Public sector spending in Bahrain is on the up, due in no small part to the GCC funding committed by Kuwait, KSA, UAE and Qatar.
The outlook, therefore, should be for a bright and prosperous future. Client bodies within the government-funded agencies will be buzzing with excitement at the prospect of making significant progress with their long-term infrastructure plans.
But with such an upturn in investment, which will also see an increase in privately funded investment programmes, comes a few challenges, in particular for the client bodies in the public sector.
Funding rules vary, but in essence they require many of the projects, in design and construction, to be led by consultants or contractors from the funding country, or at least a preference is given to organisations from those countries.
These rules are bringing new faces to sit around the table with clients; not always a bad thing as progress and change go hand-in-hand. However, new faces means unfamiliarity with process, client standards, existing infrastructure and market demands; and inefficiencies will manifest themselves in these circumstances. Such inefficiencies will add to the already considerable workload of the clients, who are already dealing with an exponential increase in investment over a very short time period.
Historically, major infrastructure projects in Bahrain have been procured through traditional methods allowing the clients full control over the design and overall projects. The pace of change in the investment profile will, however, lead to a fundamental change in procurement to engineer-procure-construct (EPC) and build-own-operate-transfer (BOOT). These methods are already apparent in wastewater projects and it is expected that highways projects will follow. Challenges again arise from such changes, as they require different skills and mindsets, different interfaces and different experienced personnel to deliver successfully.
The rapid rise in investment, both in public and private sectors, brings a need for increased effort in planning and coordination. The challenge, not to be underestimated, for the Central Planning Office is to provide this support without the Northshore team, which ended its commission last year. There are examples across the region where inadequate planning and integration of private and public sector investment has severely disrupted programmes of work.
With all things considered, Bahrain is becoming a more buoyant market – the investment brings with it a message of positivity and prosperity for the people of Bahrain.
The prosperity will be built on a huge amount of hard work by many unseen individuals in the client bodies – unsung heroes who have to deal with the significant challenges ahead. We, the consultants and contractors who feed off the investment, will have to meet the challenges together with the clients if there is to be a successful period of investment and improvement of infrastructure in Bahrain. We must enter this period together and work extremely hard to emerge as partners on completion.
Gary Laing is country manager Bahrain for Hyder Consulting