Kunooz Oman Holding, a leading player in mining, quarrying, transportation and construction material sectors, has applied for mining and exploration licences in three locations from the Public Authority for Mining (PAM), said a top-level official of the company.

The plan is to go for open-cast mining in all three places, with an extensive downstream project in one location to produce value-added products.

“We have three specific projects that we are looking at and all are related to the mining sector in different locations in Oman, with the potential of downstream value-added projects,” Dean Cunningham, chief executive officer of Kunooz Oman Holding, told ‘Times of Oman’ in an interview. The plan is to produce several products, including gypsum.

Government-owned Oman Investment Fund (OIF) has launched a US$200mn Oman Technology Fund (OTF) to invest in startup technology companies around the region and the world.

Officials said the fund is expected to attract technology companies to Oman and help build the country as a tech hub. It is part of the government’s economic diversification strategy.

“We commend the launch of the OTF as an innovative investment vehicle that will help us achieve our development objectives to grow the ICT sector in Oman,” said H E Dr Ali bin Masoud bin Ali al Sunaidy, Minister of Commerce and Industry, at the launch at Tanfeedh’s office on Monday.

“The fund will invest for positive future returns, nationally and regionally. As part of the government’s diversification strategy, technology and a connected digital society have been identified as key development areas for Oman and a significant driver towards an increasingly diversified national economy.”

Sohar Freezone has been selected as winner of the New Investments Award in the 2016 fDi Magazine Free Zones of The Year Awards, in its annual search for the best free zones. fDi magazine is a part of the UK’s ‘Financial Times’ newspaper group.

Sohar is the only winner in this category in the Middle East region. Editor Courtney Fingar congratulated Sohar on this significant achievement as she presented the award to Sohar executive commercial manager Marc Evertse.

“Despite the currently low oil prices and all the global economic volatility, interest in Sohar Freezone has not declined and we have seen some significant new investments signed over the past year. For example, Chinese investors from the Jiangsu Changbao Steel Tube Company are building a greenfield steel mill to produce seamless steel pipes for a broad range of industries, including oil and gas extraction, chemicals, automobiles and machinery manufacturing,” said Jamal T. Aziz, chief executive officer of Freezone, commenting on the New Investments Award.

Tight gas plays are predominant themes of two of the four blocks offered for investment by the Ministry of Oil & Gas as part of the Oman Licensing Bid Round 2016.
Blocks 30 and 31 onshore Oman are essentially gas blocks offered by the government along with oil blocks 49 (also onshore Oman), and 52, offshore the Sultanate’s southeastern seaboard.
Block 30: According to a backgrounder published by the ministry on the four blocks, tight gas is the predominant play within Block 30, a 1,185 sq km area located in the interior of Oman and straddling the Hajar Mountains.
“To date, gas has been discovered in the Natih and Shuaiba formations. These discoveries have not been fully appraised and adjacent structures remain undrilled. There are currently two additional gas prospects mapped within the block. Within the tight gas play is an unconventional sub-play for the Natih E. This unit is a source interval and also a reservoir. Development of unconventional gas is only beginning in the Sultanate and the Natih E has been recognised as a prime target,” the ministry said.
Six of the nine wells drilled within the block have discovered gas in the Natih or Shuaiba formations, Gas rates for drill stem tests (DSTs) and during long-term tests ranged from 7 million standard cubic feet per day (MMscf/d) to 18 MMscf/d. Two additional gas prospects have been mapped within the block.

Oman’s Minister of Commerce and Industry, Dr Ali bin Masoud al Sunaidy (pictured), is set to outline the Sultanate’s strategic economic plan in an influential gathering of business leaders and government officials on October 24, 2016 with over a 100 companies confirmed to participate. In giving the keynote address at MEED’s Outlook Oman forum at the Shangri-La Hotel in Muscat, Dr Al Sunaidy will outline the sectors where the government are prioritising for investment opportunities through public-private-partnerships (PPP) and finance raised from the local and international banking market.

“This is timely conference that will bring together key stakeholders in the public and private sector to discuss and facilitate investment opportunities that will progress the Sultanate from an infrastructure and economic development point of view,” says Dr Al Sunaidy. He will be supported by Central Bank of Oman’s Executive President Hamood al Zadjali and more than 25 other speakers and panellists representing the government and business sector. As Oman enters its ninth five-year plan, a key indicator of the Vision 2020 programme’s achievement will be the launch of projects priortised to achieve the goal of economic diversification. With several projects in the pipeline, Muscat is focused on establishing the public-private-partnership (PPP) framework to solve the funding challenge and attract much-needed investment.

Oman’s central bank plans to float OMR150 million worth of government development bonds towards the end of the year for raising funds to repay a maturing bond issue.

“This is replacement for an issue, which is expiring by the end of the year,” Hamoud Sangour Al Zadjali, executive president of the Central Bank of Oman (CBO), told journalists on the sidelines of a workshop on IFRS standards organised by Horwath MakGhazali, auditors and management consultants practicing in Muscat and a member firm of Crowe Horwath International.

Quoting the minister responsible for financial affairs, Al Zadjali also said that the Oman government will not issue bonds in the international market this year. “Probably (there could be an issue) next year, depending on the budget.”

The CBO chief added that the central bank has raised OMR300 million by way of development bonds so far this year and the forthcoming bond issue will take the total amount raised by way of development bonds to OMR450 million.

Islamic banking entities showed substantial growth during the first eight months of the year constituting about 9.4 per cent of the total banking assets.

According to the Central Bank of Oman’s (CBO) latest banking review and monetary developments, the total assets of Islamic banks and windows combined amounted to 2.8 billion rials at the end of August 2016. The total assets of conventional commercial banks during the period reached 27.4 billion rials.

Islamic banks and entities provided financing to the extent of 2.2 billion rials as against 1.4 billion during the same period last year.

Total deposits held with Islamic banks and windows registered a significant increase to 2 billion rials from 1.2 billion rials.

The total bank credit grew by 11.4 per cent to reach 21.7 billion rials and deposits went up by 6.3 per cent to 20.7 billion rials. Credit by conventional banks showed an 8.2 per cent growth to reach 19.5 billion rials.

Deposits grew by 6.3 per cent to 20.7 billion rials with that of conventional banks rising by 2.5 per cent to 18.7 billion rials.

The new higher octane value petrol ‘Mogas 91’ will be made available from November 1, replacing the ‘regular’ M90 grade, according to Undersecretary at the Ministry of Oil and Gas HE Salim Al Aufi.

The rising use of the M90 had been spurring environmental concerns since this low-octane fuel can add to atmospheric pollution.

Al Aufi said on Sunday that the new grade suited most vehicles in the Sultanate and the decision had been taken in conjunction with Oman Oil Refineries and Petrochemical Industries Company (Orpic). Oil-marketing companies have also reached an agreement with the government for the introduction of new grade at petrol pumps across the country. The other petrol grade ‘Super’ M95 will be known as Mogas 95.

The new variety has a research octane number (RON) of 91. He said the two varieties are expected to give the same levels of fuel efficiency and carbon dioxide emissions.

After a hiatus spanning several years, commercial scale renewable energy development is expected to make headway in 2017 with Oman’s power sector authorities planning to appoint a consultant to assist in the tendering of the nation’s first large-scale solar project.
The tendering process, according to a top official of the Authority for Electricity Regulation (Oman), will be overseen by the Oman Power and Water Procurement Company (OPWP) in line with its mandate as the procurer of all new power generation and related water desalination capacity.
“OPWP at this point in time is working on the first stages of tendering for consultancy services for a large-scale solar plant,” the Authority’s Executive Director Qais Saud al Zakwani (pictured) said.
“Usually, what OPWP does when it comes to conventional power, it hires consultants to put in place the technical, legal and financial parameters for the (tender) terms of reference. OPWP will now hire consultants to do the same thing for large-scale renewable projects. The process will go forward in 2017,” he added in comments to the Observer.

Quality of service, increasing the geographic coverage and the challenges facing the telecom sector were discussed by the Dr. Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Futaisi, Minister of Transport and Communications yesterday night.

Al Futaisi discussed with the CEO of Telecom Regulatory Authority, CEO of Oman Telecommunications Company (Omantel) and CEO of Omani / Qatari Telecommunications Company (Ooredoo) the development of the communications sector, as well as the quality of the services rendered to meet the needs of individual and institutional beneficiaries.

The challenges include the mountainous topography of the Sultanate which increases the cost of communication networks.

They affirmed the importance of continuing the efforts to increase the geographic coverage and reach to remote areas.

The meeting also touched on the key areas for improvement for the companies and the need to do more efforts to develop the service and follow up the tariffs of the services and plans.

The Minister of Transport and Communications urged all parties to follow up satisfaction of beneficiaries and get their feedback to explore possible means for improvement and development and to come out with solutions and services that meet the needs of customers.



A’Saffa Foods on Tuesday said that the company’s board has approved an expansion plan to raise chicken meat production capacity by 100 per cent. The total capital expenditure of the expansion will be OMR45 million.

“The expansion project will be implemented in two phases, each phase will be 50 per cent,” the company said in a disclosure statement posted on Muscat Securities Market website.

The expansion project will be financed through own resources and bank finance.

Meanwhile, A’Saffa Foods has achieved a fall in sales revenue at OMR22.97 million for the first nine months of 2016, against OMR24.27 million for the same period of last year.

“The decline in sales was mainly due to less opening stocks of finished goods on January 1, 2016 as compared to last year,” the company said.

Amid a sharp decline in oil revenues over the past two years the sultanate`s government is now focused on establishing the public-private-partnership (PPP) framework to attract investment in projects prioritised in the ninth five-year development plan.

Attracting the much-needed investments through PPP model and increasing the role of private sector in upcoming projects were the major topics of discussions at MEED`s Outlook Oman Forum held at the Shangri-La Barr al Jissah Resort and Spa on Monday.

The event was held under the patronage of H E Dr Ali bin Masoud al Sunaidy, Minister of Commerce and Industry and was attended by an influential gathering of business leaders and government officials, with over 100 companies in participation. Delivering a keynote speech at the event, H E Sunaidy reinforced that the private sector`s role is the backbone of Oman`s ninth five-year development plan, the last of the series of five-yearplans for Vision 2020 which aims to achieve the goal of economic diversification.

He said that the government is focused on establishing the PPP framework to solve the funding challenge and attract much-needed investment to deliver projects prioritised in the plan. “Nearly 50 per cent of RO9bn projects outlined in the plan have already been awarded and under implementation with expected completion target this year and the next two years.

China retained its top position as the leading importer of Oman Crude by purchasing as much as 180.99 million barrels from the Sultanate in the first nine months of 2016. This constitutes 74.97 per cent of Oman’s 241.41 million barrel crude oil exports during January-September period of 2016, according to statistics released by the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI) on Sunday.

In 2015, China was the top importer of Oman Crude, with imports of 237.56 million barrels, out of the Sultanate’s total exports of 308.14 million barrels.

The Sultanate’s total crude oil exports grew by 3.8 per cent to 241.41 million barrels in January-September period of 2016, compared to 232.52 million barrels for the same period last year.

Oman registered a year-on-year inflation rate (based on consumer price index) of 1.33 per cent in September 2016, mainly driven by a 6.57 per cent rise in prices in the transport sub-segment, and a 0.77 per cent rise in housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels.

The Sultanate’s petrol (Super Grade) price surged ahead by around 50 per cent to 179 baisas per litre between mid-January and now, while diesel prices also showed a similar growth. Starting from mid-January, the country has raised prices of refined petroleum products, which saved millions of rials spent as fuel subsidies. The increase in diesel prices, used by trucks for transportation, led to an increase in the cost of transporting essential goods.

Furnishings, household equipment and routine household maintenance went up by 0.92 per cent, according to the latest report published by the National Centre for Statistics and Information.

Healthcare cost increased by 0.91 per cent, education registered a 3.03 per cent jump, restaurants and hotel prices were up by 0.37 per cent. Goods and different services rates rose 0.4 per cent.

In contrast, the group of foodstuff and non-alcoholic beverages prices came down by 0.77 per cent, clothing and footwear fell by 0.46 per cent, communications by 0.26 per cent, culture and entertainment by 0.48 per cent.

Oman needs to slash spending by nearly 35 per cent to balance its fiscal budgets in 2016, according to the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF’s) latest regional outlook.

To address the mounting deficit, the government should take fiscal austerity steps targeting disposable income and IMF expects Oman to adopt measures to rein in the public sector wage bill through hiring freezes and streamlining benefits.

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Actual oil prices for Oman Crude in 2016 remained significantly lower than the budgeted price, due to which the projected deficit for 2016 surpassed in just the first seven months. Analysts said the government will take major steps in the coming months to contain the soaring deficit.

Oman government is working on a plan to build a large modern automated container terminal at Sohar Port, which will have a capacity to handle five million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) per annum.

The government authorities are waiting for an internal approval, which will be in line with the commercial discussion with the port operator.

The basic infrastructure for the proposed terminal (terminal D) will be developed by the government, while the superstructure will be built by the container terminal operator – Oman International Container Terminal (OITC), Mahdi Al Lawatia, Southern Development Director of Sohar Port told ‘Times of Oman’ on the sidelines of ‘Port Development Middle East Conference’ here on Monday.

He further said that the current container handling capacity of Sohar is around 2 million TEUs and the port’s actual annual container handling is close to the capacity. The expansion will take the total container handling capacity to seven million TEUs per year, once it is ready.

Apart from organic growth, the relocation of all commercial traffic from Muscat a couple of years ago is a driver for recent peaks in cargo volumes, especially in containers.

Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) signed yesterday five agreements worth RO 884,000 for funding social investment projects. The agreement signing ceremony held at Oil and Gas Exhibition was under the sponsorship of Salim bin Naser al Oufi, Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Oil and Gas who said that PDO seeks to build communication bridges between the concession areas and the local communities there. The first agreement is related to expansion of Thamrait Health Centre, which was financed by the company. The centre will be promoted to a 14-bed hospital by introducing two wards for males and females.

It will also include additional offices and clinics at the existing ER and delivery wards. The hospital, which will be provided with necessary medical equipment, will serve the needs of Thamrait residents, as well as Muscat-Salalah road users. The second agreement is related to the purchase of four morgues and corpse transport vehicles for Shaleem Health Centre, which was constructed by the company and provided with many medical equipment. The third agreement is related to financing a public auditorium (Majlis) at A’ Rumais area in the Wilayat of Izki to serve the needs of the locals during the different social and national occasions.

Bank Dhofar said that its board has decided to discontinue its negotiations with Bank Sohar for the proposed merger.

Both banks have been unable to reach an agreement on certain key issues relating to the completion of the proposed merger, said Bank Dhofar in a disclosure statement posted on MSM website.

“With reference to the board`s previous announcement regarding the proposed merger of Bank Dhofar and Bank Sohar (proposed merger) dated June 8, 2016, we would like to inform you that both banks have been unable to reach agreement on certain important key issues relating to the completion of the proposed merger,” the statement said.

A proposal to raise licence fee for health institutions and pharmacies in the Sultanate is in the final stage, it is learnt.
The Ministry of Health, since the beginning of this year, has been weighing various options to find alternative sources of income to meet its expenses.
“A decision to increase licensing fee is expected soon,” said a senior ministry official.
According to the official, committees were recently formed to study expenditure in the ministry and its rationalisation.
“Work teams of the committee have proposed some other fee hikes as well. The final nod from the authorities concerned is awaited,” he said.
However, he said that the increases will not have any impact on healthcare services to citizens.
“The mainstream society will not be affected as a result of the hikes. All aspects will be considered before implementation,” he said.
Oman’s healthcare expenditure is expected to rise as at par with rise in the population. The country is set to experience a 3.1-per cent population growth rate between 2015 and 2020, which is considered as one of the key drivers for the surge in expenditure.
In January 2016, the government allocated RO 1.3 billion ($3.4 billion) of its expenditure on the healthcare sector, which accounts for about 11 per cent of the total budget of RO 11.9 billion ($30.8 billion) in 2016.

Changbao Oman Oil Pipe Co, the first Chinese industrial project in Sohar Freezone, laid its foundation stone on October 10.

The ground-breaking ceremony was witnessed by more than 60 guests from PDO, Sohar Port and Freezone, Oman Arab Bank, project consultants and contractors, and Oil Country Tubular Goods (OCTG) distributors, a statement said on Wednesday.

In his welcome speech, Cao Jian, chairman of the parent company Changbao Group, said Changbao Oman Oil Pipe will be guided by his firm`s corporate values, respond to the ICV policies put forward by the Oman government, and build it to be the best factory in the sultanate.

Founded in 1958 and listed on China`s Shenzhen stock market, Changbao leads the industry in supplying seamless steel tubes for oilfields and boiler companies.

The project is expected to be operational in mid-2017.