Manama has raised the stakes in the contest to become the region's undisputed hub for financial services. Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa announced on 8 October plans to develop a new financial district in the city, which is already considered the major centre for offshore banking and Islamic finance in the Middle East.
The real estate development, known as Bahrain Financial Harbour, will cover an area of some 202,272 square metres on the site of the city's old harbour. Islamic investment bank Gulf Finance House (GFH)is backing the $1,000 million venture and is set to form the strategic backbone of a holding company that will be announced in November.
The scheme's backers have been at pains to discount suggestions that they are reacting to the efforts of Dubai International Financial Centre to establish itself as the first choice for banking and finance in the region. 'We are not competing with Dubai,' Esam Yousif Janahi, chief executive officer of GFH, told MEED on 8 October. 'Bahrain already has the best financial rules and regulations in the region. Bahrain Financial Harbour will simply bring what we already have under one roof.'
The intention is to attract more international financial institutions and banks to establish a presence in Bahrain. Financial services already account for 16 per cent of the country's GDP. The district will cater for a broad spectrum of financial services including Islamic banking and finance, conventional and investment banking, insurance, bond and equity trading and fund management.
Local consultant Ahmed Abubaker Janahi Architectshas completed the architectural designs for the area. Tendering for the first construction packages, which cover the erection of two large towers connected by a central hall and the area's basic infrastructure, will begin in the first quarter of 2003. Funding for each phase will be arranged through a mixture of equity and project finance.
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