Gulf oil producers need to set a timetable for economic and social reforms to satisfy public needs and avert unrest similar to that in other Arab countries, the head of the region’s private sector said on Monday.
Abdul Rahim Naqi, secretary general of the Dammam-based Federation of the GCC Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FGCCI), said the current political turbulence in the Middle East and North Africa would affect many sectors in the region, on top of which is the domestic economy.
In a statement sent to Emirates 24/7, he said that while unrest has not spilled over into most Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, they should take measures to revive their economies, get closer together and honour their promise to carry out social, political and economic reforms.
“The present turbulence and bottlenecks must not weaken our belief in the need for reform…we must stick to reform demands and to the need to enforce rules of transparency and accountability to curb corruption and monopoly,” he said.
“GCC countries should get closer together and implement all merger agreements…we need to preserve our achievements by confronting all problems and obstacles through realistic solutions and a strong will within a clear, stern and definite timetable for reforms…we should not allow the others to set our choices or impose their own choices on us…the present stage requires a great deal of wisdom and vigilance and more understanding and tolerance….let us make the current developments an historic chance to enter the future with confidence and with more capability and resources.”
But Naqi warned the GCC nations, which control over 40 per cent of the world’s proven oil wealth, not to rush in reforms as they could backfire.
“At the same time, we should be careful against raising the ceiling of our expectations to demanding a full and immediate implementation of the reforms….such programmes can not be completed overnight and reform can not be done through slogans and words….building nations and societies must not be based on suspicions, revenge and toppling.”
He said any country can not tackle its problems by denying them but by safeguarding its accomplishments and facing any problem with a strong will.
“Our concept of immediate reforms to stimulate the economy in the GCC is to provide a new set of incentives to encourage investment to offset the decline in general investments and private consumption…GCC governments should also intensify spending on infrastructure projects and services and give the private sector a greater role in such ventures,” Naqi said.
“They should also devise definite programmes to support small and medium enterprises and encourage banks to lend to the private sector and individuals.”
Naqi said he saw great challenges ahead of the GCC countries, including their “exposure and vulnerability” to other markets, adding that this should constitute another motive for them to push ahead with integration moves.
“It is also time for the GCC countries to revise their labour policies and educational programmes to absorb the large numbers of national graduates and new entrants to the job market…it is time to deal with our job seekers as a national wealth and a development opportunity instead of a job burden and an unemployment problem.”
Naqi did not elaborate on integration moves but GCC countries have signed landmark agreements to set up a customs union and a common market that paved the way for the Middle East’s first monetary union. Four GCC members—Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain—have joined the currency union while the UAE and Oman have opted out for the time being for own reasons.