Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tarik issued nine royal decrees on Thursday to reduce the number of senior diplomats in a move seen by analysts as another effort to cut down costs.
Six of the nine ambassadors appointed in the decree will take on extra responsibilities as non-resident ambassadors to other countries or representatives to foreign-based organisations, the Oman News Agency reported.
Dr Muhammad bin Said Al Busaidi, the current ambassador to Japan, will also be the non-resident ambassador to Australia. Ali bin Abdallah Al Mahrooki who is currently ambassador to Tanzania will also be the non-resident ambassador to the Seychelles. Ambassador to Kenya, Saleh bin Sulaiman Al Harthi, adds Eritrea to his portfolio and Mubarak bin Salem Al Zakwani, ambassador to South Africa adds Madagascar.
Non-resident ambassadors are not uncommon and usually visit the countries they are assigned a few times a year. Both previous ambassadors to Australia and Seychelles have been retired.
Analysts said the decision to give dual accreditation to the men may have been made to save on civil service costs as the country battles with a downturn from low oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic.
“Diplomats are part of the civil service and keeping check on their sizeable expenditure is very important,” said economist Salah Al Jardani from the Modern College of Business and Science in Muscat.
“We don’t sell our oil above $100 per barrel anymore so financial prudence is imperative when the country needs to make savings. Then we have the pandemic in our midst and that makes it even tougher.”
Sultan Haitham bin Tarik, who took over the reins of power in January this year after the death of Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who ruled the country for 50 years, has embarked on an economic drive to revamp and resize the government.
He started to mark his reign when he ordered a cabinet reshuffle only three months into his leadership. He trimmed the cabinet to 19 ministries from 26, retired all civil servants who had served for more than 30 years and removed the positions of state advisers to save government expenditure.
He is also going a step further by introducing Value Added Tax in the second quarter of 2021, as well as ordering income tax for higher earners to boost the national coffers, though no date has been set. If the income tax is implemented, Oman will be the first country in the GCC to do so.
Ahmed Al Esri, a political analyst from the University of Technology said the changes in the diplomatic corps ‘make a lot of sense’ in the current economic climate.
“Most ambassadors have the ceremonial roles as foreign agents to keep up political ties between countries and are never super busy not to do something else,” he said.
Other ambassadors were also appointed on Thursday. Ahmed bin Hilal Al Busaidi, Oman’s former ambassador to Saudi Arabia has been assigned to the UAE, with Sayyid Faisal bin Turki Al Said taking the Saudi Arabia portfolio and permanent representative to the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.
Abdullah bin Nasser Al Rahbi was appointed as ambassador to Egypt and a permanent representative to the Arab League, and Hilal bin Marhoon Al Maamari to Jordan. Musa bin Hamdan Al Taie was named ambassador to the United States of America.
Mr Al Esri added the ambassadorial reshuffle may also reflect the wishes of the new Foreign Minister Badr bin Hamad Al Busaidi, who took the position in August after the retirement of Yusuf bin Alawi.
“We have a new person in control of the diplomatic front and it could well be his way to streamline the foreign mission activities to reflect the current international political scenario, not just a problem of the falling oil prices,” Mr Esri added.
In a bid to revive the economy, the Sultanate eased Covid-19 restrictions on Tuesday, including the opening up of beaches, allowing conferences and exhibitions as well as issuing tourist visas.
The country reported on Thursday 184 new infection cases taking the total number of infected people to 124,329. The Ministry of Health also reported 5 deaths on Thursday bringing the total number of people who died from the pandemic to 1,435.