Interview: Mohammed Khalil Alsayed

To what extent has progress been made in providing more social housing in Bahrain?

MOHAMMED KHALIL ALSAYED: The Affordable Housing Public-Private Partnership (PPP) project, being undertaken by Naseej, is the first in the Gulf region to provide social housing on such a scale via the PPP model. Approximately 50,000 people are on the waiting list for social housing in Bahrain, and this landmark initiative aims to significantly reduce that list. Initially, the intent of the PPP was to tender for 4000 housing units, which was later decreased to around 2800 due to technical and commercial factors dictated by the government. Naseej and Ithmaar Development Company are progressing with executing this project, which is a testament to the government’s policy to adopt any means to meet the housing shortfall.

Beyond this, the Social Housing Finance Scheme was conceived to encourage private sector players to become involved in the sector, with the government offering financial assistance for Bahrainis to own houses – one criterion for eligibility being that the unit price be less than BD120,000 ($318,000). There are several banks participating in this scheme, which also helps in the reduction of the waiting list. Even with involvement by private players, demand is still robust in Bahrain, as in other Gulf states. The challenge in Bahrain, as in many other places, is to identify government-owned or privately-owned land on which to execute such large projects.

What potential is there for further improvements to Bahrain’s tourism offering?

ALSAYED: Bahrain has traditionally enjoyed a niche reputation among travellers for tourism, and events like the Formula 1 motorsport have increased its global visibility. Furthermore, events like the Spring of Culture and other heritage initiatives have attracted the discerning traveller to this archipelago. Bahrain’s tourism market remains open for greater investments, in areas such as health tourism for example. Bahrain’s geographical location, which straddles the time zones of the West and East Asia, along with excellent air connectivity, gives it unique advantages to enhance its tourism offerings. Bahrain enjoys a liberal environment that is conducive to various international travellers and has hosted international cruise ship stopovers and Formula 1 leisure visitors amongst others. It has resorts on the waterfront and in desert environs catering to various needs of travellers. These take advantage of Bahrain’s location and sunny skies, potential areas include waterfront activities, water sports and cultural events. Well-planned real estate developments, such as “Dilmunia At Bahrain” with a wellness theme, can also spur tourism.

What measures can be taken to attract larger players to invest in the market?

ALSAYED: I believe the policy environment of Bahrain, along with its excellent infrastructure in roads, bridges, ports and telecommunications, offers a takeoff primed for new investments. Some projects that were adversely affected by the economic crisis have received the active attention of the government, and a dedicated committee has been tasked with the responsibility of completing them. Indeed, with continued government support, we are likely to see some positive traction on the stalled projects in the next year or two. Accordingly, I believe the kingdom continues to remain an attractive target for investment for interested players in the region.

One view is that this issue is connected to enhancing business confidence, rather than increasing available attractive investment opportunities. Once the perception of confidence improves, including through movement on stalled projects, we can expect to see greater interest from other private companies. Such measures will help increase investor confidence, and correct any misplaced perception of the intent.