TBY talks to HE Talal Al Rahbi, Deputy Secretary General of the Supreme Council for Planning, on financing the Tanfeedh, the private sector's involvement in the program, and assuring foreign investors.

HE Talal Al Rahbi
HE Talal Al Rahbi was appointed as Deputy Secretary General to the Supreme Council for Planning in 2013. In 2016, Talal managed the inception of a five-year program for national economic diversification, under the banner Tanfeedh. Among many board and representative positions, Al Rahbi currently serves as Chairman of a new Oman Technology Fund, Deputy Chairman of the Public Authority for SME Development, board member of the Oman Rail Company, Public Authority for Electricity and Water, Public Authority for Craft Industries, and is a member of the Oman Vision 2040 Committee. He also served as First Deputy Chairman of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (2010-2013).

What are the main initiatives under the implementation of Tanfeedh program across the manufacturing, tourism, and logistics sectors?

The Tanfeedh initiatives are a mixture of capital projects, policy initiatives, and procedural reforms that are tied directly to GDP growth and increasing investment and jobs. Some of them are existing private-sector projects that need support, others are government ideas that need private sector engagement, and many are completely new initiatives that emerged through discussion between the stakeholders—especially in policy changes that can enable investment and growth. What all the initiatives have in common is that they are plans behind which public and private sector can unite in implementation.

In a context of low oil prices and with Oman's government borrowing USD10 billion to tackle budget deficit, how is the Sultanate going to finance the implementation of the program?

It is no secret that the government's capital investment plans are confined by the sharp drop in revenues with the oil price. One of the main goals of Tanfeedh is to increase the proportion of capital investment that comes from private investors. The government's infrastructure and development spending has driven the economy for a long time, but that is not sustainable. The government needs to regulate, facilitate, and promote private investment as a tool for growth. The capital projects which are in Tanfeedh initiatives are intended to have over 80% private funding on average, and the encouraging thing is that it was clear during the labs that the private sector are really enthusiastic about making the investment

What impact do you expect Tanfeedh will have in the involvement of the private sector within the nation's key projects and what opportunities will be opened up to stimulate the development of the Omani private business?

The private sector needs to be the leading investor in the future of Oman. It will drive economic growth and will reap the rewards. It is important to remember that from the beginning the private sector has been involved in Tanfeedh as an equal partner. We acknowledge that stimulating development requires some fundamental changes in the way we work with the business community. Many of the initiatives and ideas that came out of the labs were about attacking bureaucracy and streamlining processes to make the government serves business better. Because of that, the Delivery Unit has established a dedicated group to look at all the issues surrounding the business environment.

What are your expectations on Tanfeedh's appeal to foreign investors and multinationals considering entering the market?

One of the most important things about Tanfeedh is that we are doing it all Oman's stakeholders. It sends an important message of openness and responsibility to the international business community. Let's not forget that many multinationals are already here in Oman and understand and value the opportunities that we can offer: our strategic location, natural resources, accessibility, and living environment are attractive assets. They understand the challenges we face and need to see how we are dealing with them, and their experience is the best advertisement to other investors. A lot of multinational investors participated in our labs, as well as in separate syndication sessions.

What is your economic outlook for the future of the Sultanate if Tanfeedh is successfully implemented?

It is not a binary question of whether Tanfeedh is implemented or not; it is a matter of how much and how well. Its implementation has already begun. Our Malaysian partners, on whose experience Tanfeedh is based, have a “30/30/40" expectation that they have advised us to expect. Over several rounds of their own “Big Fast Results" system, their experience suggests that on average 30% of initiatives are implemented as suggested, another 30% with some amendments, and 40% to be new ideas and projects to meet the same targets. If we only aimed to do things that were easy, we would have failed before we started.