Would-be Hyflux white knight Utico to open Singapore office as part of regional growth plan

Hyflux's lawyer has said in court that even if a deal with Utico were to fall through, other investors stand ready to invest in the embattled water-treatment firm. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) - Middle Eastern full-service utility provider Utico is looking to enter Singapore with an upcoming project development, operations and marketing office in the city-state.

It plans to staff the new office with about 15 to 20 employees within the next six months, a company spokesman said told The Business Times (BT) on Wednesday (Oct 2). He did not specify the markets that this office will service.

The privately-held water and power company's expansion plans are separate from its proposed rescue package for debt-laden Singapore water-treatment firm Hyflux.

"We will expand with or without the Hyflux deal, because the South-east Asian market is already part of our growth plan," the spokesman told BT.

In a media statement on Tuesday night, Utico announced it will boost its global headcount by 100, including the planned hires in Singapore, within the next half year.

Most of the new employees in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will be in senior and mid-level management, while the rest will join upcoming operations in Utico's new markets of Saudi Arabia, Oman and Singapore.

For the new positions, Utico said it requires "skilled and qualified" personnel who can help the firm focus on its goals of conservation, capacity building, and mitigation of climate change.

The increase in manpower requirements comes ahead of the commissioning of Utico's 750 million dirham (S$283 million) desalination facility in the UAE, the company noted.

The desalination facility will come on stream in 2020, to supply 30 million gallons of drinking water per day to 2.5 million consumers in Ras Al Khaimah, Umm Al Quwain, Ajman and Sharjah in the Northern Emirates. It is located at Al Hamra in Ras Al Khaimah, near the company's existing operations.

Richard Menezes, chief executive officer of the UAE-based utility firm, said: "We see an exciting 12 months ahead with capacity expansions, forays into new markets in the region and beyond, and new projects including significant developments in renewables."

Utico owns and operates three integrated water and power plants in Ras Al Khaimah and Abu Dhabi with a total desalination ownership capacity of 300,000 cubic m per day of potable water, a 120-megawatt power generation capacity and 500km of network.

Utico is a potential white knight in Hyflux's debt restructuring. On Monday, Hyflux's lawyer said in court that even if a deal with Utico were to fall through, other investors stand ready to invest in the embattled water-treatment firm. The court also granted a two-month extension on Hyflux's debt moratorium until Dec 2.

Last week, Utico sought confirmation from Hyflux that there will be no "value leakage" and that the moratorium extension will not be prejudicial to creditors and PNP investors.

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