OMAN: Confident Steps into 21st the Century [Archives:1997/48/Reportage]

December 1 1997

Ramzi Al-Saqqaf, Yemen Times – Oman
The Sultanate of Oman celebrated on November 18th the 27th anniversary of its independence. Well, it had a lot more reason to celebrate. Since HM Sultan Qaboos Bin Saeed rose to the reins of power Oman, his country has been striding rapidly towards progress and development. It broke free from the shackles of its dark days. Right from the beginning, Sultan Qaboos was clear about his prupose. He imparted his vision to his people during his many tours and visits to various regions of the country. But he also listened to their needs and aspirations. First came socio-economic development. A country that had lived in the dark ages suddenly emerged to take its rightful place among the nations of our modern times. Economic Development: The main aim behind development is creating a new citizen capable of fully participating in building a modern society. The process of development in Oman goes beyond the mere creation of wealth and a strong economy. The Omani strategy in this respect relies on the development of new and alternative sources of national income, in addition to oil. It is also based on increasing investments in high-income projects such as the industry, mining, agriculture, fisheries, and the development of human resources. Special emphasis will be based on creating an independent and highly competitive private sector. The Sultan has announced 1998 to be the “The Year of the Private Sector”. This means strengthening the role and contribution of private business.
Political Transformation: Then came political transformation. The Omani Shoura (Consultation) Council was formed to help expand the decision-making base of the state. During its first and second terms, the Shoura Council played an active role in bringing to government attention issues that needed to be addressed and of concern to the Omani people. The Council’s third term, however, has become a turning point in the political transformation of Oman. The election of this third council was characterized by a wide popular participation, especially women. For the first time, female candidates were nominated from all parts of Oman, not just Musqat as used to be the case in the past. More than 55,000 citizens from all provinces participated on the 16th of October, 1997, in electing 82 members of the Shoura Council. Two women made it for the first time.
Foreign Policy Oman’s foreign policy emanates from the country’s special geographic responsibility – overlooking the straits of Hormuz – the gateway to the Arabian Gulf. The country seeks to achieve good relations with all its neighbors. Among the principles guiding this effort are neutrality, respect for international laws and conventions, supporting cooperation among Arab and Muslim countries, and working for world peace and stability. As a result, Oman has been able to gain the respect of all nations.
Services: During the period from 1969/70 to 1996/97, the number of schools in Oman increased from 3 to 967, and the number of students rose from 909 to 508,543. School curricula are constantly updated and modernized. There are currently 22,693 teachers most of whom are Omani. Eradication of illiteracy has also received a lot of attention by the government. During 1997, about 19,000 adults studied three different types of adult education establishments. At the pinnacle of the educational pyramid, comes the Sultan Qaboos University which was founded in 1986. It now has several colleges of medicine, engineering, sciences, agriculture, arts, economy, etc. There are now 47 hospitals with a total capacity of 4,149 beds, in addition to five specialized health complexes, and 114 health centers some of which are in remote and inaccessible regions. In 1996, 99% of the children below one year of age were vaccinated against the common childhood diseases. Productive Sectors About 40% of the national labor, work in agriculture whose exports formed 3% of the non-oil exports. Oman has already achieved self-sufficiency in fish and a number of agricultural products, and is aiming to achieve 55% of the food self-sufficiency by the year 2000. There are currently about 101,350 hectares of arable land, 61,500 hectares of which are planted with perennial plants and 18,600 with seasonal crops. There are more than 1,406,000 heads of cattle reared in vast areas of Oman’s available pasture lands. Mechanization and the use of modern agricultural methods are rapidly expanding. During 1990 to 1995, the industrial sector in Oman grew at annual rate of 12.8%, and is expected to reach 13% during the next five years. There are currently 108 operational factories and 27 under construction. The liquefied natural gas plant, currently under construction, is expected to produce 6.6 million tons of liquefied gas every year. The Environment The Sultanate of Oman is considered among the best ten countries of the world to excel in environmental conservation. As early as 1974, Oman has been quite environmentally conscious – a decree was issued to control marine pollution. The first legislation to protect the environment came into force in 1982. The Omani environment effort extends far beyond legislation and national reserve parks. It envelops all elements of the environment. Natural resources are managed in a balanced way. A variety of rare animals roam the plains of Oman’s natural reserves.