191101 sultan haitham bin tariq
Sultan Haitham Bin Tariq of Oman Image Credit: File

Muscat: As Oman prepares to celebrate the second anniversary of Sultan Haitham bin Tarik on January 11, 229 prisoners, including 70 expatriates, have got a royal pardon, as per a directive issued by the Sultan. The selected prisoners in various prisons across Oman will be set free, much to the relief of their family and friends.

It was on January 10, 2020 that the late Sultan Qaboos Bin Said passed away, naming the current Sultan as his successor in a will.

Citizens and residents of Oman shared their thoughts with Gulf News on the eve of the second anniversary of Sultan Haitham’s rise to power.

Salam Al Kindi, ex-Director of Corporate Affairs, Salam Air and a well-known Omani public figure, said Sultan Haitham has taken strong measures to reduce the external debt and to bring down the deficit. “Due to many factors, Oman’s economy, before Sultan Haitham took the reins, was not in the strongest of shape. The external debt was high and so was the unemployment rate.

“In addition to that, oil prices had started declining and reached the lowest during 2020. Add to it the pandemic which made inroads in the first quarter of 2020. Sultan Haitham has taken strong measures to reform the economy, which were important for the country. Many reforms were applied within the working of the government to reduce debt and deficit.”

New era

Shaddad Al Musalmy, noted Omani journalist and columnist, said people of Oman are confident that Sultan Haitham will take Oman forward despite the economic challenges and the COVID-19 situation. “Our Sultan has pledged to continue to shape Oman in a new era and this is evident in the many new initiatives and directives that have been announced.

Since the very first day of his rule, Sultan Haitham confirmed his sincere endeavour to set up a new phase of Oman’s renewed renaissance. The achievements that took place over the past five decades under the leadership of late Sultan Qaboos continues with renewed vigour.”

Sultan Al Harthy, a high-ranking official in energy field in Oman, mentioned the introduction of VAT in 2020, raising fees in certain service sectors, reducing expenditure and diversifying the economy as some of the major decisions of the last two years.

Unnecessary expenses

“Cutting expenses like bonus for government staff, scrapping redundant allowances and reducing several other unnecessary expenses brought down state expenditure. Even the lighting for National Day last year was very minimal. The number of government cars were cut, and so were official trips abroad for conferences and workshops. Money saved wisely is money generated and we are on the right track.”

Sumesh Ghosh, an Indian SME investor in Oman, appreciated efforts to diversify income streams with industries such as tourism, mining and manufacturing. “Unfortunately with the pandemic, the tourism plan didn’t make much inroads as travel sector was the first casualty of COVID-19. Oman has been endowed naturally with mountains, sea and desert which is a winning formula for pitching it as a tourist destination.

“The introduction of VAT was also a bold decision which again due to reduced consumerism mooted by COVID-19 didn’t yield the desired results. One of the sterling initiative of recent times was the merging of funds that created larger entities, which have become stronger and effective. Reducing starting salary in government sectors and compulsory retirement of those who have completed 20 years of service too were bold decisions that helped in generating jobs and reducing state’s cost.”