Dubai enters transport financing talks

30 November 2007
Dubai's Roads & Transport Authority (RTA) is considering using project finance for the first time, and has opened talks with several leading law firms over the issue.

It is the latest sign that the emirate's government is keen for the RTA to develop its own sources of funding and rely less on the public purse. The RTA is hearing submissions from at least four potential legal advisers about developing a project finance model, which would be used for the funding of future transport projects.

Presentations made to the RTA include overviews of how it could adopt traditional project finance schemes, such as build-operate-transfer, to make it less reliant on government funding.

Discussions are at an early stage, and specific projects to be developed using project finance have yet to be identified.

It is also unclear how adopting commercial financing techniques could be applied to RTA projects, as they are not typically revenue-generating. The majority of schemes developed by the RTA are done on a direct procurement basis, with the RTA receiving funding directly from the Dubai government.

One of the few experiments with using a different revenue model is the Salik road toll, expected to raise $150m a year, which will be channelled back into transport projects in Dubai.

The Dubai Metro project also involves granting real estate concessions to developers, which will develop sites for retail purposes near stations.

The RTA was set up in 2005 to develop Dubai's transport infrastructure. But even then, it was envisaged that the organisation would develop its own revenue streams from transport projects so that it would have to rely less on government funding.

Law firms believed to be involved include Linklaters, Denton Wilde Sapte, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Simmons & Simmons.

A number of other international law firms with a presence in Dubai are thought to have been excluded from the process because of other advisory roles that would have prompted a conflict of interests. The RTA has not yet held any meetings with banks over the use of project finance.

If the authority does decide to begin using project finance, it will have to call in banks to develop financing models to assess exactly how much revenue could be generated, and how much funding would have to be commercially raised.

The RTA has not set a timescale for the appointment of legal advisers, but the winning firm is likely to take on a variety of other legal roles for the organisation.

The RTA could not be contacted before MEED went to press.

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