WHILE most Malaysian firms are looking towards the Chinese market, one company sees Bahrain a tiny island in the Middle East as a place of sound investment.
We are using it as our base in this region, said WCT Engineering Bhd executive director Chua Siow Leng enthusiastically. It is also because of our job in Sepang, which we used as leverage to get the job in Bahrain, he said.
The job, of course, is being the main contractor for the Bahrain International Circuit which will play host to a Formula One race for the first time in April.
WCT Engineering's involvement in Bahrain began in November 2002 with the bidding for the circuit. There were 15 pre-qualifiers with 11 tenders for the massive project. The company entered a tender bond of US$40mil (RM152mil).
Getting the deal was only half the battle won. The other was ensuring that the US$150mil (RM570mil) project was completed in 16 months.
Working with local partner Cebarco Bahrain, it looks set to complete the circuit by its deadline of March 7. WCT Engineering and Gulf Air hosted Malaysian journalists on a tour of the site recently.
The 2004 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix will take place on April 4, two weeks after the race in Malaysia. Gulf Air is the title sponsor and official carrier for the event.
Working in the fast lane was the company's forte, Chua declared. After all, the company was
responsible for completing the Sepang F1 Circuit within 14 months.
About 2,640 workers are completing the circuit located south of Manama, Bahrain's capital.
Apart from this mammoth project, WCT Engineering is also involved in the North Manama Corridor improvements project with their local partner Khalid AbdulRahim Group.
They are also bidding for a 28km highway project south of the island.
Incorporated on Jan 14, 1981 as a private limited company under the name WCT Earthworks and Building Contractors Sdn Bhd, WCT Engineering became a public listed company on April 1, 1995.
Besides Bahrain, WCT Engineering has also expanded to works in India, including the Dungapur Expressway and four-laning in West Bengal and widening and rehabilitation of an existing two-lane highway in Andhra Pradesh.
In Malaysia, among the projects WCT Engineering has been involved in are the East Coast Highway, Guthrie Corridor Expressway and North-South Expressway Centre Link.
Other projects in the country include The Curve shopping complex in Mutiara Damansara, Tractors Malaysia Sdn Bhd and high-rise government buildings in Putrajaya.
It won the CIDB Industry Award for the Special Projects Category (Formula One project) in September 2001 and the CIDB Industry Award for Builder of the Year in 2002.
Malaysian Ambassador to Bahrain Naimun Ashakli Mohammad said that WCT Engineering's involvement in the track made it easier to generate interest for investment.
We have got a few more interested and are trying to get them to invest in Malaysia and vice versa. We are also trying to get Malaysian contractors to come in.
Bahrain is also keen on high-tech products especially our smart card, he said.
Potential products for export include electrical, computer parts and telecommunication.
Malaysia is also the largest exporter for crisps (biscuits, chocolates and candies).
The Government of Bahrain, he added, was also very happy with the F1 project.
We want to make use of this close rapport and maybe bring some of them over to Malaysia, he said.
In terms of tourism, Kuala Lumpur proved a hit with Bahrainis with flights being fully booked during the Hari Raya Aidilfitri period, said Naimun Ashakli.
With this, he said, it was perhaps time that Malaysia Airlines reconsider having direct flights to the country.
The target group would be families and homeowners.
We have to identify and promote Malaysian products. The phrase 'Malaysia Truly Asia' really does work because many are attracted to Malaysia because of that, he said, adding that cultural shows by troupes and cooking demonstrations by chefs would help to this end.
Among the promotions planned is a Malaysia Week, scheduled for April, and another exhibition featuring some 15 Malaysian companies in May.
The embassy is also working with the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce to organise exhibitions featuring Malaysian traders.
We are also trying to get Malaysian contractors to come in May for an exhibition where the focus would be on the Malaysia as a second home programme, he said.
National car manufacturer Proton is currently looking for a dealer to cover the Gulf region, he added.
A successful exhibition on lifestyle and services was organised last year by the Malaysia External Trade Development Corp, and potential and immediate sales was about RM6mil.
It has been a non-stop job of promoting Malaysia and getting things in shape ever since the embassy opened its doors for the first time in Bahrain last Sept 16.
This is the first time I am establishing a mission but we settled in quickly and there has not been any major difficulty, he said.
The embassy is still operating out of the Regency Intercontinental Hotel, which offers limited space for operations.
Besides Naimun Ashakli, the other staff members of the embassy are deputy head of mission Ahmad Kamrizamil Mohd Riza, third secretary Haruddin Adam and special assistant Norazmi Nordin.
Once we move into the new office, Malaysian companies can showcase their products there, he promised.