Kuwait poised for renewed project activity

29 August 2023

This month’s special report on Kuwait also includes: 

> POLITICSStakeholders hope Kuwait can execute spending plans
> ECONOMYKuwait enjoys sustained non-oil growth
> ENERGYKuwait’s $300bn energy target is a big test
> POWER & WATERWarming erodes Kuwait’s power and water reserves
> BANKINGKuwaiti banks enter bounce-back mode
> INTERVIEWKuwait’s Gulf Centre United sets course for expansion


 

Higher oil prices are usually the signal for GCC oil exporters to open their wallets and engage in some crowd-pleasing project spending. This was certainly true for Kuwait in 2014, 2015 and 2016, when contract awards activity in the construction and transport sectors soared close to $27bn.

However, the situation is notably different in 2023, due to the country’s long-running political impasse between its parliament and executive body disrupting decision-making.

After witnessing two consecutive years of positive growth in 2020 and 2021, Kuwait’s overall project activity dropped significantly.

The construction and transport projects market saw a decline of about 40 per cent in 2022 to settle at just under $1.7bn as a result of fewer project awards. 

So far this year, the country has awarded $1.2bn-worth of contracts in the construction and transportation sectors.

Construction contraction

Construction was the second-largest projects sector in Kuwait last year, with about $627m of contract awards in 2022. In 2023 so far, there have been awards worth about $440m, setting the year on a similar trajectory. 

Both of these figures are well below the $1.8bn average annual awards between 2018 and 2022, or the $4bn average annual spend in the five years before that. 

As with other project sectors in Kuwait, construction is a victim of a significant curtailing of public project spending in the country as planned schemes have been caught up in the political infighting over expenditure and debt.

The pipeline of planned and unawarded construction projects in the country meanwhile stands at about $22.9bn, with $8.7bn-worth of projects under study, $6.6bn in design and $7.6bn in the bidding phase.

The largest projects are two dredging and reclamation schemes being carried out in anticipation of future developments. The first of these is a $900m scheme under the Ministry of Public Works to prepare the way for phase one of the Mubarak al-Kabeer port development, and the second is a $675m reclamation project as part of Kuwait Oil Company’s (KOC) North & South Kuwait Revegetation Project.

There is also a $400m villa construction project in prequalification as part of phase two of KOC’s Mina al-Ahmadi Township redevelopment scheme. 

Public projects worth $1.4bn are in the design stage as part of the development of Sabah al-Salem University’s medical campus. These include a hospital and colleges for medicine and dentistry. 

Among the latest projects added to the pipeline are the $8bn-worth of planned real estate developments in the Neutral Zone that Saudi Arabia and Kuwait share. 

In July, Gulf Coast Real Estate Development Company, a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, received bids from companies to provide project management consultancy services and invited firms to bid for another contract covering cost consultancy services.

Transport traction

The transport sector had the strongest project activity in Kuwait in 2022, with more than $1bn-worth of awards. This beat the average annual awards total of $800m from 2018 to 2022. 

In 2023, there have also been awards worth $800m year-to-date, without accounting for awards in the last four months of the year. The largest projects were for road works and surfacing, led by a $370m scheme for road infrastructure works as part of the Sabah al-Ahmad residential project under the Public Authority for Housing Welfare (PAHW).

There are about $28bn-worth of planned transport projects in Kuwait. Of these, about $22.9bn are still in the early stages, $2.3bn in design and $2.8bn in the bidding phase.

The largest project in the bidding stage is a similar road infrastructure project for PAHW, but this time a $1.3bn contract as part of the South Saad al-Abdullah housing scheme. 

Also in the bidding phase is a $550m project for the preparation of four rest stops and mixed-used developments along Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah Causeway – a project directly under the Council of Ministers General Secretariat.

There are also 10 tenders from the Ministry of Public Works, worth $726m-$792m, for road and bridge maintenance and stormwater upgrade works in several parts of the country, including the capital city, Hawally, Farwaniya, Jahra and Mubarak al-Kabeer.

In total, between the construction and transport sectors, there are $4.7bn-worth of projects past the prequalification stage and at either the bid submission or bid evaluation stage. 

If even half of this value is awarded, 2023 could become the best year for general contractors since 2018. Much of this value is bound up in very large projects, however, and will rest on the resumption of major schemes that in turn could require the go-ahead from parliament.

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Yasir Iqbal
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