In the name of Allah, and with His blessings, I declare open the 44th session of the Shura Council.
Dear Brothers, members of the Shura Council,
I am pleased to welcome you to the opening of the new session of your esteemed Council, which I am sure will be similar to its predecessors, as a new and fruitful addition to the legislative work, which is a responsibility assigned to your esteemed council, within the framework set by the Constitution.
Our legislative policies, as you know, are primarily directed to achieve the goals enshrined in our Permanent Constitution, namely: to proceed with establishing and developing a State of law and State institutions and organising the three powers of the State; maintaining and promoting the basic components of the family and society; maintaining a balance between respect for citizens’ rights and public interest of society and the nation; and providing means of a decent life for Qatari citizens now and in the future.
In recent years we proposed and passed, with your valuable contributions and diligent efforts, much legislation in all these fields, especially with regards to the organisation of the State apparatus, health and education, organising economic activity and providing care for the family and community. We still have more to do, because we have set no limits on our determination to continue making progress for our country and the well-being of our people.
As I always do in my annual speech to your Council, I will speak to you frankly and objectively.
Despite the instability in the Middle East, and the sharp drop in oil and gas prices, Qatar’s economy has maintained a good growth rate in 2014, with the GDP growth rate at constant prices reaching 6.1%, which is a favourable rate. Its importance is noticeable when compared with the growth rates of oil-exporting countries in the Middle East and North Africa, where the growth rate was 2.4%, and in GCC countries, where the average GDP growth rate stands at 3.6%.
What is remarkable is that, at the time of a 1.5% drop in contributions from the main component of GDP - the oil and gas sector, non-oil sector contribution increased by about 11%. This growth has been coupled with the continuation of a high level of confidence conferred on Qatar’s economy by global rating agencies. Qatar has advanced its position in the global competitiveness index. The Qatar Stock Exchange was also upgraded from Frontier Market (FM) to Emerging Markets Status (EMS) by a global credit rating institution.
Against the backdrop of feelings of satisfaction raised by these achievements, I still would not conceal from you that such a large and persistent decline in energy prices, requires caution and vigilance.
I assure you that it requires caution and alertness but not fear. The difference is important, because alertness is rational and useful in public policy. Fear does not help in drawing up the right policies as it spreads the sort of climate that negatively impacts the economy and investment, and hence becomes synonymous with a false self-fulfilling prophecy.
Caution must prompt us to be honest with each other, to band together in the face of challenges, and to be vigilant in rejecting the two extreme trends: unjustified panic on the one hand, and on the other, self-delusion that is reflected in embellishing the reality for self-satisfaction.
However, we have gone through even more difficult periods than this - when Qatar's economy was not at this level of configuration, and our country’s energy industry was not as sophisticated.
But the key to riding out this stage safely is each of us realizing that we benefited during the periods of rapid growth and high oil prices. It is also incumbent on each of us to bear the tasks, responsibilities and burdens of this current stage. The responsibility is to be shared by all, each according to his own ability in bearing this burden, which is only fair. The citizens have no problem in making a contribution when they feel that there is fairness in the matter. “Allah does not assign burden to any soul except what is within its capacity", verily true are the words of Allah.
We have to work hard to keep the development process on the right track, despite the sharp decline in oil prices, because the correct development is the one that will insulate us from the negative effects of oil and gas price fluctuations in the future, and the risk of developments in the global economy, but since 2008 we have taken precautions against that in Qatar National vision 2030, and in the National Development Strategy of the State 2011 - 2016. On this occasion, I assure that despite the low prices in the energy market, we will continue to implement the infrastructure development and human development projects.
Brothers members of the Shura Council,
As you know, the Qatar National Vision 2030 aims at transforming Qatar into an advanced country, capable of achieving sustainable development and ensuring the continuation of a decent living standard for its people, generation after generation, by seeking to develop a diversified economy coupled with diminishing dependence on hydrocarbons, where investment is moving towards a knowledge-based economy and the private sector is growing in importance.
The 2011-2016 national development strategy has crystallised the development priorities, which include sustaining economic prosperity, upgrading infrastructure, raising natural resource management efficiency, diversifying the national economy, activating the role of the private sector and promoting human development especially in the fields of private education, health and environmental protection.
Preparation has begun to draw up the National Development Strategy 2017-2022. Here I would like to indicate through you to the Ministers and all the staff at work on the National Development Strategy inside and outside the State apparatus, that the items I have mentioned are the objectives that could be accessed through a clear-cut action plan with proper indicators and benchmarks to gauge the implementation success.
I therefore emphasise the need to plug the gaps in the planning framework, improve coordination across the sector, and between different sectors, and to focus on outputs and outcomes. The actual concrete results are the yardstick for gauging strategy success. It is true that international ratings published by newspapers from time to time about the ranking of Qatar in this or that area are encouraging and optimistic, but what is most important is our own assessment of the results, and how much are they real and tangible.
Regarding the efficiency and feasibility of government spending, the general budget for the fiscal year 2016 slated to begin on the first of January is under process. Next year's budget will take the fall in oil price into consideration, so as to avoid a large budget deficit, because that may cause harm overriding the balance of payments to the overall economy.
The context of talking about falling oil prices has evoked this Quranic verse in my mind: “But perhaps it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you, and perhaps you may love a thing and it is bad for you. Allah knows and you know not", verily true are the words of Allah.
The high oil prices have brought immense benefits to this country and its people, but no one denies the accompanying negative phenomena namely, the tendency towards wasteful spending, some over-staffing in the institutions, and the lack of accountability for errors in many cases, because funds available could be used to cover up failure in some institutions. It may also lead to dependency on the State to provide for everything, and reduces the motivation of individuals to be sophisticated and proactive.
We must transform the exigent spending control at this stage into an opportunity to face those drawbacks, and we should not pass up this opportunity.
This budget will focus on efficiency in government spending. It also will tend to promote growth and expansion in non-oil sectors to diversify the economy.
The inflation rate for the current year is expected to be in the range of 2%, and despite the fact that this rate is low, the government should not hesitate at encouraging competition and at the same time controlling prices, to achieve financial and economic stability.
In the area of strengthening the private sector and economic diversification as well as limiting the State’s competition with the private sector, a comprehensive review of all State-owned companies has been carried out.
Having this review been submitted to the Supreme Council for Economic Affairs and Investment, I have directed that, subsidies for a number of these companies be ceased, some of them be privatised, management of some be transferred to the private sector, government corporations and companies not to enter into competition with the private sector, and that opportunities for this sector to implement government projects be reinforced.
But the private sector in the State of Qatar must assume its responsibilities and take the initiative, and not wait for the State to be a “patron State”. The patron State caters for underprivileged citizens, children and the elderly.
In addition to that, Qatar has been ranked first in the world in spending to subsidise consumer products, but when it comes to business, it must not be a patron State of business. Because that is an area of private initiative.
The State must support businesses by preparing investment conditions, eliminating bureaucratic bottlenecks, and arranging an incubating infrastructure for the projects. But the rest depends on the business sector itself.
In addition, this sector must be more than just an intermediary between the State and foreign companies. Surely, foreign companies are indispensable, but we want to see the domestic capital contribution, its initiatives and willingness to take risks in developing the national economy in order to make profit.
The State undertakes vigorous efforts for developing economic zones, logistics, and storage facilities. Two industrial zones have been launched during 2014 and 2015. The government continues to put forward projects for tender to increase storage capacity and reduce operational costs for investors. This does not solve the whole problem, as we must also address the unjustified rise in real estate prices. Everyone knows that high operational costs in all areas would eventually impact the State and inflate its budget. This is no longer possible.
It is necessary to remove the bureaucratic obstacles encountering investment, especially, some procedures that have turned into mere stumbling blocks hindering work. This also applies to some duplication between the ministries, and frequent changes in the procedures, transactions, necessary forms and licenses, which tend to confuse citizens, as well as local and foreign investors. Many would not venture to invest, if the investor is being requested every day to fill out a new form, a new license; or if several conditions were changed many times over during submitting the application. It is highly necessary to standardise as much as possible the procedure at the Ministries, for the citizen and the investor by means of one-stop shop concept. This idea must find its way through to be implemented in a comprehensive manner.
Surely, there is no investment without conditions. However, the conditions and procedures in our country must be clear, complex free and stable.
I have directed the government to hammer out an industrial strategy to increase the contribution of the manufacturing industry to GDP, particularly, those based on knowledge. It is necessary for Qatar to produce at least part of its food. I hope that these plans will find their way into implementation.
I would like here to take a short pause to address the Qatari youth.
Qatar’s economy cannot dispense with foreign expertise and labour, this is true, yet Qatar cannot be built without you, and cannot be built on a limited number of professions and specialties.
There are vital sectors of the State such like the field of security, army and police, and even the planning, management, engineering, medicine and scientific research where we need Qatari youth, and Qatari youth must proceed to all specialties and take their homeland into account when taking decisions. Citizenship is not a set of privileges, but first and foremost it is a sense of belonging to the homeland. This affiliation entails a set of rights and duties towards the society and the State. Citizenship is also a responsibility.
A citizen has the right to benefit from the wealth of his country. But a citizen must ask himself from time to time, what did I give for my country and my community? What are the best ways to be useful? And what can I do to contribute to the national wealth of my country so that future generations can also benefit.
This is what we mean when we say that the real wealth of nations is the human resource, which could also be rendered as the source of its real poverty. Thus, countries differ from each other.
I also affirm here before you that if this is what is expected from the citizen, then what is expected from anyone in charge of a public position is many times bigger. In this sense we will not tolerate financial and administrative corruption, abuse of public positions for ulterior motives, or abandoning professional standards for the sake of personal interest.
Brothers, members of the Shura Council,
Our pursuit for economic diversification and reducing the dependence on oil and gas does not mean that we will not pay adequate attention to maintain and develop this sector, because this sector has enabled us to achieve growth rates during a period of fifteen years, which are considered as one of the highest growth rates in the world, and this growth is the one that helped us to achieve qualitative leaps in all economic, human and social fields, and it will remain for a long time a major component of the GDP and a source of wealth used to expand the production base for future generations.
In the field of foreign policy in the various Gulf, Arab, Islamic, and international frameworks, Qatar continues its effective collective and bilateral work, and I put emphasis here on continuing our efforts with our brothers in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to strengthen our collaboration at all political, economic, social, and security levels, and on developing the Council's action mechanisms, so as to be able to face the regional and global challenges and changes, and to achieve the interests of our peoples. We are also most keen to strengthen the fraternal relations with all brotherly Arab countries, which are desperately in need of unifying their ranks and positions and to deepen cooperation to cope with the risks and challenges they encounter.
To the same extent, we pay great attention to defending Arab and Islamic causes, achieving international peace and security, adhering to international legitimacy and building friendly relations that respect common interests with world countries and which are based on mutual respect and non-interference in internal affairs.
In these days in which we witness the uprising of the Palestinian people to defend themselves against the occupation practices, and protect the sanctities of the Arab and Islamic Umma as a whole, and the legendary steadfastness of the Syrian people in defending their right to a free decent life in their homeland, I reiterate our commitment to these just causes and to our principles vis-a-vis all Arab issues.
Everyone has become aware that Qatar does not change its principles. We may conduct an introspection and evaluate our actions in order to correct errors if they occurred, because erring is human, but we do not change our principles.
In conclusion, I wish your deliberations all the success and luck in serving your country.
Peace, mercy and blessings of God be upon you.