As we marked Oman’s 50th National Day on November 18, I found myself reminiscing over our various milestones. Our country has witnessed a remarkable journey in terms of socioeconomic development and we are proud of the mark we have made in the realm of foreign policy and promoting peace among our allies.
We are eternally grateful to Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said whose stewardship elevated the country from a relatively unknown name to an exemplary model in myriad fields in the global arena.
Much like his predecessor, our new leader, Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, inspires us to remain committed to our common goal of national prosperity.
Oman’s annual gross domestic product has witnessed a growth trajectory over the past several decades. However, according to the World Bank, it is projected to fall this year owing to declining oil prices and the effects of Covid-19.
Given these indicators, as well as the lifestyle changes implemented to tackle the situation that resulted from the outbreak, it is natural to be cautious as we advance in to the post-pandemic world.
We cannot discount the psychological impact of students being forced to stay home from school and employees across fields shifting to a work-from-home model and reinventing themselves through reskilling and upskilling.
On a national level, especially in a culture like ours that has always valued community relations, it is particularly worrying that citizens have had to live in relative isolation for the better part of the year.
I have always stressed the importance of empowering our youth and boosting their morale in order to maintain unity and nationwide commitment to the vision of our beloved leaders.
Thankfully, now that pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna have indicated that their Covid-19 vaccines will be available early next year, we may finally move towards a semblance of normality in the coming months. Yet, we must use our resources to keep up the community spirit until it is safe to resume life without social distancing.
Our finance ministry recently announced plans to bring down the national deficit to 1.7 per cent of Oman’s GDP by 2024 from a preliminary deficit of 15.8 per cent in 2020.
Its plan entails the introduction of income tax on individuals in the high income bracket in 2022 and targets an increase in non-oil revenues to 35 per cent of the total government revenue by 2024 – up from 28 per cent this year.
The Institute of International Finance commended our government’s efforts in a recent report. Oman’s 2020-2024 plan in response to the economic crisis was praised, as was the restructuring and merging of specific ministries and the implementation of budget cuts for more efficient use of public funds.
On a societal level, I believe the key to bringing our nation back on track lies in our traditions that made Oman a success story – community relations and entrepreneurship, with a focus on youth that drive our future.
I envision us reverting to our old ways as soon as it is safe to move freely without the risk of contagion. However, we must use our experience of the pandemic and channel it into creative approaches to revitalise business in the country.
Small and medium-sized enterprises play a pivotal role in the country’s economic development, through creating job opportunities, responding to market demands in offering a variety of goods and services and boosting the national GDP.
In this context, we must pay special attention to the SME sector in order to support our government’s goal to reinforce non-oil revenues in the coming years.
Organisations with a successful track record of ensuring robust business performance can roll out mentorship programmes led by seasoned entrepreneurs and leaders to mentor our youth – particularly aspiring and creative minds – about business in the real world.
In doing so, they enable the youth to learn how to set up and grow a company, manage their teams to achieve optimum results and turn their ideas into profit-generating products and services.
One of the most important aspects of such mentorship programmes is the emphasis on collaboration, encouraging people to connect and bring their skills and ideas together.
School and university students can be introduced to entrepreneurship workshops at academic institutions – both their own and others in the community.
Engaging with future leaders in the early stages of their education will give them confidence and motivate them to come up with ideas that could contribute to translating Oman’s long-term vision into reality.
A concerted effort to collaborate, empower our youth and strengthen our economy will help bring our nation together.
We have faced a series of unprecedented challenges this year, but marking our 50th anniversary as a nation was a much needed reminder of our accomplishments and strengths.
I am confident that with careful planning and dedication, we will be able to rally together to build a brighter and more secure future for our country.
Mohammed Alardhi is executive chairman of Investcorp and chairman of Bank Sohar, and was the longest-serving Omani head of the Royal Air Force of Oman