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Oman’s new parliament law shrouds budget talks in secrecy

Since assuming power a year ago, Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al-Said has overhauled government and state entities and begun pushing through sensitive fiscal reforms such as reductions in subsidies and the introduction of a value-added tax.

Oman has introduced a new law for parliament stipulating that state budget talks and the questioning of ministers should be carried out in secrecy. However, it will reduce transparency as the indebted state tries to tackle its creaking finances and shore up the economy. Since assuming power a year ago, Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al-Said has overhauled government and state entities and begun pushing through sensitive fiscal reforms such as reductions in subsidies and the introduction of a value-added tax, which had dragged down his predecessor, the late Sultan Qaboos. Last week, the sultanate’s ruler announced a constitutional amendment that included the appointment of a crown prince for the first time and new rules on how the bicameral parliament, the Council of Oman, would work. The new law, published in the official gazette, states that discussions in both the elected lower house and the appointed upper house on draft development plans and the state budget should be conducted in secret, as should sessions for the questioning of ministers. The previous Basic Law did not specify such secrecy. S&P Global Ratings said that it believed fiscal austerity measures would be introduced gradually “to maintain socio-economic stability” in a country that saw Arab Spring-like protests in 2011 over unemployment, corruption, and political reform.

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