Interview: Shaikh Khalid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa

To what extent is Bahrain’s drive towards sustainability shaping investment attraction strategies?

SHAIKH KHALID BIN ABDULLAH AL KHALIFA: Several fiscal sustainability initiatives aim to promote foreign direct investment (FDI). The Economic Recovery Plan (ERP), which launched in 2021, includes a roadmap that supports long-term economic growth and competitiveness. The plan includes 27 programmes under five main pillars: launching major strategic projects; developing priority sectors through the rollout of various strategies; increasing the efficiency of commercial procedures; achieving fiscal sustainability and economic stability; and providing quality employment for Bahrainis.

The plan also aims to increase FDI by more than $2.5bn by the end of 2023 by streamlining business set-up procedures and supporting the development of a skilled local workforce to make the kingdom an attractive base for investors. The Bahrain Economic Development Board attracted a record $1.1bn in direct investment in 2022. This investment came from a total of 88 companies and is expected to generate over 6300 jobs by 2025.

The kingdom has also pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 with interim environmental targets, joining global efforts in combatting climate change. These goals have been integrated into the ERP, as have concurrent strategies to promote sustainability and achieve targets, such as the National Renewable Energy Action Plan.

In what ways can public-private partnerships (PPPs) help meet future labour market needs?

AL KHALIFA: PPPs form a key part of government plans, including Bahrain Economic Vision 2030, which launched in 2008. The kingdom is working towards efficient and effective governance by changing the role of the government from operator to regulator, while enabling the private sector to aid in driving economic development. To this end, the government issued standards regulating PPPs in 2022 and has engaged in strategic partnerships with private institutions, international companies and agencies in a variety of fields, including cloud computing, e-services, software development and e-payment solutions. The PPPs incorporated in the ERP aim to create quality job opportunities for locals and enhance their skill sets to meet the evolving needs of the labour market.

Bahrain has also put in place initiatives to encourage private sector growth. On top of facilitating foreign investments, the kingdom supports startups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) through Tamkeen, a semi-autonomous agency that underpins private sector development. In 2019 Tamkeen’s development programme disbursed over BD29m ($76.9m), benefitting around 1700 Bahraini businesses, of which 93% were SMEs.

How would you characterise the country’s long-term vision of digitalisation as enabling socio-economic development?

AL KHALIFA: The Telecommunications, ICT and Digital Economy Sector Strategy 2022-26 intends to transform services through digital technologies, while enhancing the sector environment and encouraging adoption. Through this strategy, the country aims to increase the number of ICT startups by 20%; automate an additional 200 government services; increase national employment in the sector by 35%; and train at least 20,000 citizens on cybersecurity to support the digital economy by 2026.

The kingdom has launched several initiatives to support digitalisation efforts, including Tamkeen’s innovation programme, which provides support to digital start-ups in research and development, prototyping, and product testing and launching. Another example is Citibank’s Global Technology Hub, which aims to create 1000 coding jobs by 2033.