His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani inaugurated the 47th ordinary session of the Advisory Council at its premises on Tuesday morning.
His Highness the Father Amir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani attended the inauguration ceremony.
Personal Representative of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al-Thani, His Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa Al-Thani, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al-Thani and HE Sheikh Jassim bin Khalifa Al-Thani were also present.
The inauguration was also attended by HE the Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al-Thani and a number of Their Excellencies Sheikhs, Ministers, heads of the diplomatic missions accredited to the State and the State's dignitaries.
The following is an unofficial translation of His Highness the Amir's speech on the occasion:
In the Name of Allah the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate-
Brothers and Sisters Members of the Advisory Council,
It gives me pleasure to meet with you on this auspicious annual occasion of opening a new session of your esteemed Council, marking the beginning of a new legislative term in which our constitutional institutions will proceed with assuming their responsibilities to reach the goals we have set for ourselves from growth-achieving until fulfilling the standards of keeping up with the achievements of contemporary human civilization, and the formulation of our Qatari Arab and Islamic identity and culture on sound moral and civilized grounds.
Since our last meeting, which took place under the circumstances that you know, Qatar's economic invulnerability against external tremors has been boosted and our self-reliance has increased, the bonds with our allies have become stronger than before, and our relations with most of the world countries have developed. Most importantly, the Qataris have become more committed to the ethics they are famous for, and their awareness and realization of the scale of their country’s accomplishments and the importance of national sovereignty and independence of our political decision, under which these accomplishments were achieved, have been deepened.
The world economy witnessed an economic recovery in 2017 involving most countries, regional and economic blocs, including developed countries, among which were the United States, the euro zone and Japan. However, this improvement did not include the Middle East, North Africa and the GCC countries, including the State of Qatar.
But growth in Qatar was the least affected, also a drop in our hydrocarbon GDP was coupled with about 4% growth in GDP from other sources, thus reflecting the role of economic diversification as an important growth component.
Exports increased by 18%, leading to a significant improvement in the public budget, trade balance and current account. The banking system retrieved in less than ten months the level of indicators that prevailed before the blockade, while the level of some of them became even better. In addition, Qatar Central Bank regained its reserve level, and the Qatari Riyal has maintained its value and free circulation. The State continued to provide funding for the World Cup projects without compromising the projects required to achieve the National Vision.
It is noteworthy that the number of factories operating in the State has increased by about 14% after the blockade, and these factories managed to achieve a great deal of self-sufficiency in some food products and consumables. It is to be noted here that the role played by the private sector in achieving these results was pivotal in terms of its interaction with the requirements of this stage. We still expect from it a greater readiness for direct investment and bolder initiatives.
We are striding at a steady pace to achieve water and food security and to secure sufficient electrical energy to push forward the development drive and meet its requirements. The first phase of the Strategic Water Reservoir Project was inaugurated and work is proceeding to commission the remaining phases by the end of this year, with a 155% increase over the current freshwater stock. Also the Umm Al-Houl station in the Economic Zone has come on stream and will be officially opened at a later date.
This megaproject will increase Qatar's electricity production by about 30% and water desalination by about 40%.
The State has adopted a conservative fiscal policy, to reduce spending, necessitated by the sharp drop in oil and gas prices that started at the end of 2014. We had to strike a balance between spending cuts, which are also beneficial to the State and community institutions, and the expenditure requirements dictated by pursuing investment in infrastructure and key development projects and the preparations for the World Cup, which has not been an easy task. But, the signs of success of this policy have started to be seen, by the grace of Almighty God and by virtue of the joint efforts and cooperation among all the government's monetary, fiscal, investment and economic institutions. Government consumption expenditure this year decreased by around 20% from the previous year while household spending increased by 4%. It is expected that this policy will lead to a public budget surplus this year, and that this surplus will increase in the coming years.
Qatar has been able to overcome the impacts of the blockade to a large extent. Economic institutions and financial markets share optimism with us. The World Bank expects Qatar's economic growth rate to reach 2.8% in 2018, and will rise to around 3% in the following years. Global credit rating agencies also revised their outlook for Qatar’s economy from negative, immediately after the blockade, to currently stable, thus reflecting their favorable expectations for the financial and economic performance of the State of Qatar in the future. Confidence of the international financial institutions in the future performance of Qatar’s economy was evident when Qatar raised $12 billion in a sovereign bond issue in the international financial markets. The volume of subscription for the Initial Public Offering has reached $53 billion, at moderate interest rates.
Qatar National Vision goals to achieve economic diversification and reduce dependence on oil and gas never mean, as I mentioned to you before, neglecting the oil and gas sector, the basic source of our wealth.
Economic diversification aims at achieving growth without being affected by fluctuations in the prices of these two sources, but it is necessary to constantly develop them, and preserve the wealth that God has bestowed upon us, for us and for our future generations.
In this context, I would like to refer to some important developments in this sector:
First: Preliminary studies have been completed for the development of a major project for the production of LNG from the North Field, thus Qatar will maintain its position as the world's largest liquefied natural gas exporter for many years to come.
Second: The merger of Qatar Gas Company and Ras Gas Company was carried out so that gas production, liquefaction and marketing will be dealt with exclusively by one company. The merger was aimed at unifying the distinctive resources and potentials of the two companies, and creating a unique energy player in terms of scale, efficiency and centrality, as well as reducing annual operating costs, as the merger saves about QR2 billion annually.
Third: Qatar Petroleum is heading to become global through participating in oil and gas exploration and production abroad. Exploration and production agreements were concluded with Oman, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and South Africa in partnership with international oil companies and some Gulf oil companies.
Our oil exports have not been affected by the blockade, the State has been keen to fulfilling all its obligations under the existing contracts and has concluded several long-term contracts, the latest of which was with Petro China, whereby Qatar will supply various Chinese districts with about 3.4 million tons of liquefied natural gas annually. This agreement extends until 2040.
Regarding the implementation of our successive strategies to realize Qatar National Vision, the Second National Development Strategy 2018-2022 has entered the implementation phase at the beginning of the current year. All ministries and government agencies have started to activate the programs of this strategy by continuing to developing the infrastructure, promoting economic diversification, developing the private sector and a rational management of natural resources while preserving the environment and protecting it, pursuing work to promote human development through introducing a comprehensive and integrated health care system, as well as implementing quality education systems, building up an efficient and committed workforce. It is also aimed at perfecting social development through applying justice, and providing security and safety for all citizens and residents, and working for cultural enrichment and sports excellence.
The human being remains, the core, focus and target of the development plans. High living standard of citizens must be coupled with values, cultural evolution and care for morality. Otherwise, a possibility of welfare degenerating into a state of social corruption based on an unproductive and constantly resentful culture of consumerism and a sense of entitlement that is not based on work and efficiency, may arise.
Parents are supposed to alert their sons to this, and Teachers to alert their students and leaders to alert their peoples.
In Qatar, a modern society, and a modern State and a developed economy have emerged. We transformed the oil and gas economy into an advanced industry.
In order to be able to pursue development and achieve sustainability, and avoid slipping into the chasms of the economy of consumerism and the culture of social reliance and indifference, it is necessary to emphasize work and its ethics.
The work ethics are summed up in performing it in the best way, both quantitatively and qualitatively, respecting work time, fulfilling promises, and observing honesty in assignment reports. They are based on a sense of duty and responsibility towards society and the State and participating in burden-shouldering. This leads to modesty and appreciation of the value of work, including work done by others, and the adoption of competence and qualification as a basis for recruitment and promotion, in disregard to personal identity. Inaction and failure to carry out duties, in addition to the damage it inflicts on the public interest, it leads to continuous grumbling and complaining to justify shortcomings and negligence.
We have achieved great and rapid progress in nation-building, living standard and human development in health and education. We have many challenges ahead in these areas, and we have to ascertain commitment to the work ethics and the act of giving to the society. In this context, we also confirm the importance of national service and its role in building the youth of this country.
The security and stability of our Gulf and Arab countries, will not be achieved by infringement on the sovereignty of the states or interfering in their internal affairs, but only through respecting the rules that regulate relations among them, and working to resolve differences through dialogue that takes into account the interests of all concerned parties.
History teaches us that crises are destined to pass away but their mishandling may linger and leave behind long-lasting repercussions. It is indeed unfortunate that the ongoing Gulf crisis revealed the failure of the GCC to attain its goals and meet the aspirations of our Gulf peoples, which weakened its capability to face the challenges and risks and marginalized its regional and international role. It is hoped that the current crisis will be used to develop the Council on sound foundations including dispute resolution mechanisms and ensuring their non-recurrence in the future.
Undoubtedly, the deterioration of the pan-Arab situation, including the Gulf, strips the Arab world of its immunity and ability to cope with the aggravation of various issues that we suffer from in Palestine, Syria, Yemen, Libya and others, and weaken our countries and expose our inter-relations to penetration.
The State of Qatar will continue, as it has always been an active and supportive side to all exerted efforts to resolve differences and confront the challenges and dangers surrounding the Arab and Islamic Ummas and deal effectively with the issues and problems that threaten international peace and security.
The Palestinian cause remains at the top of our priorities. And in light of the continued Israeli intransigence and lack of will to achieve a comprehensive and just peace and imposing a fait accompli policy, we call upon the international community to put Israel in front of its responsibilities to stop all illegal practices against the Palestinian people, put an end to the unjust siege on the Gaza Strip and halt settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories and other continued violations of the rights of the Palestinian people, and to resume peace negotiations in accordance with the principles of international legality based on the two-state solution and the right of return and the right of the Palestinian people to establish their independent state with Jerusalem as its capital. We also call for the unity of the Palestinian people and to transcend the division to face what is being hatched against the Palestinian cause.
In regards to Yemen, we reiterate our firm position of concern about the stability, unity and territorial integrity of Yemen. We call upon all parties to cease fighting and resort to dialogue to resolve this crisis politically. It has been proven that there is no military solution to the Yemeni disputes. The brotherly Yemeni people have already demonstrated their ability to settle them through the National Dialogue.
On the Syrian issue, we have been keen, since the onset of the crisis, on keeping Syria as a united country, and we support all regional and international efforts to ensure the success of the political solution that will bring Syria out of its crisis and fulfill the aspirations of the Syrian people for freedom, justice, security and stability, in accordance with the declaration of Geneva Conference (1). We will continue to extend all kinds of support to the brotherly Syrian people.
We also look forward to accelerate the political solution in Libya and call upon all factions and groups of the Libyan people to achieve national reconciliation, build the State and its institutions, put an end to the suffering of the brotherly Libyan people and achieve their security and stability. We reaffirm our continued support for the government of National Reconciliations efforts and the United Nations Envoy in this regard.
We also reiterate our support for the brothers in Iraq in all their steps and efforts to achieve security and stability, and look forward to all political forces and all factions of the Iraqi people to achieve comprehensive national understandings that fulfill their ambitions. On this occasion, we congratulate the new Iraqi Government and wish it success in serving its people.
In conclusion, I would like to point out that preparations for the election of the Legislative Council are underway at the level of the ministerial and experts committees. There is no doubt that the preparation process has been affected by the circumstances in which the country is going through, but we are heading forth to implement this decision.
May God bless you with success and may Gods Peace, Mercy and Blessings be upon you.
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