THE RIGHT STUFF

Oman 2018 | ENERGY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Stephen R. Thomas, CEO of Renaissance Services SAOG, on making Oman a global transport hub, getting the fundamentals right, and boosting export-oriented sectors.

Stephen R. Thomas
BIOGRAPHY
Stephen R. Thomas originally worked with Grand Metropolitan Group plc. He has served as Chairman and a board member of the Oman Society for Petroleum Services (OPAL) and as a board member of National Hospitality Institute SAOG. He has been with what is today Renaissance Services SAOG since 1988. In 2010 he was appointed OBE for services to business abroad and to the community in Oman.

What are your views and assessment of Tanfeedh?

It is an excellent initiative and has real potential to give momentum to Oman's economy in these challenging times.

You have been a part of the deliberations. What in your opinion are the two or three things that can be done to take Oman's economy to the next level?

Three things stand out: the ease of doing business, freedom from employment regulations, and promotion of public-private partnerships (PPPs). Investors cite excessive red tape and restrictive employment regulations as the two main barriers to attract more private sector investment in the country—both foreign direct investment (FDI) and domestic direct investment (DDI). Many of the Tanfeedh initiatives promote the ease of doing business and easing of employment regulations. Improvements in these two areas, in tandem with PPP as a platform for investment initiatives, shall awaken renewed interest in investing in our economy.

The program is trying to involve all stakeholders in the development process. Will this help in meeting the current challenges in a better manner?

Absolutely. All stakeholders must talk openly with each other, and more importantly, listen to each other. A great deal of that happened in the Tanfeedh Lab process—the government, private sector, and all stakeholders expressing opinions freely and really listening to each other.

What measures can be taken to create more sustainable job opportunities for Omanis?

Remove all quotas for Omanization. Match leadership, training, up-skilling, and apprenticeship programs to the jobs the private sector is creating. We must get rid of NOCs for expats, since we are losing valuable Oman-based knowledge, skills, and experience. If we liberalize employment regulations, we will see the economy grow. In a growing economy, real jobs are created that offer meaningful, productive employment for Omanis. There is no better employee in any economy than a local employee. After that, we need expats for the jobs that we do not have enough Omanis to perform.

The program has identified certain thrust sectors like manufacturing, tourism, and logistics in addition to fisheries and mining. Does Oman offer good potential in these sectors for domestic and international investors?

Absolutely. These are all areas where Oman has the potential to be world class and internationally competitive. In tourism, we have a fabulous country with wonderful people; in manufacturing, mining, and fisheries, we need volume to drive logistics and get more companies to become export-oriented; in logistics, there is nothing preventing Oman from becoming a global logistics hub at the crossroads of East and West, especially if we move up the World Bank indices for Competitiveness and Ease of Doing Business. Many of the Tanfeedh Logistics Lab initiatives are about getting goods and cargo to move across Oman's sea, air, and land borders in a 'Faster, Cheaper, Simpler' fashion.

The government wants the private sector to play an important role in the Sultanate's economic development. In what ways can companies like Renaissance contribute towards this goal?

We already do. We have taken a lead in exporting our services to other markets and we have been active in DDI for many years. We build, own, and operate workforce accommodation facilities throughout Oman's oil and gas fields. Along with our partners, we are investing in a 16,000-bed workforce accommodation facility in Duqm. This is a USD195 million investment to ensure the way Oman looks after its blue-collar workforce sets an example to the world in terms of high standards, but at internationally competitive costs through economies of scale. Given our proven profitable success and delivery capability in this area, we are open to welcoming FDI and DDI partners in future projects if this brings GDP growth, sustainable Omani jobs, and inward investment into our economy.