Monday, June 19, 2017

Petition Orders: Oman's Injunctive Relief Mechanism

What are petition orders? 

A petition order, or an application for injunctive relief, is a mechanism that allows a petitioner to seek a declaratory judgment on an emergency basis when irreversible harm is reasonably feared to be imminent.

Common examples of when a petition order would be appropriate are when a petitioner reasonably fears that key evidence is at risk of being physically destroyed or damaged and when there is reasonable belief that recoverable assets will be removed from a sovereign territory.

A petitioner’s right to seek interlocutory or injunctive relief is established in Chapter 10 of the Civil Procedure Law (promulgated by Royal Decree 29/2002). Article 190 thereof expressly provides:

“In cases where the law sets out the legal right of the litigant to bring about an injunction he shall apply by petition to the judge for the provisional matters or to chairman of the panel which examine the case. The said petition shall be of two counter parts and includes facts of the application and supporting documents besides stating a domicile of choice to the applicant at the city in which the court is located.” 

The application for a petition order must be sufficiently detailed so as to enable the judge to review the file and to make an informed determination on its merits. Further, the application, and all assertions made therein, must be fully substantiated with evidence.

What is the process for filing a petition order? 

A petition order should be filed with the Primary Court – Commercial Circuit. The Primary Court will have exclusive jurisdiction to review the application, and to determine whether to issue a petition order. There is a presumption that the petition order will be immediately enforceable in the event that a favourable decision is granted by the Primary Court.

It is important to note that petition orders are not ex parte applications, that is, the party against whom the petition order is filed (i.e., the respondent) must be served, and must respond. Notwithstanding this, the Primary Court still may issue an interim decision prior to considering the respondent’s rejoinder, if it believes the circumstances indeed warrant immediate action.

The respondent will have the right to appeal the Primary Court’s decision to the Appeal Court, and, if necessary, to appeal the Appeal Court’s decision to the Supreme Court. However, a petition order issued by the lower courts will remain enforceable even if the respondent elects to appeal. It is only if the respondent is successful upon appeal that the petition order will be lifted.

Under what circumstances will a petition order be granted by the Omani courts? 

Article 190 of the Civil Procedure Law only permits the courts to consider injunctive application when the application itself is substantively grounded in a specific law. The legislature has chosen to regulate petition orders in this manner in order to prevent frivolous and groundless injunctive applications from being filed.

We touched on a few common examples as to when an injunctive order may be grounded in a specific law. Some further examples include:

  • the right to arrest a ship, pursuant to the Omani Maritime Law (promulgated by Royal Decree 35/1981), when it is reasonably feared that a vessel may leave Omani territories when there is a commercial debt owed; 
  • potentially freezing assets when parties are in the midst of a financial dispute; or 
  • seeking a travel ban on an individual when a criminal investigation may be forthcoming, pursuant to the Omani Penal Code (Royal Decree 77/1974).

Conclusion 

Injunctive relief is available in Oman in certain circumstances. Such a mechanism can be a valuable tool in disputes in which issues might be time-sensitive, or there is a risk that key evidence may be lost.

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Monday, June 12, 2017

Drafting Practical Arbitration Clauses in Oman

In recent years, arbitration has become an increasingly popular vehicle for dispute resolution in Oman. However, when preparing an arbitration clause, there are key elements that must be considered to ensure that the clause itself is both comprehensive and operates as intended by the parties.

This article will explore some of the key features that should be considered when preparing an arbitration clause.

Scope of the arbitration clause 

When preparing an arbitration clause, it is important to ensure that the clause decidedly covers all disputes that could potentially arise between contracting parties in connection with a specific contract. It is therefore recommended to construct the clause as broadly as possible, to ensure that certain types of disputes are not inadvertently excluded from the scope of the arbitration clause. Therefore, contracting parties may wish to include broad language in the arbitration clause to this effect.

Pre-dispute settlement 

Disputing parties may prefer to undertake a “good faith” attempt to settle any dispute prior to referring the matter to arbitration. Generally, however, it is difficult to determine whether negotiations have truly been made in “good faith.” Thus, a “good faith” negotiation by itself, without any other qualifiers, may cast doubt as to when a party’s contractual right to refer a matter to arbitration has matured.

Therefore, it is recommended to set a time frame within which the parties must reach an amicable settlement, to ensure that there is no question as to whether a party’s right to refer a dispute to arbitration has crystallised.

Forum 

Another important consideration is the forum for the arbitration. Essentially, the parties will have two options: (i) to select an international arbitral institution as the forum or, alternatively, (ii) for the arbitration to be administered as an Omani ad hoc arbitration, under the Omani Arbitration Law. It is important to note that if the parties’ contract does not specify a forum, the arbitration will then be administered as an Omani ad hoc arbitration, by default.

There are several prominent international forums from which contracting parties may select, including the International Chamber of Commerce (“ICC”), the London Court of International Arbitration (“LCIA”) as well as the Dubai International Financial Centre – London Court of International Arbitration (“DIFC-LCIA”).

There are many advantages to selecting an international forum when compared to an ad hoc arbitration, most notably the involvement of the court-appointed secretariat. The secretariat will be responsible for ensuring that all aspects of the arbitration, from commencement to the final award, are efficiently administered. In doing so, the secretariat will manage all pre-arbitral issues, including the tribunal selection process, and by crystallising the issues in dispute. The secretariat will also play a vital role during the course of the arbitration, as well as when the final award is rendered.

Formulation of the tribunal 

The parties are free to determine whether they prefer a sole arbitrator or a three-member arbitral panel. It is recommended that the parties specify their preference in the arbitration clause itself.

If the arbitration clause provides for a sole arbitrator, the parties should be given a reasonable opportunity to mutually agree to the appointment of the sole arbitrator. However, either party may, at any point in time, apply to the President of the Commercial Court to seek the appointment of a sole arbitrator, pursuant to Article 17(1) of the Omani Arbitration Law (promulgated by Royal Decree 47/1997).

In arbitrations comprising three-member panels, it is customary for both parties to nominate an arbitrator to sit on the three-member tribunal, with the claimant nominating their preference first, and the respondent shortly thereafter. The two appointees would normally then be required to nominate the tribunal chair.

However, in the latter scenario, it is recommended to provide the respondent with a specific deadline for appointment of its nominee, after it has been formally notified that the dispute has been referred to arbitration. Likewise, the two appointed nominees should be given a specific time frame within which to appoint the tribunal chair.

It is important to note that under Article 17(2) of the Omani Arbitration Law, the respondent will be given 30 calendar days to make its selection from the date that it is requested by the claimant to do so. Similarly, the two appointed arbitrators will also have 30 calendar days to nominate the tribunal chair after they have been tasked with the assignment. If the time period lapses regarding the respondent’s appointment of arbitrator, or the appointment of the tribunal chair, an application may be made to the President of the Commercial Court seeking the appointment of the same.

Language 

It is recommended that the arbitration clause specifies the language in which the parties wish for the arbitration to be conducted. If the parties do not specify a language for the arbitration (other than Arabic), and the arbitration is governed by Omani law, the arbitration will, by default, be conducted in Arabic.

However, it is important to note that the parties may agree for certain components of the arbitration to be in another language. A common example is when the parties wish for the arbitration to be conducted in Arabic, but prefer for the evidence and supporting documents to remain in their original language.

Governing law 

It is recommended that the parties specify the governing law in the arbitration clause itself. When selecting the governing law, it is important to note that, generally, both the substantive and the relevant procedural laws of that specific country will be applicable.

Seat of the arbitration 

Selecting the “seat” of the arbitration – not to be confused with “place” of the arbitration – is in direct reference to the jurisdiction in which the arbitral proceedings will be conducted. Therefore, the specified “seat” will enable the courts of that jurisdiction to review any procedural, emergency or interlocutory applications that could be filed from time to time. It also may be prudent to select a specific city within a sovereign territory, as certain international arbitration institutions often require a city as the “seat.”

To avoid any unnecessary confusion, it is recommended that the seat of the arbitration be a domicile within the same territory as the governing law. Therefore, if the parties wish to adopt Omani substantive law, the parties should consider agreeing to Oman (or a specific city in Oman) as the seat of the arbitration.

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Monday, June 5, 2017

Bring in the Linguists: Common Arabic/English Legal Translation Issues

Introduction 

Any legal practitioner who has been working for some time in the Sultanate of Oman – or in the wider Arab world - will be familiar with the pitfalls that can develop when legal documents are translated from English to Arabic or vice versa.

Much of the time, mistakes in translation are harmless enough either to pass unnoticed or to give rise to nothing more serious than wry amusement. But there are instances in which the consequences of mistranslation can be more serious.

Under Omani law, all documents, correspondence and agreements submitted to the Government must be in Arabic. Omani courts and tribunals will consider and construe only documents submitted in Arabic.

When issuing a prospectus for the offering of securities in Oman, the Arabic-language version approved by the Capital Markets Authority is, by law, the official version of the prospectus. If any difference or discrepancy arises between the Arabic and the English texts, the Arabic text prevails.

In practice, many of the above documents are first prepared in English, then translated into Arabic. Conversely, when non-Arabic speaking lawyers are advising clients on local legislation, they will be relying on translations from Arabic into English.

It is easy to see how, in the above examples, even an apparently small translation error could have regrettable repercussions.

Problems specific to translating legal documents between Arabic and English 

In his 2002 article, “What is so Special about Legal Translation?” Malcolm Harvey describes the challenge of legal translation as “combining the inventiveness of literary translation with the terminological precision of technical translation.”

The challenge is compounded when translating legal English into Arabic or the other way around, not only because of the gulf between the English and Arabic languages, but because of the wide differences between English common law and the civil law system prevalent in the Arab world.

There are many technical terms in legal English that only make sense in a common law framework, and for which there are no direct equivalents in either Sharia or Arab civil law. Similarly, legal Arabic incorporates elements of both Sharia and Arabic civil law, many of whose concepts have no counterpart in English common law.

Such specialised legal terms often have fixed legal meanings and cannot be replaced by other words. In these cases, literal translation by the unwary is unlikely to offer a correct rendering of the term. 

Further, in legal English, lawyers still use Old and Middle English terms such as “hereby,” “hereof,” “hereinafter,” “thereby” and “aforesaid.” To add to the mix, legal English employs many Latin terms and expressions, some of which date back to the Middle Ages, such as “contra proferentem,” “delegatus non potest delegare,” “res ipsa loquitur,” et cetera.

Archaic English or Latin terms can often be translated perfectly accurately into modern Arabic. Sometimes such terms can safely be omitted altogether when they do not affect the meaning of the whole text. However, in cases in which no accurate equivalent is available and the term cannot be safely ignored, the translator will need to act as a cultural intermediary. He may have to interpret the wording conceptually rather than literally, then paraphrase fully the intended effect of the term or expression to avoid losing vital meaning in translation.

There are numerous English legal terms of art which are almost invariably mistranslated into Arabic, such as “indemnity,” most often translated as تعويض, the typical back-translation of which would be “compensation.” To any lawyer trained in the common law tradition, this rendering is gravely deficient.

The Arabic word رهن is used for both “mortgage” and “pledge,” while “assignment” is translated into Arabic by (inter alia) the words احالة، نقل and تنازل, used seemingly interchangeably. Unfortunately, depending on context, each of the three can convey an entirely different meaning. Unless the translator has sufficient grasp of the legal purpose of the document to be able to determine in such cases which meaning is intended, confusion is inevitable.

Conclusion 

To avoid the dangers posed by the specific problems inherent in translating legal documents between English and Arabic, practitioners need to ensure they are entrusting the business of legal translation to professionals with the necessary expertise.

Legal translators must have in-depth linguistic training and knowledge of the source language, and should ideally be native speakers of the target language. Finally, they must be steeped in the local culture and have a firm grasp of the applicable legal concepts and terminology.

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Monday, May 22, 2017

Oman Free Zones or Oman Onshore: Where Best to Operate?

Establishing an entity in a free zone area offshore Oman – as opposed to establishing it onshore Oman – has its many advantages and privileges.  These include: 100% foreign ownership, no minimum capital requirements, no custom duties, and a strategic location on the international trade route, among others. In addition, all free zones in Oman offer a single window (one-stop shop) through which licenses, permits and approvals can be obtained in an effort to streamline procedures required to set up entities within them.  The authority to set up such a one-stop shop has been accorded to free zones via Royal Decrees.  For example, Article (13) of Royal Decree 79/2013 – Issuing the Regulation for the Special Economic Zone at Duqm – states that the free zone authority shall have the functions of the General Secretariat of the Commercial Register at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry regarding the registration of projects,  meaning that the free zone authority will be able to issue approved commercial registration documents to set up entities in the zone.

The procedures required in order to set up an entity in a free zone area differ from those required to set up an entity in onshore Oman.

In order to set up an entity in onshore Oman, the party aiming to establish the entity must complete the following steps:

  • Step 1 – Set up a bank deposit of the required capital;
  • Step 2 – Register the entity commercially via the Ministry of Commerce and Industry’s one-stop shop; submit an application form with the necessary documents and pay the necessary fees;
  • Step 3 – Obtain licenses and permits required from the relevant ministries and authorities, which will depend on the nature of the business being established; and
  • Step 4 – Obtain a permit from the Muscat Municipality; this step entails submitting all the approved applications from other relevant ministries and authorities, and paying the required fees.
In order to set up an entity in a free zone offshore Oman, the party aiming to establish the entity must complete the following steps:
  • Step 1 – Submit a plot application form along with other necessary application forms to the designated one-stop shop at the free zone;
  • Step 2 – Obtain the internal approval of the free zone and be allocated a plot; this step entails obtaining a letter of “no objection” from the free zone, completion of a due diligence report on the entity being established, the selection of a plot and the payment of the required fee amount; and
  • Step 3 – Sign the land lease agreement.
The application forms required to set up the entity in the free zone depend on the nature of the entity being established. The following table highlights the required forms depending on whether the entity being established will be a limited liability company or a branch of an existing company:


Limited Liability Company
Branch of an Existing Company
1
Copy of current Certificate of Registration of the company or Certificate of Good Standing
Copy of the Certificate of Incorporation or Certificate of Good Standing of the parent company
2
Copy of the Memorandum and Articles of Association
Copy of the Memorandum and Articles of Association of the parent company
3
Original board resolution specifying establishment at the free zone area and appointment of manager along with a copy of his passport and specimen of signature
Original board resolution stating the setting up of a branch at the free zone area and appointment of a manager for the branch along with a specimen of his signature and a copy of his/her passport

All of the above documents are to be notarised by a notary public in the country of its origin and attested and consularised up to the Omani Embassy situated therein. 

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Monday, May 15, 2017

A New Law Re-defining Some of the MOCI's Responsibilities

Royal Decree 11/2017 (the “New Law”) issued on 12 March 2017 seeks to redefine some of the specialisations (i.e., responsibilities) of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (“MOCI”).  In other words, under the New Law, a number of the MOCI’s responsibilities have been reallocated to other departments, for example, responsibilities concerning the mining sector, commercial ventures concerning artistic works, and consumer protection.  This article summarises some of the key changes to the specialisations of the MOCI and aims to provide an overview on the changes.

The New Law repeals Royal Decree 102/2005 (the “Old Law”) which originally determined the MOCI’s structure and specialisations.

In practice, the MOCI undertakes various activities through the numerous departments.  These activities include governing commercial entities, facilitating the commercial and industrial sides of the relationship between the Sultanate of Oman and other countries, generally improving the various sectors and their contributions to the economy as well as many other matters in relation to the commercial and industrial sectors in the Sultanate.

The New Law specifies the various activities that the MOCI shall undertake.  Further, there are a number of activities that have been removed from the MOCI’s responsibilities.  For example, Royal Decree 49/2014 had established the Public Authority for Mining (the “Mining Authority”) and specifically noted that the Mining Authority is to form part of the MOCI.  However, the New Law does not mention the Mining sector at all, in contrast to the Old Law which specifically mentioned that the MOCI governs improving the relationship between the Sultanate and other countries in the commercial, industrial and mining sectors.  This change can be construed as granting the Mining Authority greater autonomy from the MOCI.

Another example of the amendment made by the New Law is the exclusion of the MOCI from inspecting shops and commercial establishments that operate in the sector of artistic works.  Omitting these provisions from the New Law suggests that this task has been reallocated to a different branch of the government apparatus.

Another important amendment concerns the task of specifically protecting the consumer and spreading awareness in this regard.  Previously, the MOCI was tasked with all matters in relation to consumer protection. However, Royal Decree 26/2011 established the Public Authority for Consumer Protection (the “PACP”).  Therefore, tasks in relation to consumer protection were transferred through Royal Decree 53/2011 to the PACP including the task of protecting consumers and spreading awareness in relation to these matters.  Certain matters in relation to products and commodities have remained under the authority of the MOCI, such as determining the specific measurements of certain products and inspecting their quality.  However, the main task of protecting the consumer has now been transferred to PACP, who in certain matters may consult the MOCI for certainty.

Generally, the New Law can be seen as an amendment to and replacement of the Old Law in many provisions and an accounting of the changes that have taken place in the past twelve years, as aforementioned. Certain other provisions have remained the same or have been partly amended in a manner as to improve the structure and interpretation of the law.


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Monday, May 8, 2017

Establishing a Non-Profit Organisation in Oman

Applicable law

The establishment of a charitable organisation falls within the scope of the Civil Association Law - Sultani Decree 14/2000 (the “CAL”) rather than the Commercial Companies Law - Sultani Decree 4/74 (the “CCL”). The CAL is implemented and regulated by the Ministry of Social Development (the “MSD”) and governs the conduct of any form of communal or charitable work, or the operation of associations for socio-cultural or developmental purposes, through the establishment and operation of not-for-profit entities. Companies or individuals that are seeking to establish an Association must consider formally registering the Association in MSD. The MSD is authorised to impose penalties if an Association does not comply with CAL.

The CCL is not applicable to not-for-profit purposes, or for social, cultural and charitable activities, as a commercial company is essentially a contract by which two or more persons undertake to participate in an enterprise for profit, with a view to sharing any profit or loss resulting from the enterprise. Article 131 of the CCL provides that a “limited liability company is a commercial company with a fixed capital divided into equal shares.” Therefore, it is the element of profit that distinguishes a company from a charitable organisation, causing a charitable organisation to fall within the ambit of the CAL.

Article 1 of the CAL defines an “Association” as “any permanent group of natural persons organized to achieve purposes other than profit making and aiming at performing social, cultural or charitable activities. This includes associations, social and cultural clubs established by private institutions, companies and organizations, regardless of the name given to them, even if physical sports are among their activities, unless sports are the main activity of the association or the club.” An Association is permitted, by Article 4 of the CAL, to engage in the activities of providing care for orphans, children and mothers; women’s services; care for the elderly; and care for people with handicaps and special needs.

In the event that an activity which is intended to be undertaken by an Association is not provided for by Article 4 of the CAL, then the MSD must, upon receipt of a written application from the intending sponsors of the Association, obtain the prior approval of the Council of Ministers for the activity to be conducted by the applicant Association.

The establishment of an Association under CAL

In order to establish an Association, Article 9 of the CAL requires the founding members to elect from amongst themselves the first board of directors of the Association, of whom one member must be authorised to act on behalf of the Association for the registration of the Association. The registration application is submitted to the MSD together with copies of documents signed by the chairman of the board and the coordinator, including names of the founding members and the board members; minutes of the founding members’ meeting; minutes of first board of directors’ meeting; and board of directors resolution nominating the person to be responsible for undertaking and completing the registration of the Association and the by-laws of the Association.

Once the above documents are submitted, the MSD shall, subject to its right of refusal under Article 11, register the Association. The Association then acquires its legal personality from the date of publication of its registration in the Official Gazette.

The Association remains under the general supervision of the MSD in accordance with Article 17 of the CAL. Supervision is undertaken by investigators appointed by the MSD, who have the right to enter the premises of the Association and examine its registers, books, documents and correspondence. The MSD must be informed, in writing, of each meeting of the general assembly of the Association at least fifteen days prior to the meeting and must be provided with the agenda and the accompanying documents in accordance with Article 23 of the CAL. The MSD is to be informed of the results of the Association’s board meetings, as well as resolutions passed at such meetings. Copies of the minutes of the meeting are to be sent to the MSD within fifteen days from the date of each meeting, pursuant to Article 32. Article 33 gives MSD the right to annul the decisions of a board meeting if the meeting was convened in violation of the law or the by-laws of the Association.

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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Enforcing an Arbitration Award in Oman: Key Considerations

Many commercial contracts in Oman contain arbitration clauses.  The types of arbitration clauses often encountered include arbitration pursuant to well-known procedures such as the LCIA Arbitration Rules or ICC Arbitration Rules, or ad hoc arbitration under Royal Decree 47/1997 (the “Arbitration Law”).

The outcome of any method of arbitration is the publication of a final award by the arbitral tribunal.  However, as the arbitral tribunal is not a court, it is sometimes necessary for the successful party to take steps to enforce the final award against the unsuccessful party.
It is important to obtain legal advice in relation to the enforcement of any arbitral award.  Generally, the process for the enforcement of the arbitration award is as follows:

1. Firstly a party should check if there are any errors in the final award, such as typographical or mathematical errors, that affect the outcome.  It may be possible to have mere typographical or mathematical errors corrected by applying to the arbitral tribunal under Article 50 of the Arbitration Law.  Any such error must be corrected within 30 days. 

2. It is a good idea for the successful party to send a letter of demand to the other party stating that, per the arbitration award, the other party should pay the amount of the award.  This may save the need for any enforcement proceedings.  The letter should specify a time period for payment.  Often the contract will specify such a time period.  However, bear in mind that little can be done in the first 90 days if the other party fails to pay, irrespective of what the contract states.

3. If the other party fails to pay within 90 days from the date of the award, then a party should deposit the arbitration award with the Commercial Court for registration.  If the award is not in Arabic, an official Arabic translation must be included.  The Commercial Court will typically stamp the award within one week from the date of depositing the award. 

4. Thereafter, a party should arrange for its lawyer to submit an enforcement application to the Commercial Court.  The Commercial Court will then notify the other party about the enforcement application and will direct the other party to deposit the award sum per the award within seven days of being notified.

5. If the other party does not deposit the award sum within seven days of being notified, then the successful party should submit a letter to the enforcement department requesting the Court to issue a warning notice to the other party to make payment per the arbitration award.

6. After submitting the letter, the enforcement department will inform the party of further steps, which may involve physical seizure of the other party’s assets.

In the interim, a party should bear in mind that the other party may file an application for nullity of the arbitration award (i.e., set aside the award) within 90 days from the date of receipt of the award. Such an application will usually be accompanied by an application to stay enforcement proceedings. The grounds for doing so are limited, but such an application has to be fought before the award may be enforced.

Overall, the process can take considerably longer than 90 days in hard-fought proceedings.  However, arbitral awards have an advantage over court judgments in that, apart from applying for nullity, there is no right of appeal against an arbitral award.

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Key Takeaways on Consumer Protection Laws

The Public Authority of Consumer Protection (the “PACP”) issued Ministerial Decision 77/2017 promulgating the long-awaited Executive Regulation (the “Regulation”) of the Consumer Protection Law, which was promulgated by Sultani Decree 66/2014. This Regulation came into effect on 13 March 2017 and replaced the previous executive regulations of the Consumer Protection Law, issued under Ministerial Decision 49/2007. The Regulation will be the tool by which the Consumer Protection Law will introduce greater protection for consumers in Oman. The Regulation codifies and regulates the investigative powers of PACP and the conduct of its legally empowered officers. The Regulation has 52 articles, divided into five chapters and three appendices, which include the rights of consumers, duties and obligations of suppliers, the procedures of detecting potential violation and the administrative penalties that apply to confirmed violations.

The Regulation provides criteria for what are considered fake, spoilt and counterfeit goods. The Regulation authorises the chairman of the board of directors of PACP (the “Chairman”), after coordinating with the concerned entities, to issue a decision to suspend rendering a service or trading a good or to destroy a good if that good or service falls below any of the standards specified in the Regulation. Further, in case of a significant increase of the prices of commodities or services due to a crisis, natural calamity, exceptional circumstance or unusual event, after the approval of PACP’s board of directors and the Council of Ministers, the Chairman is authorised to take temporary measures to reduce and control such increase in prices. It is important to note that the Regulation confers wide powers on the Chairman, who is empowered to take all measures that will ensure consumer rights, regulate the integrity of transactions in a manner that respects the general rules concerning the safety of goods and services, and ascertain that the goods and services are in conformity to the standard specifications provided for in the Regulation.

The Regulation also strengthens the rights of consumers. Appendix 2 of the Regulation contains an extensive list of the various types of goods covered by a statutory guarantee given by a supplier. If any goods falling within this category of goods are damaged or do not conform to the standard specifications or are not fit for the purpose for which it is to be used, the consumer has the right to exchange the product, have it repaired, or return the goods to the supplier, and recover its cost from the supplier, without any additional cost. Additionally, the consumer has been granted the right to compensation for damages incurred, in the event of exchanging the product or returning it and recovering its value. The consumer’s entitlement under this Article is subject to certain conditions, such as presentation of the receipt for purchase, and any flaws not being caused by consumer misuse. The Regulation also prescribes a two-fold obligation on the supplier to provide the consumer with an invoice for the purchased goods and/or services and to ensure that the consumer is informed of and accepts the contents of the receipt.

The Regulation sets out extensive responsibilities and duties of the supplier. Suppliers are obliged to declare safety threats to consumers and the consumer’s property that arise due to a flaw in the goods or services, immediately after discovery. In this case, the supplier must inform PACP and the consumers of this threat, then withdraw the goods from the market. Suppliers are prohibited from engaging in monopolisation of goods or services and trying to control the market, thus harming the consumer’s interest. As such, groups of suppliers are prohibited from coordinated price fixing.

As a remedial action, the Regulation authorises the legally empowered officers of PACP to freeze goods suspected of violating the provisions of this Regulation and to prevent them from entering the market until such time as PACP, or a court, releases them. After the investigation procedures are completed, PACP may take one of the following actions:

  1. Instruct the violator to remedy the situation and remove the violation immediately or within a specific time period; 
  2. Impose an administrative penalty in accordance with the provisions of the Regulation and the decision issued in this respect; 
  3. Impose an administrative penalty in accordance with the provisions of the Regulation and the decision issued in this respect and refer the file to the Public Prosecution in case the violation is punishable criminally in accordance with the law; or 
  4. Discontinue the complaint administratively, if appropriate. 

The administrative penalties specified in the Regulation are without prejudice to the applicable penalties under the Consumer Protection Law. The administrative penalties range from OMR 20 to OMR 2,000. Violations affecting the safety of consumers or their property range from OMR 100 to OMR 2,000.

The Regulation is an important step towards enhancing consumer protection, deterring suppliers from dishonest enrichment and holding them accountable, if necessary. The Regulation and the Consumer Protection Law give PACP’s legally empowered officers the discretion to investigate any commercial entity which provides goods and/or services, regardless of whether a complaint was filed against such supplier. This may have the desired effect of acting as a great deterrent to suppliers infringing upon the rights of consumers and, in instances where infringement does occur, an effective way to detect such violation of consumer rights and penalise suppliers accordingly.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Harsher Penalties for Tax Avoidance - A Blueprint for Compliance

A more punitive penalty regime has been implemented with the promulgation of Sultani Decree 9/2017 (Issuing Amendments to Some Provisions of the Income Tax Law) (the “New Law”) amending Sultani Decree 28/2009 (together, the “Law”), for the purpose of encouraging compliance with the Law, and to encourage self-assessment. This article will provide an overview of the penalties of which taxpayers should be fully aware.

Assessments by the Secretary General 

Electronic lodgement of tax returns will commence following the issue of the amendments to the Law. Pursuant to Articles 13 and 14, returns must be submitted in an electronic format by the due date. The Secretary General is empowered with the right to examine those returns from a random sample, in accordance with Article 15, and in accordance with rules and regulations issued by the responsible Minister and as proposed by the Secretary General. These are yet to be decided, so there will be additional considerations applicable to the electronic lodgement of returns. The Secretary General will also examine assessments of any taxpayer returns if:

  1. A final return has been submitted without fulfilling the conditions for electronic filing in compliance with Article 13, including failure to enclose accounts; 
  2. An examination of the final return in the application of Article 15 demonstrates that it did not include the real taxable income; or 
  3. Upon request by the taxpayer within three years from the submission of the final return in the tax year for which the assessment is to occur. 


Taxpayers will need to ensure they are conversant with the procedures for filing returns in order to comply.

Time Limits on Assessments by the Secretary General 

With the lapse of time, the Secretariat General is prevented from examining returns and assessments (see Article 18). For any tax year, following the lapse of three years from the end of the tax year for which the final return is submitted, the Secretary General is prevented from conducting examinations of returns or assessments. This does not apply to cases of fraud and deception, wherein the Secretary General may conduct examinations for up to five years following the end of the tax year in which the return is submitted. Final returns must be submitted within five years following the end of the tax year for which the final return is due. It should be noted that taxpayers are entitled to object to an assessment, correction or amendment or to make an additional assessment, and to dispute a decision of the Secretariat General.

The penalties below will be imposed by the Secretary General in respect of the regime outlined above.

Penalties 

Taxpayers will risk facing penalties for failure to file notifications within the specified time, with such notification to be provided in respect of commercial or industrial registration, or other formal records including name, address and any relevant amendments. Notifications must be submitted within 60 days of either incorporation or the start of the activity, whichever is earlier, and within 30 days of making any amendments to the information. Additionally, taxpayers will be liable for failure to file a provisional or final return during the specified deadlines. The maximum penalty in each instance is OMR 2,000.

Pursuant to Article 21, penalties will be imposed by the Secretary General for failure to declare the correct income in a taxpayer’s return. The maximum penalty imposed is 25% of the difference between amount of tax on the basis of correct taxable income and amount of tax as per the return submitted, providing a significant incentive for taxpayers to be accurate.

Penalties will be imposed under Article 22 for failure by the taxpayer to provide data, information, accounts, accounting records or any other documents required by the Secretary General or failure to attend at the time and place specified by the Secretary General to discuss the taxpayer’s return or assessment of the return, or answer questions about the return, the assessment or the taxpayer; or failing to file a tax card application from the commencement of incorporation onwards or comply with Article 15 in retaining records for 10 years for the end of the relevant accounting period which will attract a maximum penalty of OMR 2500. The fine can be levied on the principal officer or the taxpayer, or both.

Harsh penalties for obstructionist practices 

Taxpayers should be fully aware that, subject to harsher penalties in Oman’s Criminal Law, Article 23 imposes harsh penalties should the principal officer intentionally fail to submit a return in accordance with this Law, or if the taxpayer or principal officer prevents the Secretary General from exercising its functions or rights specified by this Law. The penalty for doing so is imprisonment of between one to six months and a maximum fine of OMR 20,000. Previously, imprisonment was only for a period of one month with a maximum fine of OMR 2,000. So it is quite apparent that breaches of this nature are to be taken very seriously in the future.

Repeat instances of failing to issue a return by the principal officer will attract harsher penalties from the Secretary General if the abstention occurs over two consecutive years. In such cases the principal officer will be held accountable and may be imprisoned for three months to one year, and/or the Secretary General may impose a maximum fine of OMR 30,000.

In the event the Principal Officer intentionally refuses to file returns with the actual income of the entity or should an incorrect tax liability be intentionally disclosed or documents and records be disclosed, the tax authority may impose upon the principal officer a period of imprisonment of between six months and three years and a maximum fine of OMR 50,000 (see Articles 23-24).

In order to avoid the harsh penalties imposed by the New Law, principal officers and taxpayers should be diligent in filing their returns in an accurate manner, on the due date, together with all relevant information. Should the tax authorities require examination of returns and assessments, principal officers and taxpayers should act in compliance with the requests of the tax authority and should attend all requested meetings and provide all relevant information.

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Key Changes to Oman Tax Law

Royal Decree 9/2017 issued on 19 February 2017 and published in the Official Gazette on 27 February 2017 introduces a number of changes to the Oman Tax Law. This article will summarise the major amendments.

Effective for all financial years beginning on or after 1 January 2017, the general tax rate has been increased from 12% to 15% to be calculated in respect of any taxable income of any enterprise, Omani company or permanent establishment for any tax year. Companies are subject to the new tax rate beginning in their respective 2017 tax years; e.g., a company adopting a financial year from 1 April to 31 March will be subject to the new tax rate from 1 April 2017.

The tax-free threshold of OMR 30,000, previously applicable to all taxpayers, has been removed. To support small businesses, the new Law introduces a specific lower tax rate of 3% which applies only when all the following conditions are met by the relevant taxpayer:

  1. The taxpayer must be an Omani sole proprietorship, partnership or limited liability company with a registered capital of no more than OMR 50,000 at the beginning of a tax year. Although the purview of these provisions is not explicitly limited to fully Omani-owned companies, the capital requirement automatically excludes foreign investment companies, which under the Foreign Capital Investment Law must have a minimum capital of OMR 150,000. Exceptions to this rule may include fully owned GCC companies, US companies established under the Free Trade Agreement, and companies registered at Knowledge Oasis Muscat and Engineering Consultancy Companies, as these may all be registered with a minimum share capital of OMR 20,000. 
  2. The gross income of the taxpayer shall not exceed OMR 100,000 for any tax year. 
  3. The average number of employees during the tax year shall not exceed 15. 
  4. The taxpayer shall not carry out business in air and sea transport, banking, insurance, mining and public utility concessions. Other excluded activities may be added to this list in the future. 

Tax exemptions, previously available for an indefinitely renewable period of five years to companies engaging in activities such as industry, mining, tourism, agriculture and fishing, medical care and education, have now been restricted and will apply only to industrial companies. The term has been reduced to five years only (non-renewable). The amendment is effective from 27 February 2017. The newly introduced provisions will not affect exemptions that have already been granted.

Another amendment, which will undoubtedly have far-reaching consequences, relates to the new provisions regulating withholding tax (“WHT”). The WHT previously applied only to specific categories of services provided by foreign companies without a registered entity in Oman; these included (a) royalties; (b) research and development; (c) software licences; and (d) management fees. The scope of the WHT has now been extended to all services provided by a foreign person without a taxable presence in Oman and availed in Oman. As the term “foreign person” is not defined in the Law, the WHT applies to both foreign corporations and individuals and covers all services, including those provided under existing contracts. WHT is payable upon payment for the service, by deduction to be made by the Omani paying entity, who is responsible for the payment of the relevant amount to the Tax Authority within 14 days from the end of the month in which the payment to the foreign person is made. The WHT rate is 10% calculated on the gross amount. Although Government entities (Ministries, Public Authorities, etc.) do not fall under the definition of “taxpayer,” the Law provides specifically that WHT will be due also on payments made by Government entities.

Issues will arise, inter alia, with respect to mixed contracts including the supply of goods and the provision of related services (e.g., the supply of equipment and its installation). In such cases, we understand that the value of the contract will need to be split and WHT will have to be paid on the amount relating to the services. Arguably, WHT may also apply to a wide range of payments including directors fees payable to non-resident directors, re-insurance contracts with foreign re-insurers and a wide array of other contracts. Finally, Free Zone companies, although income tax-exempt, will have to deal with WHT on services provided to them.

The same concept and the same tax rate will apply to interest payable to financial institutions abroad and to dividends payable to foreign shareholders in companies registered in Oman. With reference to dividends, it has been clarified that WHT applies only to dividends relating to shares in joint stock companies, and not in limited liability companies. The Arabic language, like various Romance languages, uses different words to describe shares in a joint stock company and in a limited liability company. The text of the Law clearly refers to shares in joint stock companies only.

The WHT applicable to interest and dividends applies from 27 February 2017 (and therefore does not apply to payments which are due before that date and properly documented, e.g., by invoices bearing a date). The effective date for WHT on services is not entirely clear as the relevant provisions are shown both in the clause defining “income” (which sets out 1 January 2018 as the effective date) and the clause describing the WHT (which sets out 27 February 2017 as the effective date).

The new tax provisions on WHT will need to be read in conjunction with any existing Double Tax Treaty between Oman and the country of origin of the foreign service provider.

Other notable amendments:

  1. Financial statements must comply with International Financial Reporting Standards (this requirement was previously applicable only by reference as quoted in Royal Decree 77/86); 
  2. Tax returns must be filed electronically; 
  3. New provisions have been included to deal with Islamic finance, to be treated on a par with standard financial transactions; and 
  4. Donations can now be made in kind and are allowed to be deducted on the basis of a specified value determination system. 

A separate article will deal with the stricter penalties introduced by the Law.

In conclusion, the Government of Oman is aiming to expand the pool of taxpayers, until this date very limited in comparison with the number of corporate entities registered with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, and to increase tax revenues. Nonetheless, there is a possibility that some of the new provisions, such as the wide scope of the WHT, may lead to possibly unintended consequences such as the increase of costs for local businesses and the reduction of the returns of foreign investors in relation to investments in Oman, which may make such investments less attractive.

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Monday, April 3, 2017

Navigating Team Hires - Key Considerations for Companies

In a team move, one or more employees leave an employer to join a competitor or set up a new enterprise in the same field. For new employers, lateral hires of multiple individuals already working together is an immediate way to boost revenue and secure market share. Multiple lateral hires of experienced employees can also rapidly increase an employer’s core capabilities and add strength in the targeted market. In direct contrast, the impact on the old employer can be commercially significant and can weaken its position in the market. These considerations are important in the current economic climate, which is likely to see increased prevalence of team moves in Oman and across the GCC.

A typical team move scenario involves a small team at different levels of seniority, for example in a company in the financial services sector selling a product or services to an established customer base. The targeted team members will have worked together closely for a number of years, and the most senior person in the team will invariably have some influence over the more junior members of the team. Typically, one person will resign first, usually the most senior person on the team. Other team members will announce their staggered departures shortly afterwards.

Team moves nearly always involve breaches by employees of the terms of their employment. In any team move, there is by necessity a degree of contact and planning that takes place between the new company and the targeted employees. In this process, it is common that a certain amount of confidential information is disclosed to the potential new employer either voluntarily or at the request of the new employer. It is important therefore for the new employer to understand any post-termination restrictions in the existing employment contracts of the targeted employees. This situation alone raises key legal issues for the new employer, the old company and the employees.

Applicable Omani laws 

In Oman, most employment contracts contain a clause pertaining to the treatment of confidential information and its disclosure. In addition, employment agreements governed by Omani law invariably include a restrictive covenant upon the employee to protect the goodwill, trade secrets and market share of the employer. Such clauses are commonly referred to as non-compete clauses. The Omani Civil Transactions Law, issued under Sultani Decree 29/2013, provides that such clauses are valid in order to protect the legitimate interests of the employer. More specifically, “… if an employee has knowledge of secrets of his employer in terms of how the entity conducts business or is familiar with the employer’s clients, then the employment contract may contain a clause to prevent the employee from (i) gaining employment with a competitor of the employer or (ii) participating in competitive work.” Under the Omani Civil Code (Article 661), in order to be enforceable all non-compete clauses must be reasonable in terms of duration, type of work and applicable territory.

Under Article 27 of the Oman Labour Law, employees are obliged to maintain the secrets of the employer. Additionally, under Article 40 an employer may dismiss an employee without notice and without payment of the end of service gratuity if inter alia he discloses confidential information about the employer to a third party. Such disclosures of confidential information or trade secrets are considered to be gross violations of the labour law which justify the remedy of instant dismissal without end of service or other payments ordinarily due to the employee.

Team moves in Oman must be viewed in the context of the existing two-year expatriate visa ban. Put simply, the ban imposed by Sultani Decree 16/1995 restricts expatriates from seeking employment with a new employer in Oman for a period of two years after the termination of their current employment. The expatriate is however eligible to join another company if he can obtain a no objection certificate (NOC) from his current employer. The ban and NOC system currently in place has put a pall on team moves in Oman, but not entirely. There have been recent reports in the Omani press and statements by The Royal Oman Police and other Government officials indicating that the ban and NOC system may be abolished soon. If so, management in both targeted and hiring companies in Oman should be aware of the legal constraints, risks and remedies associated with multiple lateral hires.

Remedies following team moves 

Along with most team moves, there will be a threatened or actual application to the court for damages resulting from a breach of contract. The resulting litigation may prevent employees from taking advantage of any unfair head-start obtained through their unlawful activity. Seeking a ‘springboard injunction’ as a short-term remedy in any impending team move is a useful litigation tool to prevent the employees from departing for the new company. The principles behind the ‘springboard injunction’ were summarised in the QBE v. Dymoke case (QBE Management Services (Ltd) v Dymoke & Ros [2012] EWHC 80 (QB)) as follows:


  • “…where a person has obtained a ‘head start’ as a result of unlawful acts, the Court has the power to grant an injunction which restrains the wrongdoer, so as to deprive him of the fruits of his unlawful acts. This is often known as ‘springboard’ relief.”


In the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) and in the courts of England and Wales, such an interim remedy would be possible. The Omani courts are, however, unlikely to entertain any injunctive relief applications in such a scenario. Instead, the targeted company would have to bring a claim for breach of contract or use other applicable laws and would need to prove financial loss caused by the actions of the departing employees. In this situation, employers often assert that there has been unlawful collusion between team members and that losses are greater because the departing team is irreplaceable as a whole. In any team move, however, it will be difficult to prove which financial losses are directly caused by breaches of contract. More often than not, these cases are resolved when the new company gives suitable undertakings, for example by agreeing to place the team in an area of the business that does not compete with the old employer for an agreed period of time, or agreeing that key personnel will not work for certain clients.

Conclusion 

Whether you are considering hiring a team from a competitor or are faced with losing one, management on either side can consider several steps. The new company can consider (i) undertaking a review of all existing employment agreements to better understand the duties and obligations on both sides; (ii) engaging a recruitment company to ensure an arm’s-length hiring process; (iii) refusing to request or receive any trade secrets or confidential information from the lateral employee; (iv) avoiding any misconduct, evidence of which could be used in any subsequent court proceedings; and (v) approaching targeted employees separately and not in groups. By contrast, some considerations for the old company include (i) undertaking an immediate IT investigation to determine if any communications between the employees and the new employer remain on the company server; (ii) not disclosing details about other persons approached during the investigation; (iii) understanding that time is of the essence, especially if litigation is being considered; (iv) interviewing the concerned employees separately; and (v) trying to understand the reasons for departure to determine the possibility of persuading any key employees to remain. Undertaking a team move successfully without triggering breaches of contract is difficult for a poaching employer to accomplish. From a legal and practical perspective, a team move raises issues that tend to be more complicated than the departure of a single employee. Warning signals are often visible to the old employer, but are mostly ignored until it is too late. In any subsequent litigation, carefully planned strategies are key to improving the positions of both a poaching employer and targeted employers faced with a departing team.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Curtis welcomes Ali Arshad to its Middle East team

In March we welcomed  Ali Naveed Arshad to our Middle East team.  Ali is well known in the Omani market, having worked in Muscat for six years.  Based in Dubai, he will service both Oman and UAE based clients.

Ali is recommended by leading guide Chambers Global as an “Up and Coming” lawyer. The 2017 edition praises him as a “great lawyer” and notes "He is helpful, practical and commercially keen."

You can contact Ali in our Dubai office.

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Monday, March 20, 2017

The Laws Regarding Penalties, the Grievances System, and Labour Disputes in Oman

General Overview of the Grievance System in Oman

The Omani Labour Law (promulgated by Royal Decree 35 of 2003, as amended) (the “OLL”) is the primary law regulating the private sector employer-employee relationship and the rights and obligations of employees.  Additionally, Ministerial Decision 129 of 2005 contains the penalty code and conditions for implementing it on private sector employees (“2005 MD”).  The 2005 MD provides that an employer may add offences to the penalty code that are not included in the specimen penalty code, if the nature and type of the business of the organization require this.

The rights and obligations with respect to employer and employees have been set out in the OLL.  This article will discuss the rights of employers and employees respectively.

Employer’s Rights

The circumstances in which an employer may dismiss a worker

Although the OLL states that either the employer or the employee may terminate the employment relationship upon 30 days’ notice (or such longer notice period that the labour contract may state), this does not negate the ability of the employee to receive compensation.  In other words, the use by an employer of a notice provision to terminate an employee will normally be seen by the Omani Courts to be a “termination for convenience”, thereby requiring the employer to pay compensation to the employee.  The Omani courts only rule out the requirement to pay compensation when they believe that the termination was due to what they see as a “valid reason”.  It is not possible to list specifically and comprehensively all of the acts or circumstances that could constitute a “valid reason” for termination, as these are normally decided on a case-by-case basis by the Omani courts and subject to the relevant evidence on hand.

Under Article 40 of the OLL, an employer has the right to terminate its contract with an employee without prior notice, or paying any end-of-service benefit, where the employee has committed an act of gross misconduct, for example, where the employee:

a) assumes a false identity;
b) makes a mistake that results in a material financial loss to the employer;
c) is away from work for more than 10 consecutive days without reasonable cause;
d) discloses confidential information of the employer;
e) receives a final judgment against it for an offence or felony for breach of honour or trust; or
f) is in a state of drunkenness or under the influence of an intoxicating drug or mental stimulants whilst at work or during work hours.

What is the employer’s role and rights as far as the Grievance System is concerned? 

According to Article 106 of the OLL, the employer is required to display in a conspicuous place the procedure for complaints and grievances.  The procedure will provide the employee the right to submit his complaint or grievance to the employer or his representative.  Further, it is important to note that the Company is obliged under the OLL to obtain an approval on the procedures for complaints and grievances from the MOM prior to displaying it at the workplace.  Moreover, Article 106 of the OLL further provides that the employee has a time limit of fifteen days from the date on which he was dismissed by the Company, to apply to the MOM, for annulment of the dismissal decision.

Employees’ Rights

The circumstances in which an employee may abandon the work prior to the termination of the contract 

Under Article 41 of the OLL, an employee has the right to abandon work prior to the termination of his contract (after giving written notice to the employer) where there has been gross misconduct on the part of the employer, for example:

a) where the employer has defrauded the employee;
b) the employer commits an immoral act toward the employee;
c) the employer assaults the employee; or
d) the employer is aware of a danger that threatens the health or safety of the employees and does nothing to rectify the danger.

For matters other than Article 41 of the OLL, the employee will need to comply with Article 107 of OLL if they have any complaint at the workplace.

What are the employees’ rights regarding the Grievance System? 

Article 107 of OLL provides that if an employee has a complaint he shall first follow the procedures laid down by the employer and if such procedure does not exist or does not address the employee’s grievance, the employee is authorized to apply to MOM in order to endeavour to reach a settlement for the dispute.  The first step to settling a labour dispute is obviously to try to resolve the issue internally between the parties.  If the parties failed to resolve their differences or if the procedure does not exist, the parties are authorized to apply to the MOM in order to try to reach a settlement, failing which, the employee may proceed in filing a claim in the Primary Court.


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Monday, March 13, 2017

Takaful

Takaful originates from the Arabic word Kafalah, which means ‘guaranteeing each other’.  It is the Islamic counterpart of conventional insurance.

The concept of takaful is based on the principles of mutual cooperation and the separation between the takaful fund and the operations of its shareholders, covering the elements of shared responsibility, joint indemnity, common interest and solidarity.

In a takaful company, the policyholders are the joint investors with the takaful operator.  The profits or losses of the investment pool are shared amongst the policyholders according to a pre-determined ratio.

Takaful works with all the participants guaranteeing each other and making contributions to a mutual fund, as opposed to paying premiums.  The amount that each participant contributes is dependent upon the type of cover required and his/her personal circumstances.

A takaful operator manages and administers the takaful fund on behalf of the policyholders and is paid a fee for miscellaneous expenses such as the costs of sales and marketing, underwriting, and claims management etc.

From an operational perspective, a takaful company must maintain two funds, a policyholders’ fund and a shareholders’ fund.  The two funds cannot be mixed with each other.  The funds are invested on a profit and loss sharing basis, as approved by the takaful company’s Sharia Supervisory Board (“SSB”).

The policyholders’ fund is comprised of amounts corresponding to the insurance premiums received, re-insurer’s claims, investment profits, salvages and recoveries.  The said fund is utilized towards paying claims to the policyholders, reinsurance and administrative costs and technical reserves (but excluding the investment department expenses).

Any surplus amount after the aforesaid utilization is allocated to the policyholders’ special reserves and distributed amongst them.  In the event the policyholders’ fund is deficient to meet their expenses, the shortfall amount is funded from the shareholders’ fund.  The shareholders also guarantee to discharge all liabilities of the policyholders’ fund, proportionate to their respective shareholding in the takaful company.

The shareholders’ fund, on the other hand, consists of the paid-up capital and shareholders’ reserves, capital investment profit and subsequent equity injections.  The investment department’s administrative expenses are deducted from the said fund.  Any surplus amount is distributed amongst the shareholders on a pro-rata basis.

A takaful can be structured based on the nature of the relationship between the company and the participants.  Three kinds of structures are most widely used, namely, Wakalah, Mudarabah and a combination of the two.

Under the Wakalah structure, the takaful operator works as an agent on behalf of the participants.  The takaful operator manages the fund and receives a management fee (i.e., a Wakalah fee).  An incentive fee can also be charged by the takaful operator to manage the fund in the best way possible.  The fee is fixed in advance after consultation with the SSB.  Any surplus generated by the takaful fund or the investments goes to the policyholders.

Under the Mudarabah structure, the policyholders are the investing partner (i.e., the Rab-ul-Mal) and the takaful operator is the working partner (i.e., the Mudarib).  The policyholders put in their respective participations in the takaful fund and the takaful operator uses its expertise and knowledge to manage the said fund.  Profits are shared according to an agreed ratio whereas losses are borne by the policyholders only.

The third type of structure, namely, the Wakalah-cum-Mudarabah structure, is commonly used in the takaful industry.  This structure uses a hybrid of Wakalah and Mudarabah contracts.  Under the Wakalah contract, the takaful company is appointed as the agent for managing the fund and is given a fee for underwriting the fund.  Under the Mudarabah contract, the takaful company is appointed to act as the fund manager and shares any profit resulting from the investment of the fund.

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Monday, March 6, 2017

Sole Proprietorship and Conversion to a Limited Liability Company

General Overview of Sole Proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is a form of business available only to Omani or GCC nationals.  The minimum capital requirement for a sole proprietorship is relatively low, being OMR 3,000.  A sole proprietorship does not require the participation of other partners or stakeholders and the sole proprietor can undertake the business in his own name.

One of the main drawbacks of establishing a sole proprietorship is that the sole proprietor is considered to be the legal holder of the license.  Consequently, the sole proprietorship concern will not act as a separate legal entity whereby the partners or stakeholders are protected under its corporate veil.  The proprietor is therefore, personally liable for debts incurred by the sole proprietorship entity.

In Oman, it is common for Omani individuals to initially establish a sole proprietorship and later convert the business into a limited liability company (“LLC”), as the incorporation process of the sole proprietorship is swift and easy when compared to that of an LLC.  A sole proprietorship requires only one individual and the capital contribution is relatively less when compared to a limited liability company, which requires a minimum capital of OMR 20,000.

For the registration purposes, the individual would require to liaise with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (“MOCI”).  The applicant is required to submit the MOCI standard form for registration of sole proprietorship, along with the individual’s identity card and the ROP good standing certificate. The name of the establishment will be the same as that of the sole proprietor (i.e., the owner).

The Conversion of Sole Proprietorship to a Limited Liability Company 

According to Article 13 Bis 1 of the Sultani Decree 4 of 1974 Commercial Companies Law (“CCL”) it is permissible to convert a company from one status to another by a decision issued in accordance with the rules made for amending the memorandum of incorporation of an existing company or its articles of association, in compliance with the procedures and conditions of the company of which conversion takes place.

Article 13 Bis 2 further sets out certain limitation to conversion. According to Article 13 Bis 2 conversion of the company shall not result in the creation of a new juristic person, and the company, after conversion, shall retain all its previous rights and liabilities that preceded such conversion.  The conversion shall not release members from their joint liability with respect to the company preceding the conversion unless the creditors agree to such release.  Therefore, according to CCL, it is permissible for a sole proprietorship to convert to a limited liability company, provided that the applicant complies with the provisions of the CCL.

The procedures for conversion of a sole proprietorship company into a limited liability company are as follows:

1. The applicant is required to liaise with the MOCI and submit a contract of sale of percentage.  The contract for the sale of percentage is basically a share transfer process whereby the current owner sells a portion of his stake in the sole proprietorship concern to another Omani or a foreign partner. The contract for the sale of percentage will be executed and signed at the MOCI. All parties (sellers and buyers) are required to be present at the MOCI. If any of the parties are not able to attend the signing at the MOCI, such party will need to issue a power of attorney authorizing the power of attorney holder to sign on his behalf.

2. Once the sale of percentage is executed, the applicant is required to submit the following documents to the MOCI:

Name reservation: As an initial step, the applicant is required to reserve a name of the company. The proposed name of the company has to be reserved to reflect the words “LLC”;

a) Constitutive contract: The constitutive contract of the LLC will set out the Company’s activities, amount of capital, number of shares, the members’ nationalities, their respective shareholdings, their voting rights, partners’ meetings, etc.  This document is required to be prepared in Arabic and signed by the all the shareholders, including the sole proprietor;

b) Certificate of good standing: If the incoming partner is an individual, the new incoming partner(s) will also require to produce a certificate of good standing from their country of origin;

c) Constitutional documents and resolution of partner: in the event the partner is a corporate entity, it will need to provide its constitutional documents, i.e. certificate of incorporation, memorandum and articles of association, etc.  and a resolution approving its participation in the LLC;

d) Original copies of the commercial registration certificate, computer printout, and a Oman Chamber of Commerce certificate/card of the existing sole proprietorship; and

e) Copies of the ID card(s) for the local Omani partner and passport copy for the foreign partner.

Once all the above documents are submitted to the MOCI for conversion of the sole proprietorship to an LLC, the MOCI will review and assess the application and after approval, issue the new commercial registration documents in the name of the LLC.  The MOCI will also issue a letter confirming the conversion, based on which the LLC will be permitted to amend its name at the relevant ministries, banks and any other government bodies.  


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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Effective Non-Competition Clauses

There are a number of reasons that an employer may wish to include a non-compete clause (otherwise known as a restrictive covenant) in an employment contract with an employee, for example, to protect goodwill and trade secrets.  Such provisions have been contemplated in the Civil Transactions Law issued by Sultani Decree 29/2013 (the “Civil Code”).  Under the Civil Code, if an employee has knowledge of the “secrets” of his/her employer in terms of how the entity conducts its business, or if the employer is familiar with the employer’s clients, the employment contract may contain a clause to prevent the employee from doing the following after termination of the employment contract:

• gaining employment at a competitor of the employer; or

• participating in competitive work.

However, it is important to note that a restrictive covenant, such as a non-compete clause (in accordance with Article 661) will only be effective if it is reasonable, such that it is “restricted in time, place and type of work to the extent necessary for the protection of the legitimate interests of the employer”.

How to draft non-compete clauses?

Omani court judgement (Case No. 426/2014) considered the issue of the validity of non-compete clauses.  In this case, the contract of employment stipulated that the employee (i.e., the defendant) would not assume any similar position in the Sultanate for 12 months after the termination of his service with the employer (i.e., the plaintiff).  It further stipulated that the employee would maintain the confidentiality of business secrets and the data/information related to the employer.  The plaintiff submitted that the defendant joined another firm (the second litigant) prior to the end of the 12 month term and disclosed such business secrets to that litigant.  Subsequently, the plaintiff sought to:

a) revoke the contract of employment between the defendant and the litigant and thereby revoke the residence visa of the defendant; and

b) obligate the defendant and the litigant to together pay the plaintiff compensation in damages incurred as a result of the alleged illegal competition.

With regard to whether the defendant had breached the relevant clause of his employment contract, the courts held that he had not.  The contract between the plaintiff and the defendant provided that the defendant could not accept any job or connect with any business activities inside the Sultanate that was similar to, or competitive with, any of the operations conducted by the plaintiff.  The non-compete provisions in the Civil Code can prevent a contracting party from undertaking a specific type of work within a certain period or area, however, such restriction should not be so broad as to include all types of work in every place and time.  Any provision aiming to do such a thing, would violate the principal of the freedom to work.  Accordingly, the court in this instance found the non-compete clause between employee and employer to be invalid, since the condition violated the public order of the principal of freedom to work.

Whether a non-compete clause is valid or not is up to the assessment of the judiciary.  What counts as a reasonable restrictive covenant is therefore likely to depend on the nature of an employer’s business and the level of restriction imposed on an employee as set out above.  As general guidance, the following points should be considered:

Time: As to the length of time, a non-compete clause is likely to be acceptable if it restricts an employee for working for a competitor for a defined period of time, although the acceptable period of time would likely be considered on the basis of the employee’s role and level of seniority.  A non-compete clause that sets out a prolonged period or for an indefinite period of time is likely to be invalid.

Place: As to geographical location preventing a former employee from working for a competitor, what is deemed acceptable will likely depend on whether the employer’s business is situated in one location, or multiple locations and/or regions. A non-compete clause restricting an individual from working for any competitor within the whole of the GCC region will likely be unenforceable if the said business is situated in Oman for example with no dealings in the GCC region.

• Type of work: As to type of work, a non-compete clause attempting to restrict an employee from working in the same industry which would prevent an employee from attaining a different role and function entirely; a role which could not possibly cause damage to the former employer’s business (e.g., by sharing secrets, business know-how, client information etc.) may be considered unreasonable.

A non-compete clause should be drafted so as to protect the legitimate interests of the employer.  The provisions should strike a balance between protecting the legitimate interests of the employer while permitting an employee to work and earn a living at another company.

Non-compete clauses and the expatriate visa ban

Given the Civil Code says that a non-compete clause must be proportionate to protect the legitimate interests of the employer it will be interesting to see how the Courts view what is and is not an acceptable restrictive covenant in light of the two year expatriate visa ban (the “Ban”).

By way of overview, the Ban, which was imposed by the Expatriate Residency Law (issued by Sultani Decree 16 of 1995 (as amended)) and reinforced by the Ministry of Manpower (“MOM”) in July 2014, effectively restricts expatriates from obtaining employment with a new employer in the Sultanate for a period of two years after termination of employment with their current employer in Oman. An expatriate is only eligible to join another company in the Sultanate prior to the expiry of two years from the date of termination of employment if he or she can obtain a Non Objection Certificate (“NOC”) from his or her current employer.

The Ban was part of the MOM’s objective to regulate the labour market.  For those employers willing to give an NOC, it is important therefore, to consider a carefully worded non-compete clause in this instance.

How a non-compete clause could be invalid?

An employer cannot seek to enforce a non-compete clause in an employment contract if the employee’s employment was terminated by the employer without just cause.  In addition, a restrictive covenant shall be deemed invalid if the employer commits an act that justifies the termination of the contract by the employee.

Pursuant to Article 662 of the Civil Code, in the event a former employee violates the terms of its non-compete provision, compensation may be payable to the employer for breach. However, where the compensation amount as set out in the non-compete clause is excessive and intended to force employees to remain employed by the employer, the said non-compete clause shall be void.


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Monday, February 20, 2017

Judicial Confession, Taping and Recorded Tapes

Anyone involved in a public prosecution or a commercial investigation should be aware of their rights (and the law) with regard to giving a confession.
Confessions in civil cases
Article 57 of the new Evidence Law defines “confession” as the admission by a person of [committing] a legal fact to another person, with the purpose of proving his commission of that fact by such person and such admission may be judicial or non-judicial.  Accordingly, a judicial confession is conclusive and absolute evidence against the confessor, confined to him, and binding to a court.  The confession may not be divisible, unless it has been made in respect of a number of events, and the existence of one of these events does not necessarily mean, or prove, the existence of the others.  Properly obtained judicial confessions are evidence against the confessor, and the confessor may not retract such a confession.
Confessions in criminal cases
Article 190 provides that if at any time the accused admits that he is guilty, the court shall hear his statements in detail and cross-examine him.  If it is satisfied that the confession is sound and sufficient, it may abandon the remaining proceedings, or some of them, and decide the case.  That is, the Supreme Court has confirmed that a confession in a criminal case may have a conclusive role in that case.  However, such evidence shall be subject to an assessment by the subject matter court, with no control or influence from the Supreme Court. The subject matter court may accept the confession of the accused following its investigations.  In respect of a confession, the subject matter court will seek to understand the motivation and grounds behind the giving of the confession, and assess whether or not it has been given based on evidence, liberty, perception and understanding, or, has been given subject to coercion. 
How is improperly obtained evidence treated?  Can such evidence be admissible?
A confession may be inadmissible if it was obtained illegally; however, any material evidence that is discovered as a result of such confession may still be admissible.  An accused may not avoid punishment simply for reasons of evidence having been obtained illegally.
A confession made under coercion is inadmissible, even if there is evidence confirming its accuracy.  If an accused maintained his confession after the coercion ceased to exist, it would be treated as a new confession.  In order to establish that a confession was obtained under coercion, the burden of proof lies with the claimant (i.e., the claimant must prove that his confession was obtained through coercion such as being tied up, restrained, arrested or guarded).  
Confessor’s retraction
A confession may, in certain circumstances, be retracted.  The retraction of a confession may be overlooked if the crime can be established with sufficient evidence supporting the confession.  It has been argued that with regard to major crimes, the retraction of a confession does not cancel the confession, but other evidence is required, even circumstantial evidence, in this regard.
Call recording and tapping and recorded tapes as evidence
Article 90 of the Criminal Procedures law states that Correspondence and cables may not be confiscated or perused, newspapers, publications and parcels may not be confiscated, conversation taking place at a private place may not be recorded, the telephone may not be tapped and the dialogue may not be recorded without the permission of the Public Prosecutor.  The permission specified in article 90 of this Law shall be issued if the Public Prosecutor is of the view that it would be useful evidence where there is a suspected offence or misdemeanor that would be punishable by imprisonment for a period exceeding three months.  The permission shall be substantiated and its period shall not exceed 30 days subject to renewal for similar periods, if required.
Moreover, article 30 of the Basic Law states that the freedom of correspondence by post, telegraph, telephone, or other means of communication is protected and its confidentiality guaranteed.  Hence it is unlawful to monitor, search, disclose the confidentiality, delay or confiscate the same except in cases specified by the law and in accordance with the procedures prescribed therein.
Any person involved in a public prosecution or commercial investigation should consult with a lawyer as soon as possible and, in any event, before giving a confession.

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Monday, February 13, 2017

Environmental Law in Oman

The desire for a green and pollution-free environment in Oman grows every year, as the world seeks to tackle the ill effects of global warming and other environmental concerns.  As the world gears up to combat this threat, the Sultanate of Oman has put a series of laws in place to protect its land and territorial waters against pollution.  Protection of habitats has been achieved through the environmental permit system implemented under Sultani Decree 10/82 (now replaced by Sultani Decree 114/01).  The Sultanate has always sought to strike a balance between the needs of development and the environment.  Industrial construction projects must be reviewed and certified by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs (the “MOECA”) before commencement.  When reviewing a proposed construction project, the MOECA examines the possibility of damage to the environment and ensures that all measures have been taken to minimise pollution from waste products prior to giving its approval.
Legislation for wildlife protection and nature conservation is mainly in the form of Sultani Decrees and Ministerial Decisions.  The management and action plans for all protected areas are strictly implemented.  Sultani Decree 34/74, issuing the Marine Pollution Control Law, seeks to ensure the safety of the marine environment.  Sultani Decree 68/79, establishing the Council for Conservation of Environment and Prevention of Pollution, was followed by Sultani Decree 10/82 (replaced by Sultani Decree 114/01), issuing the Law on Conservation of the Environment and Prevention of Pollution, which laid the practical and scientific basis for private and public practices in environmental fields.  This was further strengthened by the issue of Sultani Decree 45/84 establishing the Ministry of Regional Municipalities, Environment and Water Resources as the first ministry of its kind in the Arab world.
Marine pollution
One of the most significant laws concerning the protection of the environment in Oman is the law on the Control of Marine Pollution (Sultani Decree 34/74).  Under this law, no person has the right to discharge any pollutant in the pollution-free zone from a ship, shore location or oil transport facility.  
Moreover, no ship has the right to discharge any pollutant in the pollution-free zone and each day of a violation is considered as a separate violation.  No ship owner or any owner or operator of a shore location or oil transport facility has the right to disregard any of its obligations under the law.  Any owner or operator of the shore location or oil transport facility violating the law subsequent to a third offence may be liable to be deprived, either temporarily or permanently, of any or all of the rights granted by the Government.  The pollution control officer, or any other person appointed by the MOECA in charge of implementing this law, is empowered to arrest any person who has committed an offence punishable with imprisonment in accordance with this law, and to detain such person until the issue is resolved; the officer may also detain and seize any ship in violation of the law.  If a pollutant has been discharged in the pollution-free zone, the owner of that ship or the owner or operator of that shore location or oil transport facility, as the case may be, will be liable for, inter alia, costs borne by the Government in order to mitigate or eliminate the pollution, and the damages suffered by the Government and/or any other person.
Solid non-hazardous waste
The Regulations for the Management of Solid Non-Hazardous Waste (MD 17/93) deal with solid non-hazardous waste, including any solid or semi-solid material, which does not pose any danger to the environment or to the human health, if it is dealt with in a safe scientific way.  Household waste and solid materials from commercial and industrial establishments are included in non-hazardous waste.  The occupants of premises which are used for commercial or industrial purposes are required to store and dispose of solid non-hazardous waste in accordance with the provisions of these regulations, so that there is no nuisance or hazard to public health.
The user of a commercial or industrial site which produces solid non-hazardous waste is obliged to collect the waste and transport it in a safe manner to a site designated by the relevant authority for the purpose.  The law does not permit any person to dispose of solid non-hazardous waste in places other than designated places.  No solid non-hazardous waste should be mixed with any category of hazardous waste at any time.  Various authorities responsible for the day-to-day operation and management of the collection and disposal of solid non-hazardous waste need to obtain permits and licenses from the MOECA.
Hazardous waste
The Regulations for the Management of Hazardous Waste (MD 18/93) deal with hazardous waste, including any waste arising from commercial, industrial or any other activities, which due to its nature, composition, quantity or for any other reason is hazardous or threatens to be hazardous to the environment.  Any storage facility for hazardous waste must be duly licensed by the MOECA.  This law requires all hazardous waste to be labeled and packed according to the provisions stipulated in this respect.  Every hazardous waste generator should store the hazardous waste in approved storage facilities on its land, or at its premises, until it is removed in accordance with the terms of the license issued by the MOECA.  Hazardous waste must be transported by vehicles licensed by the MOECA to collect, handle, store and dispose of hazardous waste outside the waste generator’s premises. 
Waste water re-use and discharge
The Regulations for Wastewater Re-Use and Discharge were promulgated through MD 145/93 and provide that the discharge of any wastewater or sludge into the environment, in whatever form or conditions, is prohibited without a permit to discharge from the MOECA.  Further, this law provides for the regulation of the quality of wastewater and its re-use.  Before re-use, the wastewater or sludge is tested to determine the quantity of various metals in it and its pH value.  Those with high concentrations of metals must be disposed of in sanitary landfills with the prior approval of the MOECA.  Wastewater must be discharged only where re-use is not possible.  The MOECA may supervise the samples of wastewater at any place at any time.
Whilst there are many other laws that have been issued to ensure the safekeeping of the environment, the above laws are some of the most important in relation to wastewater, management of waste and marine pollution.

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