Oman was deliberately shielded from the corruptions of the modern
world by the father of the present Sultan prior to his succession in
1970. Roads, schools, hospitals and telecommunications were virtually
unavailable to the people, despite the availability of substantial,
although not lavish, funds from oil. Sultan Qaboos, in contrast, upon
taking power, used the country's resources to build the modern
infrastructure of the country in a remarkably short period of time.
As a result of
this dramatic shift in strategy, managers and management systems had to
be imported wholesale, along with the technologies. There were few
systems to build upon or upgrade in the country, and very few
experienced Omanis to guide and shape the modernization process. At the
same time, many Omanis were encouraged to go abroad for education, in
most cases supported by Government funds. In the rush to gain
educational qualifications, little attention was paid to the selection
of institutions or the preparation of candidates.
Omanis are returning now in increasing numbers, and a new
university is beginning to turn out graduates. Up until now, educated
Omanis have readily found places in the civil service. Now the numbers
of people available is increasing but their qualifications are often not
attractive to private and public employers. Educated unemployed are
appearing for the first time, just as the need to replace non-Omanis
with nationals becomes more acute: lower oil prices (before the current
blip) and declining production have forced the budget into deficit.
In this situation of declining per capita income from oil and
increasing availability of poorly educated Omanis, the pressures on the
Ministry of Public Service are great for the rapid replacement of
foreigners by Omanis. At the same time, the Ministry feels the need to
institute more regular personnel management practices, such as job
classification and performance evaluation systems. The advisor to the
Minister has urged that priority be given to job classification, and a
UN interregional advisor made similar recommendations, following a visit
to the Ministry shortly after it was set up two years ago.
In my view, for the Ministry of Civil Service to give priority to
traditional personnel functions at the present time would be most
unwise. Oman confronts the task of increasing the productivity of the
entire society, starting with the civil service. Deficit financing has
buoyed up the standard of living of Omanis in the Government, but even
if oil prices remain at present or slightly higher levels, the
longer-term outlook for revenues from petroleum is not good because of
reserve depletion. Oman must upgrade its economic management systems and
upgrade the quality of its personnel if it is to avoid a serious decline
in living standards.
The Ministry of Civil Service, with its Institute of Public
Administration, could become an important avenue for the Government of
Oman to gain access to outside expertise on economic management,
analytical systems, and high-quality staff training. The MDP has a
comparative advantage over other multilateral agencies in helping the
Ministry acquire the competence to tap external sources of support,
because of the flexibility of its operations. I have consequently
recommended a way to design a program of cooperation between the
Ministry and the MDP, stressing increasing emphasis on quality in the
selection of candidates and programs of overseas study; creation of
opportunities for private study in Oman for people interested in
improving their qualifications; access to improved systems of project
appraisal, sectoral analysis, and planning, budgeting and other economic
management methodologies; and an interministerial mechanism for
involvement of the Ministry in all major human resource development and
systems development activities of the Government.
The proposed course of action is quite different from that
recommended by the present advisor to the Minister and by a previous UN
consultant. The Minister will want to think carefully about the
implications of the analysis and the course of action put forward.
Fortunately, the UNDP Resident Representative, Saleem Kassum, has been
trained at Cornell in labor economics and he will be helpful in
elucidating the report for the Minister.
It is entirely possible that the advice of the advisor to the
Minister will prevail, and a more traditional approach to the role of a
civil service institution will be preferred, but if I have succeeded in
articulating the case properly I believe the Minister will be most
interested in following up the proposed course of action.