In what ways is the government investing in Oman's transportation infrastructure?
AL-FUTAISI: Right now, we are embarking on various large development programs on all transport levels, such as maritime, ports, airports, and roads. I can say that we are building around 6 airports and 6 commercial seaports at the same time. We will be constructing road networks of a high standard in the country for the next 5 to 10 years. In addition to all of the above programs, the government is developing a railway project. One of the most significant projects in Oman up to date is the development of the airports, specifically the expansion of Muscat Airport. It is a highly advanced and challenging project, since we are looking to build a high class airport to leave a good first impression with visitors. We have completed almost 45% of the project and we are looking forward to its opening at the end of 2014.
What is Salalah's competitive advantage as a port?
AL-FUTAISI: Salalah’s port has a very strategic positioning and links Asia with Europe and America. So far the port has been very successful as a transshipment hub for containers coming from the three continents. Currently, the volume has grown to around 5m tons. Given the success rate, we are also expanding Salalah port to become more of an economic zone by developing a free zone. In the next 5 years, we will be spending a couple hundred million on that port to make it into an integrated economic zone, with links between the industrial free zone, the airport, and the port through the establishment of a railway station. This integrated network should connect the GCC countries and Oman with Asia and Europe.
The government has invested heavily in the development of its new port at Duqm. What progress has been made to date? What role will the strategic location of the port play in terms of attracting new investments and facilitating further international trade?
AL-FUTAISI: Duqm is also another interesting story in the development of Oman. They are also building an economic zone from scratch. If you would have visited Duqm 5 years ago, you would have found nothing. Currently, we have an operational dry dock, and a port on the verge of completion. We are now working on the infrastructure and the support structure of the port systems. Other infrastructure projects are also in place such as an airport, roads, hotels, etc. It is a success story to have greenfield development of such a strategic location. We strongly believe that this is a project for our next generations. This project has a very high potential of becoming a logistic hub for the development of heavy industries and other services due to the strategic location, the open areas, and the government’s long-term vision. We are developing this area to be the gateway to the GCC countries.
How will the port at Duqm be integrated into Oman's already existing network of ports?
AL-FUTAISI: Right now we have around 6 big ports, which are Salalah port, Sohar port, Duqm port, Muscat port, and another 2 smaller size ports in Shinas and Musandam. Our objective is to have them specialized in certain activities. Muscat will be a tourism port, Salalah is specializing in transshipment, Duqm will be more of a multi-purpose and logistics hub port, and Sohar is an industrial port. We are trying to build an integrated port system with specialized services that the ports can integrate between themselves and then provide those services to Oman, and also to the neighboring country of Oman.
How would you describe Oman's fiber infrastructure? What upgrades are being made to communications infrastructure?
AL-FUTAISI: In the Arab word, fiber infrastructure is not yet very strong and requires major development and major investment. When it comes to broadband in individual households, we have already developed fiber optics in some parts of Muscat. Probably by 2015, we will be covering the entirety of Muscat with fiber optics reaching individual homes. This will be a major change, not only in terms of telecoms, but also due to the fact that we are expecting that people will have access to high speed internet. However, Oman is a big country and the capital is just one area. We still need to work hard to have fiber optics available across the Sultanate. We have very diversified terrains of mountains, deserts, and long beaches. Whenever we want to build infrastructure for fiber optics, it is not only financially difficult, but also operationally difficult. The maintenance and the management are also challenging. However, due to the vision of His Majesty for these developments to reach rural areas, and every citizen in the country, we are not allowing geography to be an obstacle for large developments in the country.
We are building around 6 airports and 6 commercial seaports at the same time. We will be constructing road networks of a high standard in the country for the next 5 to 10 years. In addition to all of the above programs, the government is developing a railway project.
In the recent WEF Global Competitiveness Report, Oman received a ranking of 41st in the realm of technological readiness. What actions are being taken to improve the country’s overall technological readiness? How would you compare Oman’s technological readiness to that of its regional neighbors?
AL-FUTAISI: Oman is a young country. Thus, we are not expecting high-end technology to be easily available. Through our strategies, vision, and projects, we stress that we need to establish high standards and we need the technologies to be transferred to Oman. If we are not able to create or develop it ourselves, we ask our alliances to assist us with the project and also to transfer the technology to Oman. For example, in the Muscat Airport, we are building the latest systems, some of which will be used for the first time in the world. We are open for new technologies and we would like to be ahead in these systems. We have e-government projects and we are convincing personnel, ministries, and local and government organizations to adapt to electronic systems and IT systems. We are trying to include the latest technologies in all of our projects. The Ministry is also encouraging our partners to transfer the know-how, and the best technologies to the Sultanate.