World News

Oman transfers powers from Sultan's remit in government revamp

DUBAI (Reuters) - Oman’s sultan has designated ministers of foreign affairs and finance, and a new central bank chairman, titles formerly held by the sultan himself, in a revamp that may signal a pick-up in reform momentum for the struggling oil producer.

Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al-Said, who came to power in January after Sultan Qaboos bin Said died after half a century in power, maintains the titles of prime minister, defence minister and head of the armed forces after the decrees read out on state television on Tuesday.

The Gulf Arab country previously had a minister responsible for financial affairs and a minister responsible for foreign affairs, whose briefs were overseen by the sultan.

The reforms come as Oman, whose debt is rated “junk” by all major ratings agencies, is struggling with a widening budget deficit and an economic downturn caused by the double blow of low oil prices and the coronavirus crisis.

In a series of decrees restructuring the administration, Badr bin Hamad bin Hamoud Al Busaidi became foreign minister and Sultan bin Salem bin Saeed al-Habsi became finance minister.

Taimur bin Asaad bin Tariq al-Saeed became central bank chairman.

The sultan’s decrees also dissolved and merged government bodies into new ministries, renamed entities and redefined functions.

The oil and gas ministry became a ministry of energy and minerals, with minister Mohammed bin Hamad al-Rumhi remaining as the head of the new portfolio. Oman is part of the OPEC+ oil producers alliance.

“The new ministerial appointments come as part of a broader public administration reform, ostensibly geared towards greater delegation of executive responsibilities away from the sultan,” said Alexander Perjessy, senior analyst at Moody’s.

“This has a potential to alleviate some decision-making capacity constraints and reduce bureaucratic delays in policy implementation, which have slowed Oman’s economic reforms and fiscal adjustment over the past five years.”

In a turbulent region, Oman has maintained its neutrality. It kept friendly relations with a wide range of regional actors including arch-foes the United States and Iran under the former minister responsible for foreign affairs, Yousuf bin Alawi.

Reporting by Nafisa Eltahir, Lisa Barrington, Dahlia Nehme and Davide Barbuscia; Editing by Mark Heinrich