Information Affairs Minister Isa Abdulrahman Al-Hammadi has underlined the cooperation between the executive and legislative branches in preparing the general budget for the two fiscal years 2015 and 2016. He said at the post-Cabinet press conference, attended today by the Transportation and Telecommunications Minister, that work is in full swing to reach a consensus on principles and strategic priorities.
He added that the budget draft law will be submitted to the legislature within the next few weeks as the government is constitutionally mandated to do so. He pointed out that approval of the budget is strongly linked to the implementation of projects, provision of services for citizens and a vigorous economy as many ventures depend on the government spending.
He pointed out a recent meeting between the Ministerial Committee for Financial Affairs and Budgeting, which is chaired by Deputy Premier Shaikh Khalid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, and some members of the Representatives and Shura Councils. He also praised cooperation between the executive and legislative branches when endorsing the government's work programme which was amended before being voted on in the Representatives Council.
The minister said the budget is one of the executive tools for the government work programme, pointing out that its endorsement requires approval of the legislative branch. He explained that a large part of the government revenues depend on oil. Yet, it is hard at the present time to determine the price of the barrel in the budget. The minister pointed out that this issue will be discussed when submitting the budget draft law to the Representatives and Shura Councils soon.
Regarding Bahrain's stance towards the international campaign on the terror group "Daesh", and the possibility of the kingdom's participation against it in Libya, the minister stressed that in case there is a Bahraini effort with the international alliance elsewhere in the world, this will be announced by the competent authorities. He also affirmed that Bahrain is part of the international drive on "Daesh" and terrorism.
Minister of Transportation and Telecommunications Kamal bin Ahmed Mohammed, announced the commencement of the transition phase for the new public transport project on 15th February 2015, and shared the latest progress about the project.
The minister confirmed that the Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunications (MTT) is working to implement its strategic plan, with the Land Transport Affairs section in the process of implementing several projects in line with this plan.
The objective is to provide advanced and modernized services in the public transport sector, based on the findings of a comprehensive study conducted in mid-2012 to develop the public transport sector in Bahrain.
The minister stated that an all-inclusive strategic plan was drawn up following this study which presented findings about the current and future of the industry in the Kingdom, providing options that would improve public transportation services and making them the preferred choice for citizens and residents.
This will be implemented in a phased manner, given that the existing network has not been upgraded in over 15 years, and the infrastructure and vehicles require fundamental improvements in order to be able to sustain a high quality service and enable users to access all areas of the Kingdom, as required by recent business and economic growth.
Based on the outcomes of the study, the MTT has developed a comprehensive strategy to develop the public transportation industry, including upgrading the network to increase its users and coverage by August 2015.
The new network will increase to 77% coverage compared to the current 35% of residential areas once the program is fully rolled out by August. In addition, the new service will comprise 32 routes in total; 20 new routes will be added to the existing 12 routes which currently link the governorates together.
The minister stated that the upgraded public transport service will see the number of buses increase from the existing 35 to 141, catering to approximately 51,000 passengers on daily basis compared to the existing 16,000.
MTT’s contract with the former operator (CARS) came to an end this month, and the new service will be operated by new bus operator Bahrain Public Transport Company, a joint venture partnership between National Express Group plc, (UK) and Ahmed Mansour Al Aali (AMA).
The new operator has already started carrying out its duties by supplying the new buses. These buses will be operated in accordance with international safety and service standards and will be equipped with all the facilities, amenities and state-of-the-art technology to improve passenger travel experience. Some key features include special conveniences for passengers with disability and special needs, surveillance cameras and Wi-Fi connection amongst others. The buses come in three sizes according to road size and required capacity.
The new fleet started operations on February 15 2015 as part of the transition phase, while the new network will be officially launched on 1st April 2015.
A new automated ticketing system will also be introduced on April 1st, and in the future MTT will consider replacing the paper tickets with a modern, paperless smartcard alternative based on demand and capacity. Ticket vending and refill machines will be available on board the buses, at main terminals and in several commercial outlets.
MTT is simultaneously working on revamping the current infrastructure of the public bus network and rebuilding the bus shelters with plans to complete these upgrades in time for launching the full scale of operations. An estimated 400 stops will be demolished and rebuilt following a tender that was launched and won by UK bidder True Form on July 8, 2014. The minister added that upon completion of the bus transport project plan, MTT started studying the possibility of developing an advanced land transportation system using other modes of transport. Once this is completed, a full plan and budget will be put together by the end of the year.
He concluded his speech by extending his thanks to members of the cabinet, the Ministerial Committee for Services and Infrastructure, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Works, the Ministry of Municipalities Affairs and Urban Planning and the Ministry of Interior for their efforts and continuous collaboration with the MTT to ensure the success of the public transport projects for the benefit of the country and its citizens.
In a statement to Bahrain News Agency (BNA), he unveiled plans to embark on more developed transportation system, alongside the modern bus service, following the steps of some neighbouring countries. "We have a lot of visions and plans in this regard but they all depend essentially on the allocation of the required budget", he said, pointing that the ministry aspires to expand the bus service countrywide.
"The ministry has multi-phased strategic plans which consist first in upgrading public transport", he said, adding that plans are also under study to keep abreast of regional and international transport strides.
The minister, with regards to telecommunication towers issue, explained that many telecommunication companies built towers in 2012 in a number of areas in the absence of supervisory regulations.
The Telecommunications Ministry has requested the Cabinet to be more precise in respect of having the towers moved to more suitable locations, or the telecommunication companies could share the use of the towers so as they will not spoil the general view of Bahrain's roads.
"Through this move, we aim to regulate all matters related to telecommunications, and to empower the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, Ministry of Municipalities, Civil Aviation Authority and other competence authorities."
The Telecommunications Ministry, after the expiry of agreement of the previous operator, CARS Company, has assigned a new operator through a legal tender to provide the requirement of the new net.
Accordingly, a contract has been signed with a coalition of two companies, National Express Company and Ahmed Mansour Al-A'li Company, aims to provide a fleet of new buses equipped with WIFI services and security cameras.