2020 VISION

Oman 2015 | TRANSPORT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Dr. Ahmed Mohammed Salem Al-Futaisi, Minister of Transport & Communications, on key Ministry projects and a few of the landmark projects past and present.

HE Dr. Ahmed Mohammed Salem Al-Futaisi
BIOGRAPHY
A much-published academician, HE Dr. Ahmed Mohammed Salem Al-Futaisi, who sits on numerous national and regional committees of environmental significance, holds a PhD. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of California. He has been the Minister of Transport & Communications since 2011.

What will be the impact of the development of the sixth airport on the national economy?

Actually there are five airports, not six: in Muscat, Salalah, Duqm, Sohar, and Ras Al Hadd. The one in Adam has been converted into a military airport. The successful completion of Oman's airport network is integral to Oman's economic development and will indeed provide enormous opportunities for job creation and spur on small and medium sized companies. The strategic thinking behind the airport network and location was connectivity for exposing and promoting the entire country, as opposed to limiting the growth opportunities to the main cities of Muscat, Salalah, and Sohar. One of the principal objectives of this huge initiative of airport development is to promote tourism. While Oman is a popular spot with tourists and Salalah is one of nature's wonders, the beauty of Oman is indeed a well-kept secret. The marketing of the country, the setting up of the entire tour and travel industry, will explode once the airport comes online. Basically, the airport network will put the entire country on the map as opposed to only the well-known city of Muscat, and the somewhat known city of Salalah.

Can you elaborate on the importance of the National Railway Project for the Sultanate of Oman?

Oman's railway project is considered one of the key strategic schemes contributing to achieving the essentials of sustainable development on both social and economic levels by linking the developmental centers of the country. The Sultanate railway is estimated at 2,244 kilometers in length and starts from the Buraimi governorate to reach the Dhofar governorate. Project goals include fostering the development of new services and industries that boost GDP, creating employment, and effectively linking Oman's ports to the GCC network, as well as activating an integrated transport system of ports, railways, airports, and land transportation.

What have been some of the key achievements of the telecommunications sector?

The Sultanate of Oman liberalized the telecommunications sector in 2005 when the second cellular mobile license was awarded to Omani Qatari Telecommunications Company (Ooredoo). Since this strategic move, the sector had made significant progress towards realizing the Government's Vision 2020, which aims at liberalizing the Omani telecommunications sector by enlisting private sector investment for economic and social development, and turning the Sultanate into an attractive and competitive destination. Further liberalization took place in 2009, when the second fixed-line license and a few mobile resale licenses were issued. The market has since witnessed a visible transformation with the entry of additional players, foreign participation, and an increase in service portfolios in the expansion of services to cover un-served areas. Meanwhile, the government formally approved the National Broadband Strategy (NBS) in October 2013, paving the way for acceleration of efforts and implementation of schemes to realize the goal of high-speed internet to homes and businesses. The Telecommunication Regulatory Act (TRA) completed its first market review in 2013 in the form of the “Market Definition and Dominance (MDD) Report." This review defines the markets and determines the dominant player(s) in each market.

What are your expectations for the near future?

Keeping in mind that an extensive feasibility study was undertaken by the Ministry, resulting in Oman's Vision 2020 plan, enormous strategic thinking has gone into the preparation of specific development planning for this ministry. The economic development of the country, in particular inland Oman, was key. The Ministry has focused on the airport and its ancillary facilities, the highway systems, and the railway network to ensure the maximum contribution to reaching the Vision 2020 goals. Additionally, the ministry was instrumental in transforming governmental departments into independent public authorities to better steer the structure. The general policy framework of the telecommunications sector reiterates further liberalization and a position of enhanced competition in the provision of services. Initiatives of the organization pursued over the past two years have included spectrum reforming, spectrum migration, revamping of the licensing framework, and formalization of the competition framework arising out of the directions set in the said policy guidelines. Changes in technology, convergence of telecom and IT, consumer preferences and behavior, also guide the regulatory environment demanding a degree of flexibility to ensure sustained investment in networks and facilities.