Bahrain looks to privatise Gulf Air in a year

Bahrain plans to privatise the country's loss-making carrier Gulf Air within about a year, after its turnaround programme bears fruit, said the chief executive of the top economic planning body in Bahrain.

Bahrain also plans to privatise other public services, from hospitals to waste management, as it seeks to diversify its economy from oil and build up a viable private sector and a conventional tax-based economy.

Gulf Air, which said in November it expected making an operating loss of about $500 million (Dh1.8 billion) in 2009, plans to return to profits by focusing on regional routes and cutting costs.

"The intention is to privatise but if you're going to privatise something, people want something that doesn't have a hundred-tonne anchor weighing it down," Sheikh Mohammed bin Essa Al Khalifa, Head of the Economic Development Board, told Reuters. "It will take realistically a year." The Economic Development Board controls all government decisions on economic policies, making Sheikh Mohammed the kingdom's top policy-maker in economic matters.

Management of the King Hamad Hospital, currently under construction, and of petrol stations owned by state-run Bahrain Petroleum could be tendered to the private sector at the end of the year.

Contracting out management of postal services and waste water treatment was currently under study, he added. The country is also planning to phase out subsidies in the long run to relieve public finances, a sensitive issue that has sparked protests.

 

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