Omani ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said has launched a US$182m fund to help set up small businesses.
On top of financial backing, new small and medium business (SME) owners would be given land for free, helping them save on start-up costs.
Discussing economic policy with a group of about 300 Omani citizens during a visit to the northern town of Bahla, the Sultan said: “This fund will help young men and women with their projects. The initial capital of the fund has been set at OMR70m ($182m), which will be increased by OMR7m each year.”
The fund has been created in a bid to create a strong non-oil sector based on private companies which will also employ Omani job-seekers. The country’s economy is booming on the back of high oil prices, but has struggled to create new jobs for a young and growing population. Furthermore, oil production is expected to start declining later this year as Oman’s reserves are used up.
An entrepreneurial economy would mean the sultanate no longer relies on oil wealth, and the Omani ruler has taken to the road to explain and debate his economic strategy with local people beyond the royal court in Muscat.
The focus of his national tour is to describe the government’s attempts to boost employment by encouraging people to set up their own businesses. During his meeting in Bahla he ordered that news owners of SMEs be given state land for free, explaining that it would help them start with a “more competitive edge”.
He added: “The land will be for long-term utilisation, and we pray to Allah that our young men and women show interest in various business fields.”
In 2010 the International Monetary Fund estimated that unemployment among Omanis may have exceeded 20 percent. Inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings in the region in 2011, small-scale street protests took place in the country demanding jobs and more economic opportunities.
To address the employment issue, the government created new jobs for Omanis, with finance minister Darwish al-Balushi saying last month that 36,000 jobs were created in 2012, with an 56,000 due to become available in 56,000. About 20,000 of these would be in the civil service.