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Omani researcher offers tips to overcome financial crisis

Muscat: With Oman’s ambitious plans to overcome the financial crisis, an in-depth study by a local researcher might be the flying start to creating a more economically diversified country.

With her background in finance, Ann Al Kindi, a member of the Oman Economic Association’s Board of Directors is drawing up a blueprint to change the existing stereotypes about the Sultanate’s public sector.

“No matter how brilliant you are as an economist, you can’t make a change in a bureaucratic system,” Al Kindi said in an exclusive interview with the Times of Oman.

So how can Oman inject this sector with new blood and more competent expertise?

The bold study suggests that an unfair salary and promotion system, and the absence of a leadership programme are the main obstacles facing some of Oman’s public sector institutions.

In her soon-to-be-published book “How the Omani Public Sector Develops Leaders,” Al Kindi offers fresh insights into 11 senior officials in the public sector, some of them whom used to be leadership influencers in the private sector.

With an “admirable level of transparency,” the interviewees said leadership development is badly required within the public sector; however, “it will not work without other good governance systems.”

“The interviewees identified that the recipe for the Omani public sector is incomplete and ineffective if leadership development is introduced in the absence of an overall human resources strategy for the country,” the study revealed.

In 2012, the total number of government employees was 194,000, of which 151,000 were civil servants, and the training budget was OMR12 million, according to data from the Ministry of Finance.

However, Al Kindi argued that it is not clear what existing public officials have done to develop potential leaders.

“Among all of the 11 interviewees in this study, only two have managed to create the second leadership level and adopted an excellent preparation programme,” she said, adding that this was done by on-the-job training.

The Sultanate’s government effectiveness has been declining from 1996 to 2013, according to the Worldwide Governance Index report.

Al Kindi argued that when government effectiveness fails to improve for a period of more than a decade, then it is possible that talented employees may leave the public sector in search of better opportunities.

The study mentioned that the Civil Service Law states that promotion is based on 70 per cent competence and 30 per cent seniority.

However, an interviewee noted: “The Civil Service Law does not prevent you from discussing employees’ evaluation. It is fear of tough discussion.”

Another questioned: “What kind of leader doesn’t discuss evaluation of the employees? Since there is no evaluation in the civil services, there is no competition.”

Al Kindi also told the Times of Oman that she had never received an evaluation letter during her 15 years of service in the public sector, despite repeated requests.

“Public servants are asked to perform well, despite the average financial benefits gap between them and employees with similar responsibilities in private firms.”

The National Centre for Statistics and Information pointed out that 95 per cent of Omani job seekers prefer working in the public sector, but according to research conducted by Swales and Al Fahdi in 2010, a PhD holder in the public sector would earn around OMR1,500, compared with more than OMR2,500 in the private sector.