Working together to overcome COVID-19

Story: Gautam Viswanathan

As restrictions continue to be slowly eased and an increasing number of businesses reopen under the guidelines put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Oman, we need to work together and do our bit to help the economy pick up pace once again .

That’s the opinion of economic advisors, business owners and legal experts in the country, who have asked locals and expats alike to use the best of their talents to help the economy gain momentum and shake off the impact of the disease.

Dr Ahmed Al Hooti serves as the head of economic research and is also a board member at the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI), a body that acts as the liaison between private sector companies in the Sultanate and the government.

Al Hooti and his colleagues at the OCCI have been quite busy in communicating between the two sections of the economy in Oman, owing to the very real threat of COVID-19 and the impact it has had on businesses. Several of the decisions the government has taken to help businesses in recent weeks – such as the reduction of rents and the deferment of outstanding loans – have at least been in part due to the efforts of the OCCI.

During testing times such as these though, Al Hooti understands the importance of putting peoples’ lives and welfare first, and has asked people in the country to always remember that.

“I would like to congratulate everyone on the occasion of Eid, and would like to wish them Eid Al Fitr Mubarak, which was just a few days past,” he said. “I would ask everyone to take care of their health and their families. I wish all the best to all of you, be happy and stay safe.

“Currently, it is difficult to group together all the concerns that companies have,” he then went on to explain. “Large companies have different concerns as compared to the small and medium enterprises. Each company will therefore just look at these from their own points of view. We, at the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry, have actually been asking both sides, if we can help them.”

While plans to take care of the sick are being drawn up and put into action, blueprints to restart the economy also are being worked on in parallel. The economic cost of COVID-19 is, after all, one that few companies can sustain for more than a few weeks at best. Despite the best efforts to slow its impact, companies need to resume operations so that the cycle of economic growth and stability can be resumed. 

The Sultanate is currently looking to make it easier for foreign investors to do business in the country, and Al Hooti feels that the more stable companies are in the country, the more convinced investors will be to act as a catalyst for Oman’s economic expansion.

“In the end, we need to be stable, and now look at how we can be of help to foreign investors,” he said. “However, differences lie when you look at economies from an economy-to-economy perspective. In Oman, we have concentrated on the small and medium enterprises, which make up 90 per cent of the companies registered with the OCCI. We must remember, however, that we are also a part of the global economy.”

“We have to now concentrate on the stability of our markets and the stability of our economy. The business community understands that we are doing our best to conduct business alongside all the challenges we have today. With this coronavirus, look at what is happening. Right now, big costs because of it are being borne by the companies and the businesses,” he added.

Although her job does involve taking one side against the other, particularly inside the courtroom, Maimuna A’Sulimani has asked people in the country to work together during the time of COVID-19, so that the imbalances caused by the disease can quickly be adjusted once the economy begins to open up again, and restrictions that have been currently put in place are gradually lifted.

A lawyer licensed to practice in the Sultanate’s Supreme Court, Maimuna is also a member of the Oman Human Rights Commission (OHRC), which looks into potential abuses suffered by people in Oman that can be categorised as violations of their human rights. They also work to make people aware of their human rights, with the OHRC making sure it is aware of the various international laws that safeguard peoples’ welfare.

“I have a message for everyone: COVID-19 is an opportunity for everybody – employers and employees to join hands and support each other, so that we can rebound after the current situation, and provide better opportunities for business, with sustainability,” she said. “We need to be flexible with our businesses in terms of our demands and our expectations, because it benefits no one if your businesses are killed because of COVID-19. Rather, we need to smoothly run through this situation, until we embark into the era after COVID-19.”

A’Sulimani added, “I also have a message for employees in the country: you are not just a number. You are a talent, you have brains, you have been contributing to the success of your company, so do not just treat yourself as a number. Have a solid plan for your future. What is ethical and important is to come up with a plan.”

She feels that now was the time has come for employees to show loyalty to their organisations, and help contribute their skills towards helping their companies quickly regain the momentum to recommence operations once restrictions are lifted.

“Business integrity and sustainability during the time of the coronavirus requires the joint effort of everyone, not just dropping the ball and leaving the company where you made your future and you achieved your dreams,” she added. “They supported you on a monthly basis to help you make a living, so do not just leave because you found another opportunity.”

“For example, if you work in the design, marketing or communications sector, you know that intellectual property or IP is one of the most important commodities, so you will work to protect your IP, because this is your main asset,” A’Sulimani explained. “Similarly, business owners will try to protect their business, because this is their asset.”

A businessman who’s been operating in the country for more than 20 years, Mohammed Ashrafur Rehman has seen it all in Oman. Although he’s never quite experienced anything like COVID-19 – few of us have, to be honest – his experiences have prepared him on how to bounce back from this.

Like most honest business owners in the country, Rehman knows he will need hard graft to make sure he’s doing well, but is unwilling to shy away from the task, and is asking others to also take on the upcoming challenges of returning to work with positivity.

“Stay home, stay safe and respect the laws of the land. Inshallah, better days are ahead,” he said. “The intention should be to establish a long-term understanding between the employer and the employee. This does benefit the medium and small-scale organisations, because in these organisations, because the organogram that they have is very limited and any sudden changes in these organograms will really affect the company.”

“We need to learn how to handle these situations, as far as our business is concerned,” added Rehman. “What I feel is that whatever decision comes from the higher authorities, it will always be welcomed by business organisations and residents of Oman, because whatever decisions are taken are always pointed towards the overall benefits of the development of the economy of the Sultanate of Oman.” – [email protected]