Tuesday, Oct 24, 2017
Infrastructure | North America & Caribbean | Panama

The increasing growth of Panamanian enterprise


3 years ago
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Rogelio E. Alemán

President of Constructora Urbana S.A.

The United World team held a meeting with Mr Rogelio Alemán, in order to discuss Panama’s current situation, especially in regards to the construction and infrastructure sector. He commented on the country’s general features, on the permanent growth and on the possibilities offered by the construction sector. He also gave us a detailed description of CUSA’s role within the canal’s expansion. Finally, he highlighted the urgency to develop the local companies, and shared his future prospects.

 

Panama is going through a special moment; it has a new government, it has maintained an 8% growth for the last 10 years. From the private sector’s perspective, what has boosted this growth and which are the new challenges the government will face in the near future?

The sustained growth has been very important for us. In fact, we have had many years with two-digit growth. But I believe that we ought to be careful with these numbers and move forward at a pace we can firmly keep up with.

The projects on the Canal, which were thought to move around 6000 million dollars, have caught the world’s attention. The country began to be seen beyond the Canal. The observations focused on the tax-free zones, mining, environmentalism, exports, and etcetera. In regards to mining, we have great potential, and this would mean a significant amount of investments.

On the other hand, the government changes have also boosted growth constantly. Generating the hub system in Panama has made us well known. It also has created a real estate business in the whole Panama Bay, in which land has increased its value. There are many important developments in the sector.

Has the real estate market grown thanks to the US pensioners?

Yes, with US pensioners and also with Europeans. Living costs in Panama are much lower than anywhere else in the world. In addition to that, Panamanian banks, along with project developers, have been very careful: only real projects with real buyers were financed, avoiding a crisis like the one in 2008.

On the other hand, I believe Panama has got the potential to develop meaningful touristic activity. We have great potential and we need to make it profitable. In this matter, Costa Rica, for example, is 25 years ahead of us, and they have benefitted largely from this.  We need to ensure that the Panama brand contributes to develop the country’s touristic potential. 

This also has a lot to do with educational development. This is where the country has to look at in the next 20 years. We must commit to improving the education throughout the country. We must create long-term plans that outlive administrations, instead of being constantly changed. We need long-term commitments, state policies that go beyond any given government.

Regarding infrastructure, 2014 has not been an easy year in Latin America. The Panamanian government has the intention of demonstrating that the country has transparent rules and work is serious. From the private sector’s point of view, what do the Panamanian government and the Panamanian contractors have to do in order to prove the country’s transparency?

Every project should be completely transparent, participatory, and why not, give preference to the local companies. It is more likely that foreign investors will come due to the existing advantages, but they won’t reinvest their profit. That is why domestic companies should be given preference.

Evidently, the country still needs a lot of infrastructure, according to its growth process. I believe we have to focus not only on big projects, the mega-works, but also in the small developments which concern our more remote settlements. We need to have duplicity, joint work between the government and the private sector. This is the only way private investments can reach the furthest areas; otherwise their costs would be too high.

I estimate the Canal project will be ready by May 2016. It’s not an easy task; it encloses many difficulties. It has been delayed and this has affected the country’s benefits. Nevertheless, the work will be finished and will mean a main aspect regarding national strategies.

In what way does the delay on the Canal project affect Panama’s international image? Does this enhance the non-transparency perception?

The Canal project could not be any more transparent. Otherwise it wouldn’t be viable. I believe our image has been affected, but it is crucial to know that the rules still are and have always been clear. We might have had some issues with the contractors, which resulted in financial difficulties. The truth is that the Canal institution is the most transparent in the entire country, including the public organisms. It is one of the most transparent institutions of the world.

At the same time, does the fact that a Panamanian company is taking part in this project, which is one of the largest engineering works in world history, impact Panama’s image and national pride?

Of course, being able to say that we have taken part in this is evidently important. We have been involved mainly with the removal of soil from the Atlantic, and we’ve done it effectively, right on schedule. And we did it with Panamanian staff. In terms of human resources, we have a huge capacity, and we very proud to have actively participated in this project.

How did you manage your father’s legacy in order to transform CUSA into Panama’s number one building company?

This is a family business. It was founded by my father in 1955 and is about to turn 60. I even have a cousin who has been our partner for a long time; he is also part of the family. In 1994 my cousin went to work somewhere else and I assumed the company’s presidency. We have always been committed to complying with all our agreements, to being honest and responsible for our actions.

What are the projects you would like CUSA to be identified with?

I think I prefer the projects that have to do with the less privileged areas in the country. Those in which you are able to see how, through our work, people’s quality of life is improved. I like the idea of helping people improve the way they live, because this also contributes to generating better generations, better prepared and more prone to develop the country’s growth. We are interested in projects that have a meaningful social impact, that create a growth environment and make people want to stay in their hometowns and contribute to their development.

Are you going to participate in the Bay’s sanitation? Are you open to cooperating with foreign companies?

Yes, we are always looking at the government’s projects and like to be part of them. We are obviously open to working with foreign enterprises, but we are very keen on the development of domestic companies and of Panamanian workers.

What kind of relationship does CUSA have with US enterprises? Do you think they will increase their presence with this new government?

I do hope so. Despite the proximity and the good relations, there hasn’t been much presence of US companies. I assume this will not be the case in the Canal project. It would be ideal for us. We use the same language in terms of work regulations, operations and machineries.

In regards to the Canal’s consortium, I believe they have not taken full advantage of our work and our capacity. We are the ones who are going to remain here, and it’s our main concern that this project is finished as soon as possible, at the cheapest cost and with the best existing quality. In addition to that, in the future, any problem, any setback that could occur, will be our responsibility.

But the truth is we are very proud of having faced the project, and of having won.

No matter what, CUSA’s participation in the Canal’s expansion will be a lifetime achievement and reason for pride.

Of course, because we are the only Panamanian company taking part in the project.

You have achieved important things, like being CUSA’s president and leading the company through the Panama Canal’s enlargement. What is your next goal?

I wish we will continue to develop our company under our family standards.



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