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‘An unbeatable will to make things happen’

Interview - August 13, 2014
Minister of Transport, Augusto Da Silva Tomas, speaks to United World about the factors behind Angola’s economic progress, the development of transport infrastructure, and Angola’s geostrategic position.
Angola is set to enjoy some of the highest growth rates in the world during coming 10 years, as it has for the previous decade. What have been, in your views, the main factors that helped achieving this economic situation?

The great chances we have had come from the political stability of our country. This is the sine qua non condition for economic and later social stability. Once these conditions were reached, we could only start speaking about the reconstruction of our country.

There are, however, a number of contradictory situations in Angola’s past and recent history: on one side, infrastructure that has to be built or rebuilt, people have an unbeatable will to make things happen, to name only a few; and on the other side, the lack of qualified human capital, of financial resources, of materials to face all the necessities.

As a matter of fact, there’s an imbroglio of necessities and contradictions. We have to make all the efforts needed to find the point of equilibrium among all the variables, in a positive and enthusiastic way so as to revert what the country has gone through.

Currently, 95% of the international trade and of importations transit through ports. What have been the major changes in infrastructure, such as ports, in the past years?

Our main objective is to create a transportation network that would articulate the whole country, from North to South, from the sea to the East. Moreover, we’d like to valorise its geostrategic situation in Central Africa, in Austral Africa, and in Africa in general. We will reach our objectives with a number of actions, of projects and programs in the short, mid and long terms. The target sectors are, therefore, the airways, the railways, the maritime sector and the ports, and the roads.

Sector by sector, I would like to go into details with the roads, first. It is necessary to put back the facilities for the transportation of persons and of goods throughout the whole country. This includes, without limitation, main highways, secondary roads, between cities and villages, production areas and consumption areas, etc. We have now a fleet of 5.000 coaches to run the inter-communal, interprovincial and urban transportation in each capital city of each province. We elaborated Plans for Transport and Logistic for all the provinces of Angola. We financed and gave 3.000 vehicles (including lorries and different types of vans) to people working for the State and who lost their own ones during the Civil War; 600 taxis in the 18 provinces of the country; and around 2.000 bikes in order to have the mobility of persons and goods back in all part of the country.

In the aviation sector, as is known, TAAG has been black listed 5 years ago and forbidden to fly to Europe. Our national aviation sector needed to be restructured and different types of intervention. Firstly, we reformulated the whole legislative and regulatory framework of the sector, with more than 3.500 pages of agreements reached with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the European Union, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and all other signatories of the Conventions of Chicago, Tokyo, Beijing and Montreal. Our entity for regulation and supervision of the sector, the Instituto Nacional da Aviação Civil (INAVIC) has also been restructured.

Secondly, we modernized our infrastructures with the rehabilitation, modernization and equipment of the airports in Cabinda, Soyo and in Luanda. It was also the case of other domestic airports, like the one in Ndalatando in Kwanza Norte, the one in Malanje, the one in Saurimo in Lunda Sul, the terminal in Dundo in Lunda Norte, and the airports of Carumbela, of Benguela, of Lubango, of Ondjiva in Cunene, of Huambo, of Kuito Kuanavale in Cuando Cubango.

The works are almost complete for the airports of Namibe, of Menongue, of Luena and of Uige. The new international airport in Luanda will be among the largest ones in Africa and the largest one in Central Africa, representing a regional hub with a total capacity of 15 million passengers a year, 31 jet bridges for domestic and international connections, besides the other international airports of Catumbela and of Lubango.

Eventually, we also started with ‘Turnaround’, the Program of the Rebuilding of TAAG. We aim to thoroughly reorganize the company, at technical, organizational, financial, economic and social levels, earning TAAG to be taken out of the black list of the European Union. With TAAG, one can now fly everywhere on board of new generation aircrafts. During the years of economic downturn, we successfully negotiated with Boeing and were offered a discount of around 51%, cutting the price of an airplane by half.

Moving on with the maritime sector and our ports, it is necessary to mention the 4 fundamental harbours, which are the Port of Cabinda, the Port of Luanda, the Port of Lobito and the Port of Namibe, where we just completed a first phase of rehabilitation and modernization. We have smaller ports, like in Soyo and Amboim, and 3 projects of new ports: the deep water port of Cabinda, the port of the Barra do Dande close to the Province of Luanda, and the Port of Lobito that has recently been modernized with a terminal for minerals, a terminal for containers and a dry harbour.

Also, we are tackling the issue of cabotage, with the idea to develop the Cabotage Network for Northern Angola, the way we will connect people from the provinces of Cabinda and of Zaire by the sea. Maritime terminals in both provinces will make it possible for roll-on/roll-off boats to transport persons, freight, equipment, cars and other goods from one to the other province.

Further, we would like to develop passenger transportation by the sea in Luanda, so as to ease the congestion in the city. Our program includes passenger terminals at the Slavery Museum, in Macaco, Mussulo, Benfica, Corimba, at the Port of Luanda, in Cacuaco and in Panguila. We also have 4 catamarans being built in Spain, two for 265 passengers and two for 175 passengers, and that will operate in the bay of Luanda. In a next phase, we will develop passenger transportation along the coastline of Angola, from Cabinda to Namibe, passing by Soyo, Luanda, Porto Amboim, Benguela and Lobito.

In terms of equipment, we are currently acquiring 3 tugboats and 6 high-speed boats for the captaincy of the Port of Luanda. They will fulfil various functions such as helping fighting fires, combating maritime pollution, protecting the coastline and saving human lives.

Lastly, we invested in the training and the quality of our human capital working in the sea, including sailors, enginemen, guards, etc.

We achieved great successes with our railroads. The Caminho-de-ferro de Luanda operates now on a network of around 475 km passing by Luanda, Bengo, Kwanza Norte and Malanje since the en of 2010. The Caminho-de-ferro of Moçâmedes operates on a network of about 975 km. And the Caminho-de-ferro of Benguela, linking Lobito, Huambo, Bié and Moxico, runs on a network of close to 1.375 km. We bought new locomotives, new boogies and wagons to transport persons and freight.

Given these advances in each sector, it is important to note that the 4 main ports are linked with national and international airports, themselves linked with railways. Three main corridors are under development: the Corridor for the Development of Luanda that links the port, the airport and the Caminho-de-ferro of Luanda; the Corridor for the Development of Lobito that links the port of Lobito, the airport of Catumbela and the Caminho-de-ferro of Benguela; and the Corridor for the Development of Namibe that links the regional airport, the port and the Caminho-de-ferro of Moçâmedes. We hope to achieve such a corridor for Cabinda and Namibe by the sea, which would then be our 4th corridor for transversal development.

Investing in these infrastructures, the Government is making it possible for the economy to diversify. Linking ports, airports, railways and fundamental road networks will help project to develop in areas such as in meteorology, energy, water, agriculture, fishing, mining and so on. The next step is to link this enhanced production platform of goods and services to neighbouring countries, like Congo, Zambia and Namibia, through air, maritime, roads and railways agreements.

We are, thus, working so that Angola becomes a reference not only in Central Africa but also in the rest of the continent and in the World. We want to benefit from our privileged geostrategic location to become a transit platform for passengers and merchandise to the rest of Africa, Central America, South America and Asia.

What is the importance of the ports in Angola to its geostrategic position?

With deep waters, the best roads and railways network of the region, Angola represents a privileged geostrategic place, with more advantages than landlocked countries like Zambia or Zimbabwe. With all the rehabilitation and investment plans, we enhance the production not only in Angola, but also in the whole region. We will serve as a basis for neighbouring countries to export themselves and to import.

Besides ports, the Government invests a lot also in the aviation sector through, among others, the Program for the Management and Control of the Airspace. On top or rehabilitating airports, the Government has thereby invested in new radar technologies (ILS, VHF, HF and ATM) so as to have control of the Oceanic and Continental Flight Information Region (FIR). Civil aviation is also more secure in Angola thanks to the 4-year Program for Maintenance, Training and Equipment Acquisition, extended until 2017.

Supporting the construction and maintenance of the entire transportation infrastructure requires a lot of financial resources. Does Angola benefit from any form of the public-private partnerships to finance its transportation sector?

The greatest challenge we face is the lack of human capital, financial resources and equipment and technology. We finance our projects with our own funds and foreign capital through foreign investments. However, we use different forms of project financing such as PPPs and BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) to finance the launching of the Port of Cabinda, of the Port of Barra do Dande and of the Port of Amboim.

What would be the PPPs opportunities for American investors in the transportation sector?

Our country is open to investors and has no boundaries. Anyone willing to contribute to our economic and social development, within the strategy of the State, abiding by our legislation and regulation, will always be welcome.

What are the main challenges that remain to complete the different plans currently being carried out?

Everything we drew in our program has to be completed; nothing will be left unexecuted. The issue of financing our enterprise can cause some delay, as a lot is required. However, the greatest challenge is in our human capital and the required qualifications.

In order to have more qualified people in Angola, we opened the Higher Institute of Management, Logistics and Transportation (ISGEST) in the city of Kilamba. Specialists in the 4 different branches of the transportation sector will be trained in entrepreneurship, acquire knowledge and have management skills. Degrees delivered are Licences, Masters and Doctorates and the institute has cooperation agreements with counterparts in the UK for civil aviation, in Germany for railways, and in the Netherlands for shipping. The ISGEST is like our own child, serving as a basis to sustain the development, management and profitability of our transportation sector in Angola.

What are the lessons learned and the greatest satisfactions earned as Minister of Transport, but also all along your career in governmental positions?

The greatest gratitude I have to express is to our President, the Engineer José Eduardo dos Santos, to have given me all his trust for many years now. I started quite young, when I was 31 or 32 years old as Vice-Minister of Industry, followed by 4 years as Governor of the Province of Cabinda, the most complicated province to govern because of the war. I was Minister of Finance when I was 37, then worked at the Parliament during almost 10 years, and eventually at the State Secretariat of the Public Companies Sector (the SESEP) before being Minister of Transport.

I like when things are well done, and the President gave all his trust in me for this reason. I always say I am a builder, I make things happen, and I am always delighted when the people are happy. I am myself delighted to see trains passing through different regions, crossing rivers and forests; coaches riding through the whole country and provinces; nice airports everywhere in Angola with new TAAG planes. These are elements worth sacrifices and efforts.

There is still a lot to be done, some tasks are not completed yet, and we will face difficult situations again. It is necessary to consolidate all the efforts done by training people, teaching them on maintenance, and educating them; as well as to keep on integrating the infrastructures within the region, Central and Austral Africa. When Angola will be linked by its roads, railways, maritime sector and airports to its neighbours like Zambia, Namibia and DRC; when we’ll have implemented the Network of Logistical Platforms; and when Angola will progressively replace its importations by its own diversified production, we will feel the benefits of all the contributions to the growth of the country. I would feel a more realised man when we will reach a higher quality of life, with more healthcare, care about the environment, children going to school, etc.