- Industrial specialist readies for privatisation -

The state-owned El Nilein Industrial Development Bank Group (NIDB) is now in the throws of a three-year programme to prepare itself for privatisation in 2002. The NIDB is introducing a fully computerised technology, and staff are now being trained to ensure that the bank is an attractive proposition for investors when it is put up for sale. It willHABIB 'Our economy is very attractive in all sectors' be looking out for signs of interest from potential foreign investors. "Foreigners have the ability, they have the money to contribute, and our economy is very attractive in all sectors right now," explains NIDB managing director Ibrahim Adam Habib.

The bank, which has 40 branches around the country, provides capital and working finance to both existing and new industrial enterprises. It channels all its finance into the private sector in short or medium term funding. "This is how we can contribute to the macro-economy of the country," says Mr Habib. The NIDB is not allowed to provide finance for companies or projects which are owned by the government.

This is a far cry from the early days, when the original industrial development bank handled all the export transactions of products made by private companies and the state sector. While those days are long gone, with the NIDB focusing all its attention on boosting the private sector, there is one particularly useful legacy from the time when the bank dominated the export scene. The bank has been able to retain the network of contacts it built up when it was involved in exports.

The banking system is conducted along very liberal lines

The NIDB has strong links with the banking community in London, which it uses to make overseas transactions. Another advantage of the connection with London bankers is that many of them have working knowledge of Islamic law as applied to banking. The NIDB carries out much of its business under Islamic banking rules, and the links with London allow it to operate simultaneously under Islamic law and conventional Western banking systems. Mr Habib says that British banks would be welcome investors in Sudan, but warns that they would find themselves in a very different world. "Of course, if they want to come here to invest in the banking sector, they will have to adhere to the rules," he says, noting that they would not be allowed to carry out any conventional banking operations within the country.

Instead, they would have to work in accordance with Islamic banking rules. But Mr Habib emphasises that the banking system is conducted along very liberal lines, in contrast with the state controls of a decade or so ago. "We are going with the market instead of governing everything with policies imposed from outside the system," he says. Investing and repatriating capital and profits is not a problem in Sudan, and he believes the present banking system will attract other investors in the future. "We are very liberal and very open, and the opportunities are there," he adds.