Oman's government reshuffle
The Sultanate of Oman has undergone a series of drastic changes to the government apparatus, unseen since the early years of the Renaissance in the 1970s.
It now seems clear that Sultan Haitham will take a different approach to ruling than the late Sultan Qaboos (may God rest his soul). Whilst under Sultan Qaboos decision making was very much concentrated with the Sultan, Sultan Haitham has adopted a approach which delegates more power to other parts of government. During the first few months of Sultan Haitham's reign, there had already been some changes to government personnel, but on 18 August 2020 an unprecedented reorganisation of the government apparatus was put in effect. The main effect of these changes seem to be the delegation of power and the reduction in the number of ministries and authorities.
The changes to the government apparatus were based on the following criteria: a new government apparatus with the aim of achieving the Vision 2040; reduction of centralised government and giving power to the governorates; ensuring the effective and efficient management of the public sector; clarifying the competencies of each of the government entities; efficient use of manpower; and ensuring high quality government services and provided.
1 Delegation of power
Previously, under the late Sultan Qaboos, the title of Minister of Finance, Minister of Defence and Minister of Foreign Affairs were held by the Sultan. These titles and functions have now been separated from the Sultan. Whilst this may not be a full devolution of power, the move demonstrates Sultan Haitham's aim to move away from purely personal rule and an increase the delegation of executive power. This change will undoubtedly streamline decision making and reduce bureaucratic delays which have been a source of frustration in Oman.
2 Main changes to the government apparatus
In addition to the changes above, Sultan Haitham has also restructured the government through the issuance of 28 Royal Decrees. Whereas the government previously had 26 ministries, that number has now been reduced to 19 through mergers and consolidations. One of the ministries that has seen a drastic change is the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth, which is a consolidation of the Ministry of Sport Affairs, Ministry of Art, the National Committee for Youth and the cultural sector from the Ministry of Culture and Heritage (previously).
The Ministry of Commerce and Industry (previously) has also seen a major change with the inclusion of The Public Authority for Investment Promotion & Export Development and Competition Protection and Monopoly Prevention Centre now under its portfolio. Other than the inclusion of the competencies of the two aforementioned entities and the name change to Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Investment Promotion, the Ministry has remained unchanged. As above, the consolidation of the trade and investment sector will hopefully streamline the work making it quicker and more efficient.
The Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Legal Affairs have been merged to create the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs. This move has been expected ever since the devolution of the Ministry of Justice's responsibilities in relation to the court system. Many analysts were of the opinion that the competencies of the Ministry of Justice were too small to warrant a fully fledged ministry. They were also of the view that the Ministry of Legal Affairs functions were very specific and too narrow to warrant a separate ministry. Importantly, the threshold at which non-government standard form contracts need to be reviewed by MOJLA has been significantly increased, from OMR500,000 to OMR5,000,000. Further, any government standard form contract (for example construction or consultancy) entered into by a government entity will now need to be reviewed by MOJLA. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there have also been changes in the approach taken with variation orders related to government contracts, now any variation will need to be reviewed by MOJLA before signature.
Royal Decree 38/2011 had abolished the Ministry of National Economy, and most of the Ministry's functions were moved to the Supreme Council for Planning. This recent restructuring sees the Supreme Council for Planning being abolished and a Ministry of Economy being re-established to take on the functions of the Supreme Council for Planning. This change appears to be part of the move to implement Vision 2040 and its goal of reducing the dependency of oil income and diversifying the economy.
Under royal decree 110/2020 PAPP has also been dissolved and responsibilities have been moved to the Ministry of Finance. PAPP's work was at an early stage, but several projects were already under procurement and there was a long list of other planned projects. Bidders and other interested parties are understandably concerned at this change; the government will have to work hard to ensure that confidence in the process is maintained. It seems certain that PPP structures will form the basis for a lot of Oman's upcoming infrastructure needs and PAPP's good work will need to be continued by the Ministry of Finance if these projects are to succeed.
Other changes which were implemented relate to the Cabinet of Ministers, whereby various new appointments to the cabinet were made. It is certainly noticeable that all the appointees are experienced experts in their fields and notably younger than their predecessors. The appointment of Alsayyid Badr bin Hamed Al Busaidi as the Foreign Minister, replacing the veteran Yusuf Bin Alawi is of particular interest. With the Sultan no longer being the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alsayyid Badr has been given the power to shape Oman's foreign policy. Alsayyid Badr is no stranger to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as he has been working at the Ministry for many years, with his most recent post being the Secretary General of the Ministry. Given the febrile state of the region and various foreign policy challenges which Oman currently faces, Alsayyid Badr has a challenging road ahead of him.
Royal Decree 100/2020 promulgated the establishment of the Implementation of Vision 2040 and Follow-up Unit which falls under the purview of the Council of Ministers. The unit replaces the Implementation Support and Follow-up Unit which was within the remit of the Diwan. The move to have the newly created Unit falling under the Council of Ministers allows for closer oversight on the implementation of the Vision 2040 and demonstrates the seriousness with which the Vision 2040 project is being taken.
These are some examples of the changes that were implemented during the restructuring of the government. The restructuring plan was identified as a requirement for the implementation of Vision 2040, and it aims to achieve the following in the near future: increasing the efficiency of the government; promoting investments and business; achieving more focused development at the governorate level; enhancing Oman's indicators in government performance, e-government, spending efficiency, economic competitiveness and social welfare; and creating work environments that motivate employees with clear goals and agreed performance indicators.
All in all, the restructuring plan is to be welcomed and has certainly been received positively in Oman. Whilst these changes have come at a difficult time for Oman, they give an idea of how Sultan Haitham wants to shape his rule and his priorities as he seeks to marshall the continued growth of Oman.