BAHRAIN'S municipal councils have entered a bidding war to attract a pioneering project that will grow plants, fruits and vegetables without soil.
Four of the five councils are competing to win over an investor, who was behind constructing Hydroponic Gardening Centres in the country, after the project was put on hold due to last year's unrest and disagreements with the Manama Municipal Council, which originally picked up the initiative.
The council wanted the investor to agree to a new contract, including a five-year renewable deal with a fixed annual fee, instead of the original terms that consisted of a 25-year lease and no fees, in return for providing Bahrainis with free training and education on hydroponic gardening.
When councillors decided to scrap the agreement and open tendering for two other companies, other councils quickly jumped on board to bring the project to their own governorates.
The investor could now set up several centres across the Northern, Central, Muharraq and Southern governorates. It has caused an outrage among councillors, who fear the project could be pulled from underneath their feet, after it was due to be open last month at the Salmaniya Garden.
"As a representative on the joint municipality-council investment committee I have strictly told councillors that their decision to tender the project was wrong in all aspects, but they didn't listen," said Manama Council vice-chairman Mohammed Mansoor. "First it is unethical, since we have reached an initial agreement with the investor.
"Secondly, the company's Bahraini owner was the first to come up with the idea, selected the location and has been chasing it for more than
"Allowing two other competitors that have just entered the hydroponics business (to compete for the project) is incorrect.
"Even if we tender the project, the same investor will win it - but through bureaucratic procedures which leads to unnecessary delays.
"But, by then the investor will not need us, especially since Bahrain's other councils are competing to get the project, and from what I have heard they could all be getting it, except for us."
However, three such centres could soon be opened in Sitra, Hamad Town and Tashan on leased private gardens, confirmed Green Roof Company managing-director Fadhel Sulbi.
"We have decided to start with the project on leased private gardens and in the coming few months they will be open to people interested in hydroponic gardening for free as we will offer training and small plots on the condition that the crops are our property and sold in the market under our name," he told the GDN.
"Four councils are interested to have us and we have reached deals with the Northern and Central councils at the moment and the two other councils, Muharraq and Southern, are in negotiations with us to allow us to open centres in public parks and gardens in their governorates.
"It is a shame things did not work out because we wanted to start in Manama, but now we have won the backing of the other four councils."
It is understood that Municipalities and Urban Planning Affairs Minister Dr Juma Al Ka'abi has lobbied the company to build different centres in parks and gardens across the country.
"Today, I can say the project is going faster than what I have planned or have expected," said Mr Sulbi.