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Infrastructure funding gap hobbles Mongolia’s sprint to prosperity

The nation’s gold, coal and iron-ore reserves are making it the world’s fastest-growing investment destination. But a lack of infrastructure funding and planning threatens to derail the country’s rapid transformation. Lawrence White reports from Ulaan Baatar.

JOHN FINIGAN, CHIEF executive of Mongolia’s Golomt Bank, has previous experience of a country undergoing extremely rapid transformation. Resplendent in a dapper grey suit with pink tie and matching pocket handkerchief, he is the picture of a banking veteran as he leans back in a chair in his Ulaan Baatar office and recalls his tenure as chief executive of Qatar National Bank. "In 1995," he says, "Qatar’s GDP was around $8 billion. Last year it was $128 billion. It is the only country that creates a precedent for fundamental economic transformation through a mineral resource extraction base, within the professional lifespan of the current generation of leaders."

Mongolia’s leaders are seeing their country change in the same way. After the years of Soviet rule, the swift but not painless transition to democracy, and the years of political haggling over mining laws, the country is beginning to yield its troves of gold, copper, coal, iron ore and other treasures. Global mining companies, investment banks, private equity firms and stock exchange officials are rushing to the capital, Ulaan Baatar, to offer their services to a government with ambitious plans for the transformation of the country from a poor, scattered society into a Gulf-style resource-driven land of growth and opportunity.

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