Oman takes giant leaps for its youth

High expectations

The Sultanate of Oman has been taking giant leaps in recent days into a new era, thanks to the vision and sagacity of Sultan Qaboos Bin Said. The overhaul of the cabinet, the decision to grant 50,000 jobs to Omanis and many other steps have created great excitement and high expectations among the people. Royal Decree No. 39/2011 granting legislative and audit powers to the Council of Oman – which comprises the Shura and the State Council – perhaps marks the climax of the changes that the Sultan has envisioned for his people and his country to keep in step with a world that is constantly changing.
The last 40 years have witnessed endless changes in the Sultanate. Forty years ago, the Sultanate was not so well developed and a lot of work needed to be done for its progress and prosperity. The tasks then for the Sultan were not easy ones but he moved ahead with determination. The results are there for all to see today in many parts of the Sultanate. The solid infrastructure, evident in the roads, ports and airports being developed, the educational institutions, the modern health care facilities, the huge number of citizens taking up responsible positions in the public and private sectors and other symbols of progress in many parts of the Sultanate are pointers to the direction the Sultanate is taking.
This was possible because the Sultan had the full cooperation of the people who were fully confident that he would heed their wishes and guide them on the right path to prosperity. The Sultan was confident of his people’s capabilities and consulted them at every step. His regular tours to the interiors of the country, during which he consulted the local population, helped him decide on the projects necessary to improve their living standards and act accordingly. The establishment of the Shura Council and the election of its members were other steps taken to consult the people and fulfil their aspirations.
Qaboos move to grant legislative and audit powers to the Council of Oman is not surprising. It is in keeping with the wishes of the people. No doubt, citizens now have a larger stake in governance and in the direction the country will take in the days ahead. Planning and coordinating programmes relating to development and other crucial issues will be undertaken with the full concurrence of the Council of Oman which comprises elected representatives of the people. The discussions in the council and the decisions taken will reflect the needs of citizens and result in balanced development around the country. And those undertaking these programmes will be answerable to the people. In other words, the people will now have a larger role in charting their nation’s destiny under the guidance of His Majesty the Sultan. Together, they can ensure a better future for the country.
The Sultan of Oman set the tone for the functioning of new Council of Ministers after the oath-taking ceremony. The cabinet was restructured with ten new faces to give the government a new direction following weeks of protests and peaceful sit-ins for socio-economic and political reforms. Earlier, a number of measures had been announced through Royal decrees and orders to improve the living standards of citizens, to tone up the administration by giving more powers and authority to the Shura Council and autonomy to the Public Prosecution, among others.
The cabinet reshuffle tops the on-going reform process and is aimed at perking up the performance of various ministries. Among the key changes are the abolition of the Ministry of Economy and merger of agriculture and fisheries ministries. Now with the infusion of new blood into the government, we can expect fresh ideas and a new work culture that are in tune with the aspirations of a young generation of Omanis. Keeping in view the recent developments and the future programmes, the Sultan rightly reminded the ministers of the kind of work cut out for them.
He directed them to carry out their national obligations diligently and put the interests of the citizens above all considerations. His exhortation is relevant when viewed in the context of the gains of the Omani Renaissance that has transformed the country into a modern state. But what’s more important is to preserve the achievements and give them an impetus in the coming years. If the country encounters hardships or barriers they should be overcome with alacrity and by finding suitable solutions and by retuning policies.
So far the Sultanate has met the basic needs of its population through various development programmes and five-year plans. Now the time has come for maintaining the sustainability based on the requirements of the modern age. The Sultan reviewed the measures taken so far to improving the standards of living of citizens. Two other points he stressed at the meeting – connecting with the citizens and their safety – are equally important for maintaining peace and social equilibrium. In a digital age, communications play a crucial role between the government and citizens who should be informed about official plans, achievements and everything the government is doing for the benefit of citizens. In other words, public awareness of the official functioning minimises misgivings and removes misunderstandings. The Sultan’s emphasis on government’s responsibility to maintain law and order in the interest of the country’s stability is as solid as ever.
Now, the new Council of Ministers know what are their priorities since the Sultan gave them the direction in which they have to take the country on a forward path.
The latest order issued by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said on Monday linking the cost of living to allowances being given to government employees is one more step towards reducing their economic hardships caused by rising prices. The allowances that come into effect from April 2011 will benefit all the personnel in military and security departments as well as all the government staff, including those who are not covered by the civil service system. While framing the cost of living allowances, care has been taken to benefit the lowest income categories maximum.
Thus the different slabs of allowances bestowed upon the government employees is an exercise in narrowing the salary differences to raise the standard of living of every section of the salaried class. This is a welcome move because one of the major demands of protesters is a substantial increase in the pay and by introducing the cost of living allowance nationals could get some relief from inflationary pressures, both domestic and global, that affect market prices.
In fact, in many countries, employees are shielded against rising prices through the cost of living index mechanism which takes into account quarterly or half yearly average price levels of essential items in determining the quantum of relief.
In recent days, a number of Royal orders have been issued to improve the living standards of citizens as part of socio-economic and political reforms and whatever measures taken in that direction have been widely welcomed by the citizens. More important, the Sultan has been addressing every issue raised by the protesters and most of their demands have been met already. Even now, almost every day, we see a number of citizens and professionals bringing their demands or grievances to the notice of officials concerned and most of these protests are being organised peacefully and in an orderly manner.
That’s a civilized way of expressing views about the current problems. But if the protesters indulge in unruly behaviour it becomes a law and order problem that warrants intervention of security forces and investigations into the causes of vandalism and riots.
The highest authority in the Sultanate, which is not known to violence, is sympathetic to citizens’ complaints and has always acted upon their keeping the nationals’ welfare and interest at heart.