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DUBAI, Feb 23 (Reuters) – Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al-Said said on Sunday the government would work to reduce public debt and restructure public institutions and companies to bolster the economy.
Haitham, in his second public speech since assuming power in January, said the government would create a national framework to tackle unemployment while addressing strained public finances.
“We will direct our financial resources in the best way that will guarantee reducing debt and increasing revenues,” he said in the televised speech.
“We will also direct all government departments to adopt efficient governance that leads to a balanced, diversified and sustainable economy.”
Rated junk by all three major credit rating agencies, Oman’s debt to GDP ratio spiked to nearly 60% last year from around 15% in 2015, and could reach 70% by 2022, according to S&P Global Ratings.
The small oil producing country has relied heavily on debt to offset a widening deficit caused by lower crude prices. Also, the late Sultan Qaboos, who ruled Oman for nearly 50 years, held back on austerity measures that could cause unrest.
The country has delayed introducing a 5% value added tax from 2019 to 2021, and economic diversification has been slow, with oil and gas accounting for over 70% of government revenues.
Last week, rating agency Fitch said Oman was budgeting for a higher deficit of 8.7% for 2020 despite its expectation of further asset-sale proceeds and some spending cuts.
“We are willing to take the necessary measures to restructure the state’s administrative system and its legislation,” Haitham said in his first speech since the mourning period for Qaboos ended, without elaborating.
He said there would be a full review of government companies to improve their business performance and competence.
Oman observers have said that if Haitham moves to decentralise power it would signal willingness to improve decision making. Like Qaboos, he holds the positions of finance minister and central bank chairman as well as premier, defence and foreign minister. (Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous and Aziz El Yaakoubi, editing by Ghaida Ghantous and Jane Merriman)
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