The shift towards a technocratic society in Oman’s Vision 2040

By Neha and Priya Chetty on October 26, 2021

Oman’s Vision 2040 is a guide and key reference for planning activities in the next two decades (Kutty, 2020a). ‘Technocracy’ can be defined as a model of governance where individuals possessing technical skills and relevant expertise are the key decision-makers (Kenton, 2021). These government officials and policymakers are appointed to do justice to their posts based on their proven competence in their respective fields. People who come to occupy such positions in technocracy are known as ‘technocrats’ (Kenton, 2021). The emergence of technocracy can be traced back to the United States where post the Great Depression there was a growing realisation that recovering from an economic slump would require the knowledge and expertise of an economist rather than solely relying on politicians for economic management. It is in line with this that measures and policies in different departments of government, be it defence, infrastructure, or urban planning, requires consultations and inputs of the professionals from the specific field of governance.

Oman’s economic growth Vision 2040

The vision was formulated after considering inputs from several stakeholders of the Omani society. At the heart of Vision 2040 lies the objective of enhancing economic growth along with just social distribution of benefits arising out of this economic prosperity among different social groups (Kutty, 2020b).  It also aims to improve several economic indicators of the country like:

  1. Increase real GDP per capita by 90 per cent and real GDP growth by five per cent annually during the next 20 years (Bank Dhofar, 2021).
  2. Raise the contribution of foreign direct investment (FDI) to GDP to 10 per cent (Kutty, 2020b).
  3. Emphasis is on diversifying the economy by increasing the share of non-oil activities in GDP. The focus has been majorly on developing tourism, logistics, manufacturing, fisheries and mining (Soundararajan, Ravikumar and Hussain, 2020).
  4. It seeks to ensure that expansion of these sectors leads to significant employment generation in the economy.
  5. It also aims to increase the rate of Omani nationals in the private sector to 42 per cent by 2040 (Diwaker, 2019).

The strategy for the realisation of goals of Oman Vision 2040 visualises a greater role for community participation along with the government. The vision committees created for the purpose consists of representatives of the Government, experts and scholars are drawn from the private sector, civil society organisations and common citizenry (Kutty, 2020).

The role of technocracy in Oman’s Vision 2040

Departing from the traditional model of centralised governance where several important ministries were held by the office of the Sultan, the government of Oman has undergone significant restructuring by adopting technocracy as the mode of appointment of ministers (Times of Oman, 2020). For the first time in Oman’s history, some of the newly appointed ministers have been drawn from academic or technocratic backgrounds. To cite examples, an economist has been appointed as Head of the Ministry of Economy. Minister of Higher Education, Scientific Research, and Innovation has been an academic at Sultan Qaboos University for decades (Balushi, 2020). Additionally, academics have been appointed in their field of specialisation like the Undersecretary for Information Technology, and the Minister of Transport has a training background in engineering and work experience in managing logistics. Another example is the Minster of Housing and Urban Planning who is a specialist in urban planning. Such appointments in higher echelons of government mark a shift of Oman towards a technocratic society.

Challenges amd outcomes of building a technocratic society in Oman

While technocratic appointments are expected to bring efficiency, Oman needs to diversify its economy for sustained long-term growth. Even with experts heading the ministries it needs to adopt technological innovation to better manage its financial and human resources (Hasnan and Salmi, 2015). Secondly, it needs to bring transparency and uniformity to smoothen the recruitment process (Jureidini, 2016). Its success to reap the benefits of structural transformation in governance will also depend on its ability to strengthen the bureaucratic foundations and adopt digital transformations in bureaucracy which present global challenges call for in a post-COVID world. Lastly, this technocratic recruitment process should not succumb to the tendencies of filling vacant positions. Instead, it should be a process of attracting the best talents in Oman. Otherwise, the government would be just caught up in a hiring cycle.

It also has to be kept in mind that while the appointment of professionals and experts appears to be the ideal way for efficient governance, but these experts are not made overnight. It is only after years of investment in educational infrastructure does a society produces economists, foreign policy experts, environmental experts. So, investment in human capital formation will have to take priority in Oman to ensure this shift to a technocratic society is successful and yields desired results.

Putting technocrats in charge of ministries and departments has implications on the economic and foreign policy of Oman. The shift towards a technocratic society is expected to streamline government operations. The present Sultan of Oman has reinstated the Ministry of Economy, which had been abolished in 2011, and appointed a minister who is an economist. This suggests the inclination of the present leader to resolve economic challenges caused by the rising fiscal deficit by introducing economic reforms. By putting professional diplomats in charge of the Foreign Ministry, the foreign policy of Oman is going to reflect the perspective and larger interests of the and it can no longer be reduced to merely the personal vision of the Sultan who previously held the portfolio.

Progress made in Oman towards a technocratic society

Oman has been successful in making a transition towards a government where those who have headed the ministries for decades have been replaced with technocrats. Previously in a highly centralised model of governance in Oman, the foreign affairs and financial affairs portfolio was held by the Sultan. However, Sultan Haitham has made way for inclusive governance by giving them up and showing the necessity of delegation of power for efficient administration (Gambrell, 2020).

A new sovereign wealth fund has been created which has taken over most of Oman’s state-owned entities in order to minimise bureaucracy, a move which has been welcomed by the business committee of the country (Castelier, 2020). Until now the foreign investors have faced the business and legislative environment of the country which has been made unfavourable by the slow decision-making process and bureaucratic hurdles. Now with greater insights from experts, it is expected that favourable economic policies will be adopted which would smoothen the process for operating and attract more foreign investments. These steps are likely to contribute more positively towards Oman’s Vision 2040.

References

  • Balushi, T. B. A. a., 2020. Oman Restructures Government in a Bid to Revive Economy. The Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, 9 September.
  • Bank Dhofar (2021) ‘VISION 2040: Gateway to development’, Bank Dhofar, 15 March.
  • Castelier, S. (2020) ‘Oman’s state-owned entities change hands’, Al Monitor, 17 June.
  • Diwaker, A. (2019) Vision 2040: Oman’s ambitious strategy towards a post-oil economy. Muscat.
  • Gambrell, J. (2020) ‘In a first, Oman’s sultan names foreign, finance ministers’, Washington Post, 18 August.
  • Hasnan, N. B. and Salmi, M. A. A. Al (2015) ‘Challenges in Successful e-Government Development: A review on Sultanate of Oman’, International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications, 5(12), pp. 157–162.
  • Jureidini, R. (2016) WAYS FORWARD IN RECRUITMENT OF LOW-SKILLED MIGRANT WORKERS. Beirut.
  • Kenton, W. (2021) Technocracy, Investopedia.
  • Kutty, S. (2020a) ‘Vision 2040: Blossoming future for Oman’, Oman Daily Observer, 19 November.
  • Kutty, S. (2020b) ‘Vision 2040 eyes increase in economic growth’, Oman Daily Observer, 20 February.
  • Soundararajan, G., Ravikumar, A. and Hussain, A. (2020) ‘Shaping the future of Sultanate of Oman’s Economy: Manufacturing Sector and its Contribution’, Test Engineering and Management, 83, pp. 2697–2706.
  • Times of Oman (2020) ‘A Technocratic Government in Oman’, Times of Oman, 9 September.

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