efforts represent the cornerstone to achieving these goals. This can be done going by the experience of some of the former secretary-generals who managed to derive great support from GCC leaders.

For example, they contributed greatly to laying down strong economic foundations at the early stage of the GCC’s formation. At the beginning of the new century, successive secretary-generals had achievements such as a Unified GCC Customs and GCC Electric Grid. They also brought in regulations to help enhance the rights of Gulf citizenship, all of which were implemented with direct support from GCC leaders.

The new secretary-general must be practical in implementing resolutions, and not a public relations official. This is the last thing we need. What we need is someone with a practical mindframe and who knows how to implement the resolutions approved by the leaders. This is why we are optimistic about Dr. Nayef Al Hajraf and wish him all success.

- Dr. Mohammed Al Asoomi is a specialist in GCC economic and social affairs.