Can you give us a brief overview of the projects you have been involved with?
LORENZO NICOLAI Renardet has been operating in Oman for 35 years, bidding on mainly infrastructure projects such as roads, dams, airports, harbors, and water supply systems. The last three years have been extremely challenging; a few projects were announced, but the Ministry of Transport stopped paying contractors, which in turn are not paying us, so there is a major cashflow issue. This situation has put pressure on prices, with bidding prices fluctuating enormously, and some players are lowering prices just to win projects even though they might not be able to deliver it at that cost. Regardless, we are keeping ourselves busy with a few projects. We are working on the flood rotation stream for Duqm, with two big dams to be channeled; the new masterplan for the airport in Musandam; a new waste-to-energy plant in Sohar, where with Be'ah we are creating the biggest incinerator for toxic waste in the Middle East; the concept, design, and development of a road that is one of the largest projects issued by the Ministry of Transport; and the harbor in Masirah.
Have you started noticing any new trends?
MUSTAFA BEHLIM We are seeing advertisement for development projects by the government. Two years ago, there was hardly any news on government plans for expansion. However, today, there are some announcements by the government. I also see many GCC nationals investing in Oman, for example Qataris and Kuwaitis. We hope 2020 will be a turning point. There are large development projects that have been announced. There will always be demand. We try to create better facilities so that people can have better developments. We did a design three years ago to develop 230 apartments. Although there was not much open space, we built a running track, a swimming pool, a gym, and a playing area for children on the rooftop. We also developed a green area. Consultants do not have such vision. We felt that using the rooftop of this large building, which had four blocks, to create a better design for the users was a new opportunity to grow.
What is your reading of the Omanization labor law?
LN The slowdown in the economy forced many companies to reduce their workforce. As such, we are often asked by companies to solve problems, as they have no people there to take care of it. This is a problem for Oman because we are losing qualified people. The 30% Omanization rate becomes ineffective if the company shuts down, so there are some adjustments to be made. Probably the minimum salary for engineers should apply to everyone. There should be some liberalization of the labor market, where regardless of nationality, a company hires and fires personnel according to its needs. Another issue endemic to the Omani market is the unrealistic time expectations. Although there are some particular projects that companies want to finish on time, projects in Oman rarely finish on time, because the construction time is completely unrealistic. The same unrealistic expectations apply to design consultancies. Everybody is aware of this situation.
What will be the market for high-added value projects in the short term?
MB It all depends on the design. We always feel there should be some Omani style in the architecture, but municipalities are not into that. There is more room for creativity, but not to the extent of Doha, where one can create such developments. In Doha, there are sculptures, not buildings. However, we build good buildings here. Buildings in Oman should look like they are a part of the local culture. There are consultants that add those touches, which is typical Omani architecture. Projects should be balanced using stainless steel and glass, combined with a touch of the past. Consultancy is not a lucrative business. If consultants are paid well, I am sure there will be better designs in Oman.
What are your strategic priorities for 2020?
LN We are trying to diversify our operations. Two or three years ago, we were only working in Oman. All countries are affected by the oil crisis, so we are taking on projects financed by the World Bank or the Development Bank. We are doing a project in Tanzania and are trying to win projects in Uganda and Sierra Leon. There is a great deal of work to be done with sewage systems, dams, and power projects, so we expect more projects from these segments in the future.