Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Rumour that Ministry of Tourism is under investigation

Super hush-hush word in the corridors of power is that the Ministry of Tourism is under some pretty serious investigation for alleged suspected corruption, possibly reaching "very high levels" within the Ministry, according to my sources in the super-straight, and very much respected & feared, Oman Government State Audit.

From what I gather, the investigation may be centered on some activities within OMRAN, the land development subsidiary of the MoT; and is, in part, related to contracting irregularities not yet fully explained.

It will almost certainly all be quite OK. But there is apparently enough concern to prompt an investigation, which may of course deservedly lead nowhere.


  1. I heard this rumor in 5 months ago....... then it came back and it went again....

  2. Quite how Omran, a company with no track record, management whose experience is limited managed to obtain – read on; the list is amazing and quite sad if you have ever been to the beaches of Muscat
    The Fort Hotel project in Bowsher 120suites+, Muscat City Hotel 600 bedrooms - (Intercont), Duqm Beach Hotel - 200+bedrooms, Jebel Akhdar Hotel 95 rooms, Salam Yiti 600bedrooms and 2000+ housing units accommodation (another public beach heavily used by Muscat’s Residents taken by speculators) , Ras al Hadd 360 bedrooms and 295 housing units, SARAYA BANDAR JISSAH 275 bedrooms and numerous housing accommodation (BTW there goes another public beach heavily used by Muscat’s Residents - will there be a single beach left to the general public in Oman?), Jebel Sifah - 4 hotels, 950 housing units (amazing - there goes another public used by Muscat’s Residents - will there be a single beach left to the general public in Oman?), Salalah Beach 5 hotels with an average 400 rooms (each?) 3 apartment blocks and 144villas (yes you have guessed it - lets zip up all the beaches in Muscat from the south).
    To my calculation that’s a minimum of 2650 Hotel rooms and 3389 housing villas under the management of a company with no track record and management whose experience is limited – oh yes – apart from the Intercont – do they also have Al Bustan Palace and the Crown Plaza in Muscat and Salalah under their umbrella . I suspect that the investigation will have a lot to go through .
    Its also interesting to note that they are gambling with Government money that housing units in Oman will continue to be bought at London prices, at the same rate as the few in the Wave.
    Let’s hold 1 minutes silence for the beaches of Muscat – grabbed by speculators to benefit the few at the expense of the many.

  3. In recent trips to the UAE, I've been pretty startled at how open conversation is there - among well-placed people in travel and hospitality - about the extent to which this particular problem is proving a hurdle to doing business here. And unlike here, they're not afraid to name names.

    It apparently takes many forms, from the usual topping up of costs to quiet but insistent requests to hire friends and family to flat out cash demands, and includes (allegations at least) some very fishy business regarding ownership of some high-profile projects.

    More than one friend says that, especially in combination with losing on such short notice a prime week this year, it's making many question how realistic local understanding of the country's potential is - there being plenty of other destinations for the kind of wealthier tourists who are the prime market here. I have heard that there is more than one developer who is just as happy that the economic slowdown is providing an excuse to walk away, and more than one large travel operator who will not be including the Sultanate in next season's offerings.

    (by the way, Dragon, I'm a regular here, but a cautious one, so going anon).

  4. So, who are the principal players in OMRAN? And based on Virtually's list in earlier comment, which tourism hotel/projects is OMRAN NOT involved in?

  5. Certainly, the Ministry with their blue signs ‘future development site’ all along Omans coast seem to have major plans – perhaps with OMRAN at its head, to create a Costa del Sol with its continuous ribbon of hotels right here in Oman and who knows – perhaps in the fullness of time the delights of Ibiza as an artificial Island off Muscat.
    To date OMRAN have actually not managed a single up and successfully completed project; so they will have a vertiginous learning curve to get up to speed with the Oman Governments money .

    The understanding of the potential of Oman and who the tourists are who come to Oman and more importantly why they come to Oman cannot have escaped the attention of the OMRAN and Ministry of Tourism – they cant be attempting a reversal of Omans previous ‘selective’ focus - can they ?
    Perhaps those in the UA of E have a different viewpoint about the remarkable Ferries, the empty Golden Tulip on Masirah, the lengthy project in Mirbat, the case of the Sheraton.

    Certainly Bahrain, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Ras Al Khaimah, Fujarah must have been weighed into the mix to see how Oman and OMRAN stands in relation to these seasoned players.

    Presumably the exotic cheap shores of Morocco, Tunisia, Libya (perhaps they studied Algeria), Egypt, Syria. Turkey were included in the careful feasibility studies made into all these projects.

    No recipe for such a massive leap into development by OMRAN would have ignored India, Sri-Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. The blend of Mexico, Belize, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Guyana, Guiana, Brazil must have been filtered through .
    The housing projects around the world will have been poured over in sleepless nights by OMRAN deciding how much Government Money to drop into Omans projects.

    The success of two new properties (Chedi and Shang) in Oman would not have obscured the history of Omans hotels, where only a few years ago rooms at Al Bustan could be had for a third of todays rate .

    The prime week loss - which was on top of the mid-summer November cancellation and then resale in conjunction with the prime week - and alongside similar losses to accommodate sports players - will have been considered.

    Can an estimate be made as to the break even for the Royal Yachts 15 cabins ?

  6. Omran also known as Oman Tourism Development Company has been formed to promote various tourism projects in joint ventures with private companies and investors.
    The chairman of Omran is Dr Rajiha, the minister of tourism. Wael Lawati, the ex-acting CEO of Wave, is now its CEO.
    Among other projects that have listed above by OmanVirtually, there is also the prestigious Asian Beach Games Village that is supposed to undertaken by Omran to be completed in time for Asian beach Games 2010.
    And yea, all the public beaches in and around Muscat have been sold to various projects except the popular Gulf Beach (Qurum beach) sandwiched between Intercon and Crowne Plaza. Apparently, Gonu has deterred any development in this area because of firsthand experience with wadi water which flooded the whole area. Thank God for small mercies.

  7. I suspect once the dams in Wadi Hatat have been completed the beach at the Crown Plaza beach will be sold off as ‘ a unique opportunity’ to own the last remaining ‘pristine’ beach in Oman – offers in a plain brown envelope to be handed in to …. . The mangrove swamp will be cleared as an unsightly muddy eyesore and the fishing boat area will be re-zoned as an exclusive marina . The signs – ‘no dogs’ and ‘no driving’ will have alongside them strict orders ‘no football’ and ‘non residents prohibited’ .

  8. With OMRAN in charge and the financial crisis already having a massive impact on developments in the region, it is highly unlikely that these projects will come to fruition in the coming years. So I guess we can still enjoy the public beaches for years to come.

  9. Ibrahim - will the children of today’s Omani citizens be able to enjoy them ? The intention is clear - even if the execution is delayed

  10. I assume that the purpose of government in Oman is to provide for the common good [rather than to enrich those in power]. If it is to provide for the common good, then what would be involved in a group of concerned Omanis getting together to lobby the government to protect beaches for the people of Oman in perpetuity? I gather that Muscat Municipality thinks now that it's important to organize some parks and play areas for the public; so presumably someone in government is 'on board' with the idea of open space, parks and recreation and beaches for the public.
    Sounds to me, though, that this beach lobby group needs to be organized NOW -- while the audit of OMRAN is still going on; so if some of these beach hotel projects would be put officially on hold, then the lobby group could step in and put its case [for preservation of beaches for public use] to the government, which we hope will be trying to provide for the common good.

  11. In all reality Oman is a small place, and yet its somewhat enlightening to see how rank greed (and the profile of the serial protagonists)often manifests itself. Besides this it is often also very enlightening as how both the locals and the expatriate population switch of their brains and defer to those persistently ploughing their own furrow's. That is, until such time that it suits to deride them - which is probably a reflection of being so collectively duped/blindsighted in the first place. Accordingly it is also enlightening as to how - in the blink of an eye - they will also champion such rouges on threat of a 'chanllenge'.

  12. The ESO is the ideal group to try and keep at least 1 beach for the Public in Muscat - Bandar Jissah with its 19thC village, unique field structures and 1000BC graves would be an ideal candidate to protect from destruction.
    Expats are powerless to do anything – it needs to be Omanis who value their heritage, public amenities and believe the speculation should not work against the common man/woman. Or perhaps apathy is endemic .

  13. You have to think of Oman in these days like europe in fuedal age where lords and high ranking split land and wealth between them.
    My guess is that after oil runs out, revolution will come and all these projects will be nationalize back to public.

  14. I think some people here are confused as to what Omran is and what it actually does.

    The government of Oman, through the Ministry of Tourism, has been giving developers large parcels of land to develop for projects like Sama Dubai's Salam Yiti and Muriya's Jabal Sifah and Salalah Beach. In return for the land that the developers get, the government takes equity stakes in the projects. Initially the equity was held by MOT, and later MOT formed a company called Oman Tourism Development Company (later branded as Omran) to hold that equity. In addition to these projects, some of the existing tourism related assets which were already owned by the government, such as the Muscat Intercontinental Hotel and the yacht club in Bustan, were also transferred to Omran's ownership for potential future redevelopment. I assume eventually, all the hotels owned by the government will be transferred to Omran, except maybe the Bustan Palace hotel. I think there's a plan to eventually do an IPO and sell part of the company to the public. (Don't forget the government also owns a share of the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah as well).

    BTW, the Crowne Plaza Muscat is privately owned, not part of Omran like someone had mentioned here.

    In projects where the government gave away land for equity, Omran has no role in the development except as a shareholder, member of the board, etc. Sama Dubai is doing its own thing in Yiti. Muriya is doing its own thing in Sifa and Salalah. Same with Saraya in Jissah and the Qatari company in Ras Al Hadd. However, Omran does have its own projects which are entirely owned by it and managed by it: the huge convention center complex in Muscat, Duqm beach hotel, Jabal Al Akhdhar hotel, the Fort hotel in Bausher, and the most high profile of all is the 2010 Asian Beach Games project in Wudam Al Sahel.

    Omran did not have a CEO until Wael Al Lawati joined last year from The Wave. Before that the company entirely under the control of H.E. the Minister.

    If the issue is the speed at which prime land was given away, especially Oman's beaches, then that is government level decision making, mostly at MOT. Omran has nothing to do with that. I think most times, MOT makes decisions and then shoves them at Omran and the company then struggles to find a way to get them done. I am quite sure that all Omran's tenders are done through the govenrment's Tender Board and not awarded directly.

    Anyhow, like ColOman said, news of a government investigation of MOT has been going around for months, and intensified after the dismissal of the two ministers last year.

  15. Can anyone confirm if White Beach (aka) Mukalla Beach near Fins is now owned by Bahwans for a hotel ?

  16. A large plot of land including the White (or Golden) Beach indeed seems to have been assigned to Bahwan for development. It will not only be a hotel. It's a large development including hotels, golf course, spa, villa's, retail, marina, etc. Yet another Salam Yiti or Blue City...

  17. This lot missed the opportunity!
    NEWSFLASH - Sama Dubai to liquidate-capitulate-fail. Call it what you will. ALL Staff being "made redundant", contracts cancelled, outstanding accounts unpaid! Marvellous display suite nearing completion...handed back to land owner..Total Fiasco on all levels!!
    The culprit..that pesky "global financial crisis" -the new scapegoat for years of incompetence, nepotism, mis-appropriation, and excess. The first of many of Omran's strange and inexperienced "property development" bedfellows that has hit the fence.
    Thank Allah for oil..the coming circus would never have happened without it!

  18. well the truth about Sama Dubai (or is it only Sama Yiti) may never be known http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20090121-708706.html
    Thanks Objective for confirming Bahwans as the owner of White Beach - I guess its at the stage now where its a question of does the Ministry of Tourism have any land to give away on a beach within 100kms of Muscat or are there any new speculators available to take what land there is.

  19. Which of the Bahwans are we talking about here? Saud Bahwan Group? Suhail Bahwan Group? or OTE (owned by Saad Bahwan, son of Suhail Bahwan)?


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