His Highness (H.H.) the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani inaugurated the 49th ordinary session of the Shura Council at the Council's Headquarter on Tuesday morning.
His Excellency Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al-Thani as well as Their Excellencies the Ministers attended the inauguration ceremony.
H.H. The Amir delivered a speech on this occasion which runs as follows:
The following is an unofficial translation of HH the Amir's speech at the opening of the 49th Ordinary Session of the Advisory Council:
In the Name of Allah the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate
Brothers and Sisters Members of the Advisory Council,
It pleases me to extend to you my sincere congratulations on the occasion of the opening of the new session of your esteemed Council, wishing you success and rectitude.
I would like on this occasion to commend your efforts and the parliamentary tasks you carried out at the local and international levels during your previous session, one of the most important of which was organising the 7th Conference of the Global Organisation of Parliamentarians Against Corruption held in Doha.
It pleases me also to congratulate your esteemed Council for unanimously electing His Excellency Brother Ahmed bin Abdullah Al-Mahmoud, as chairman of that organisation for the next session, and to express our sincere appreciation for your fruitful efforts in reaching the agreements concluded with the United Nations on establishing the Office of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism for Parliamentarians, and selecting Doha to host its headquarters.
Brothers and sisters,
Our meeting today comes while we are still facing, together with all humanity, the dangerous COVID-19 pandemic, which has put everyone against difficult tests and choices.
It has become obvious that a full lockdown only postpones the spread of the pandemic, and at the same time harms the economy. Yet, ignoring the pandemic and pursuing the concept wrongly dubbed "herd immunity" aside from the dangerous risking of the lives of people (who are not a herd) - it has become evident that immunity isn't guaranteed after contracting the disease.
However, Qatar has opted for carefully considered partial and interim lockdowns while stressing precautionary measures and maximum readiness to isolate and treat those infected after the assessment of cases, in addition to the State's intervention in supporting the economic facilities affected by the pandemic. The correctness of our resilient choice, which sacrifices neither people's health nor the economy, became clear.
Our health system has proven its reliability in dealing with the pandemic, so our country, by the grace of Allah, has remained as one of the worlds least affected countries. The results of our health policies and persistent investment in developing the health system and medical staff, including prevention, daycare centres and hospitals have been evident.
It must be underlined that the pandemic is still raging at its height in different parts of the world, and we are still facing it in Qatar, and it is necessary not to be complacent in order to avoid a second wave of the pandemic, and to comply with the instructions, especially social distancing, wearing masks and adhering to home quarantine when necessary. And as I previously said we would not hesitate to take strict preventative measures in the event of a new pandemic outbreak.
Realising the importance of international cooperation in addressing the pandemic, we have supported the efforts of the international community and provided necessary assistance to more than seventy countries and international organizations. We will continue to support international efforts to accelerate the development of a necessary vaccine and make it affordable in a fair way to the neediest countries.
There are lessons learned from this pandemic regarding the significance of the public health sector and the importance of synergy between the role of the State, community and the individual in disease prevention, and how the economy and the educational process continue despite everything, as well as the importance of social solidarity, and appreciation of the role of workers in vital areas who extend services to quarantined people in their homes, such as the provision of food, health services, security, police, transportation, etc.
Brothers and sisters,
On the global level, the pandemic has inflicted heavy damage on most of the economic activities, as well as the movement of funds and people. As a result, forecasts regarding growth on the global level this year envision an economic recession that may reach 5%
It is normal that economic deflation results in a decline in energy prices. Accordingly, oil and gas exporting countries were hit by a double crisis due to a drop in prices on the one hand, and the impacts inflicted by the pandemic on the local economic activity on the other hand.
The State has taken two-tier swift measures: first, to support the private sector and maintain the integrity of the financial and banking markets and the Qatari riyal. Second, to maintain the general States budget. In this regard, we have directed to provide 75 billion Qatari riyals in support to the private sector affected by the measures taken by the State to limit the pandemic outbreak, as well as removing all obstacles facing this sector to maintain its business continuity and enhancing the ability of small and medium enterprises to face these ramifications.
A set of facilities and exemptions from customs duties on food and medicine, and on electricity fees and other services fees have also been approved.
As a result of these procedures, we were able to maintain the integrity of the monetary, banking, and fiscal position. So, the official reserves continued to grow in the current year and the diverse range of sources and deposits of the financial sector has expanded. The Qatari riyal also proved its strength and potential against external crises as it preserved its value and exchange freedom.
The State has also taken urgent and necessary measures to mitigate the negative effects of low oil and gas prices on the general budget. The preliminary results showed that the budget deficit during the first half of this year reached about 1.5 billion riyals only, although deficit projections were much higher. This was achieved due to the rationalization of government spending associated with raising the efficiency of the public sector. Despite cuts, the budget continues to concentrate on spending on health, education, and major infrastructure projects.
Out of our keenness to avoid the negative economic effects resulting from the market fluctuations in the oil prices, we have directed that the drafting of the general States budget be based on the price of oil at $ 40 per barrel, which is lower than the expected price.
The energy sector in the State was able to overcome the repercussions of this pandemic with minimal detriments. Production and export operations haven't been affected, and Qatar Petroleum has continued to fulfil its obligations towards all contracting parties. Also, the workflow proceeds unhindered in the main energy projects, namely, the liquefied gas production expansion project, in addition to projects overseas.
Brothers and sisters,
Our efforts for achieving Qatar's national vision goals continue, especially in the field of realizing food security, encouraging investment by issuing a series of legislations stimulating investment and enhancing business environment, particularly the law organizing public-private partnership.
These laws and procedures are beginning to bear fruits, as from the outset of this year the number of established factories and the volume of investments and the number of employees therein has increased considerably.
There has also been a notable increase in establishing foreign companies and the volume of foreign investment.
In the field of environment protection, we have started to develop a national network for air quality monitoring at various locations in the State, formulating a program for marine environment monitoring, and programs to respond to emergencies resulting from oil spills, hazardous and radioactive materials.
And by the grace of Allah Almighty, and in light of our long-term vision of the future of our country and planning for it, we have been able to overcome developmental obstacles and challenges we came through in the last few years. As a result, Qatar has maintained its credit rating as per studies conducted by the international rating agencies in 2020. These agencies have unanimously affirmed a high credit rating for the State of Qatar with a stable economic outlook.
This indicates confidence in the strength of Qatars economy and its ability to absorb major economic crises, including the current pandemic crisis, and its resilience, and even its development in spite of the blockade.
However, this should not lead us to slackness and complacency. There are still great challenges ahead of us in achieving the goals of our long-term vision. To accomplish that, it is inevitable to accelerate minimizing dependency on the volatile revenues of oil and gas due to their price fluctuations and decline in price ceiling over time, as revealed by the recent crisis. This can only be achieved through enhancing economic diversification and proceeding towards increasing the productivity and efficacy of labor in the public sector and encouraging private sector investment.
The State should exert its utmost effort to diversify its income sources through investment in its sovereign fund for future generations, etc. But diversification of income sources also depends on the community, and the economic and service sectors, where the community members work, by resorting to saving, private initiatives, investment and relocating from consumer mentality to the mindset of productive community. The way must be cleared for that end.
As for the government sector, it is necessary to emphasize that development programmes and projects must be implemented with utmost precision and efficiency. I reiterate that jobs in various sectors of the State are not just an entitlement, but rather a duty and a responsibility. Therefore, wages and promotion must be linked to excellence and productivity and to apply that, without exception, on all employees in the State. And just as no private sector investor tolerates that individuals be paid without work and real return, we should not expect otherwise from the State.
Brothers and sisters members of the Advisory Council,
Our Arab ummah lost this year two of the greatest men in the Gulf, namely, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, the builder of modern Oman, who maintained a mutual relation of fraternity and cordiality with Qatar, and His Highness Sheikh Sabah, who acted with all his strength to reconcile between Arab countries and to heal the rift in the Gulf, and whose positions with us we will never forget. We hope that the GCC countries will inspire from the moderation and wisdom of the two late leaders the right exhortations and examples for the future of their inter-relations.
As for our foreign policy, and despite the continued unjust blockade for more than three years, Qatar's international status is being strengthened by the intensification of our activity on issues of concern to the international community, such as climate change, combating poverty, fighting terrorism, etc., and because of adopting, at the same time, wise, responsible and principled policies, and contributing to resolving many conflicts peacefully through dialogue.
Concerning our region, we reaffirm our steadfast position regarding the just Palestinian cause and the legitimate rights of our Palestinian brothers, including the establishment of their independent state on the basis of 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a just solution to the refugees issue, under international legitimacy resolutions.
Brothers and sisters,
Preparations for the Advisory Council elections are about to reach their culmination, and the elections will be held in October next year. These elections will take place, God willing, in accordance with the constitution on which a referendum was held in 2003 and was promulgated in 2004. Thus, we are taking an important stride to strengthen the traditions of the Qatari Shura and developing the legislative process through a wider participation of citizens.
We have our well-established system which is rooted in and intertwined with the structure of our community. It is not a multiparty system, but rather an amirate system based on well-established traditions of fair and rational governance which is connected with the people through the pledge of allegiance, loyal relations, mutual trust and direct communication between the system and community.
Elections are not a criterion of national identity. This identity has crystallized over time and best manifested in the form of solidarity and cohesion of our community with its forbearing moral values and love for its country, as revealed in challenging the blockade.
In conclusion, I wish you a fruitful legislative term, as you have always done.
May Allah grant you success, and may Allah's peace, mercy, and blessings be upon you.
Cover image source: H.E. Khalid bin Khalifa Al-Thani Twitter
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