Oman’s Sultan Haitham Bin Tariq Al Said has restructured his government through 28 royal decrees issued on August 18. The changes came as part of efforts to address the nation’s looming challenges, including high unemployment, fiscal deficit, and maintaining a foreign policy of neutrality amid regional conflicts.
Haitham bin Tariq succeeded the late Sultan Qaboos bin Said in January. Before ascending to the throne, he was the Minister of Culture and Heritage and head of Oman Vision 2040, a project that aims to implement social and economic reforms in Oman.
The royal decrees issued in August reduced the number of his ministries from 26 to 19 and created new ministries, such as the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Youth, which Sultan Haitham’s son, Dhi Yazan bin Haitham bin Tariq, will lead. The changes led to the merging and renaming of some ministries as well.
The sultan has also relinquished some of his titles, including holding the positions of foreign and finance ministers. Instead, government officials responsible for these affairs have been promoted to the two positions.
Sultan Haitham, however, has retained the prime minister role and kept the three deputies that were appointed previously: Fahd bin Mahmoud Al-Said, his cousin, for the Council of Ministers; Shihab bin Tariq Al-Said, his full brother, for Defense Affairs; and Asaad bin Tariq, his half-brother, for International Relations and Cooperation.
The Deputy Prime Minister for Defense Affairs title had existed until 1996. It was restored in March by Sultan Haitham and replaced the role of the Minister of Defense Affairs, which was held by Badr bin Saud Al Busaidi before his retirement.
In the recent cabinet reshuffle, the Council of Ministers saw long-serving senior figures leave the government.
In the recent cabinet reshuffle, the Council of Ministers saw long-serving senior figures leave the government. The most notable departure was Yusuf bin Alawi’s, who had served as the Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs since 1997. The veteran diplomat was replaced with Badr bin Hamad Al Busaidi. The new foreign minister has served as the secretary-general of the ministry of foreign affairs since 2000.
Another prominent figure that departed the government is Darwish bin Ismail Al Balushi, the Minister Responsible for Financial Affairs, after a 30-year governmental career. Al Balushi was replaced with Sultan bin Salem Al Habsi. The new finance minister has served for more than 25 years in the finance ministry and the Central Bank.
Gary Grappo, former US Ambassador to Oman, told Inside Arabia: “Sultan Haitham bin Tariq’s cabinet change on August 18 was inevitable following the death of his predecessor, Sultan Qaboos, in January, and immediate assumption of the throne. His decision to replace long-serving ministers under Qaboos – Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs Yusuf bin Alawi and Minister Responsible for Financial Affairs Darwish Al Balushi – and perhaps more importantly, reduce the size of the cabinet from 26 post to 19, are worth noting.”
“They indicate that the new sultan is putting his own stamp and imposing a new style on Omani governance.”
“They indicate that the new sultan is putting his own stamp and imposing a new style on Omani governance, perhaps presaging less bureaucracy and more streamlined decision-making,” Grappo said.
“Changes in Oman’s traditionally strong relationship with the US, a foundation element of Qaboos’ foreign and national security policies, are unlikely,” Grappo continued. “His new foreign minister, Sayyid Badr, has long-standing connections in the US government and throughout the US as well as Europe, especially in the UK. Moreover, Sultan Haitham will be keen to deflect and offset political pressure from the Gulf giants – Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE – with continued strong American ties, just as his predecessor deftly managed throughout his 49-year reign.”
The sultan’s changes can be seen as an attempt to uphold the pledge that he made in February, when he expressed his determination to “undertake necessary measures to restructure the state’s administrative apparatus,” promising to enhance the efficiency of government processes, ensure the reduction of national debt, and diversify the economy.
It is clear that Sultan Haitham has been doing that gradually and steadily.
On June 3, he ordered the establishment of the Special Office, whose duties include communicating with the Council of Ministers and various government bodies regarding issues that the sultan mandates. The Special Office will also inform the sultan about the progress of the programs under Oman Vision 2040.
On June 4, the establishment of the Oman Investment Authority (OIA) was announced. The OIA was formed to own and manage most of the sultanate’s sovereign wealth fund and finance ministry assets.
The economy has been a central focus for Sultan Haitham.
The economy has been a central focus for Sultan Haitham, demonstrated in his governance of Oman and in the recent cabinet reshuffle. In his royal decrees last month, he appointed Qais bin Mohammed Al Yousef as a Minister of Commerce, Industry, and Investment Promotion. Al Yousef previously served as the chairman of the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The Chamber is regarded as the voice of the Omani private sector.
Sultan Haitham’s reshuffle was welcomed amongst the business community in Oman. Mac Thomson, CEO of MMIS, an Oman-based hotel management company, told Inside Arabia: “Sultan Haitham’s announcements and actions have been greeted very positively in the business and wider community. These changes in government and some of the government owned companies are some of the most extensive for nearly a decade. They provide an indication of the focused approach that is likely to be adopted by Sultan Haitham.”
It is also important to note that Sultan Haitham’s cabinet now has eight women ministers, which shows an advancement of women’s participation in the government.
“Sultan Haitham believes in Omani women and wants to encourage more of us to work side-by-side with our men counterparts in various fields of service to our country and society. This decision is not only typical of Sultan Haitham’s approach but also serves as a nudge for more women to step into the decision-making table and be heard,” Rumaitha Al Busaidi, an Atlantic Council fellow, told Inside Arabia.
Indeed, what remains to be seen is the progress that these changes will bring to the people who live in the sultanate, as well as to the economic and diplomatic state of Oman during challenging pandemic times and in a sensitive geopolitical neighborhood.