The DRC is involved in a vast modernization and reconstruction of its infrastructure, and a lot remains to be done. Infrastructure construction is one of the government’s top priorities and the Congolese Agency for Civil Engineering (Agence Congolaise des Grands Travaux, ACGT) is at the core of this development. Its General Manager Charles Ilunga Mwamba explains how the agency is applying its experience and know-how to become the ideal partner for the public and private sector alike to develop DRC’s infrastructure.
How would you evaluate your agency’s achievements? How do you contribute to the implementation of the president’s vision for DRC?
The agency arose from the Chinese-Congolese cooperation program, a wide-ranging $3-billion program, focused on the infrastructure sector. This program established important objectives in terms of basic infrastructure, in which approximately 4,000km of dirt tracks needed to be asphalted, along with 145 50-bed health centers, 25 150-bed health centers, and various railroad-related infrastructure needing to be built or rehabilitated. It was not only a necessity to renovate the existing railroads, but also to extend the existing network.
This program gave a lot of hope; it was set up to accompany the country’s modernization. DRC experienced an extensive undercapitalization phase, characterized by the absence of investments in the infrastructure sector. And we were able, with this vast Chinese-Congolese program, to deal with a number of challenges that existed at the time. The implementation rate has not met our expectations yet, as our goals are quite ambitious, but we have managed to asphalt 123km of public roads, which is quite something.
In terms of the health infrastructure, in the capital city of Kinshasa our agency built the country’s largest hospital, Cinquantenaire Hospital, which has become a reference within the Central African region. This latest-generation hospital is really impressive.
Instead of the initial $3 billion planned, we only had $750 million at our disposal. We did not move as fast as we wanted to, but are still glad to see some tangible results. The program budget had to be readjusted, as this later was closely linked to the challenges in the mining sector.
A lot has been achieved, but a lot remains to be done. Congolese authorities have been able to restart their cooperation with China and we managed to revitalize about 20 small projects throughout the country since last year.
Always in search of financial innovation, we were, as an agency, delegated project master in road concessions by the government.
Today, three main road concessions exist that represent a considerable contribution to the construction of new infrastructure, as well as the maintenance of the existing infrastructure.
The development of public-private partnerships (PPPs) is currently one of our top priorities, in order to be able to build new roads. The Kasomeno concession, in the Haut-Katanga province is a PPP concession that was developed following the studies we made. The road going from Kasomeno towards Zambia is going to connect Zambia with DRC therefore allowing transporters to save over 400km.
We have a number of studies that are being carried out to bring many competitive projects to the country. One major project that we have right now is the Lumumba Boulevard, a 24-27km highway linking Kinshasa’s N’djili international airport to the city center that we expect to complete through a PPP scheme.
The Lumumba Boulevard will be surrounded by modern real estate infrastructure, showing that our agency is not only involved in road constructions, but also in the country’s overall country spatial planning. Also, it is important to underline that there will be sustainable development projects implemented, as it is the case today with the planting of many trees around the city. We take this aspect seriously.
A major real estate project is in progress in front of the parliament building, and its development will also be done within a PPP framework as we will have to mobilize private sector partners in order to implement it. The objective of the project is to build a shopping mall and a community center. The bankable activities will be the mall itself and also possibly a five-star hotel. Moreover, the government will benefit from high quality services and buildings including a new building for ACGT and a town hall.
The agency is currently working on over 30 studies in seven different fields (railroads, roads, ports, airports, architecture (buildings), and the mining and energy sectors) in all major cities in the DRC.
Following the agency’s ambitions, I imagine that you will not limit yourselves to the Chinese-Congolese program, but gradually evolve as an engineering consulting firm towards other countries of the region to take part in civil engineering projects across the region?
First it is necessary for us to reorganize the agency so that we can be as respectable and open to partners as possible. Today it's true: the agency is in high demand, with a number of companies in the region requesting to partner with us.
The Chinese-Congolese program spawned the creation of the agency, but today we must work with many actors. Outside this program, we are essentially focused on the development of new PPPs, which is a type of financing that we absolutely must use for our projects.
Thanks to the experience that we gained, we will become an international reference. Whatever the financing source is—our government or other partners—we are a good partner because we have all the necessary assets. We have the necessary expertise, the required equipment and a strong plan of action.
In our five-year development plan, we have decided to invest $7 million in equipment and $2 million in training our agents in various strategic sub-sectors related to infrastructure. We train engineers specialized in ports, airports, railroads, in various energy-related sub-sectors, and more. We want to master all the useful tools so that we may accompany the execution of studies and control their quality.
Innovation must play a key role in the development of these various projects. How can you define its application within the different projects that you lead?
Among the values that we have, innovation is so important that without it our agency would not be able to grow. We consider that non-material wealth—experience, knowledge, know-how, etc.—is a major source of competitiveness and will help propel us towards sustainable development. For the past two years, we have been sending our people to training programs in subjects like structural analysis.
Most of the country’s infrastructure was built during colonial times. We must take into account the changes in traffic, modes of transport, population growth, etc. That is why we have sent our agents to participate in these training programs and specialize in various domains, in order for us to find appropriate solutions for the country. We are also acquiring important software that will help us succeed.
Kinshasa is a fast developing city. High-rise buildings are bring built in order to fulfill the needs of the population, and the agency wants to provide the various construction companies with consulting services, allowing them to determine the expected buildings sizes, how to reinforce old buildings, etc. The trend that we have seen in Kinshasa is that owners of three-story houses want now to add two more floors to their properties. It is therefore necessary to have access to the right technology. We use our experience, knowledge and know-how to bring our work to the attention of the Congolese population.
In March we organized the 2016 AGCT Exhibition, which highlighted the skills we have acquired and what we are capable of doing in the infrastructure sector. Not many companies are able to work across sectors. AGCT combines many fields that are necessary to propel innovation in the infrastructure sector. This is the way we add value.
How would you define the collaboration between your agency, the private sector and the academic sector to address the needs of the Congolese market? In which fields would it be necessary to deepen this collaboration?
We have many partnerships, in particular with universities. We keep an open line of communication and receive many engineering trainees. We have become a true nursery for talent.
The recent development of our agency has a real educational value. When I studied engineering, I only once visited a bridge construction site. But today university professors and students visit various construction sites throughout the country on a regular basis. Our organization is open to all private sectors players and universities who wish to develop their knowledge. Additionally, we receive many interns from – and have established a continuous dialogue with – the Congolese Chamber of Commerce.
In order to develop PPPs we must continuously improve our communication with the private sector. We can say that we are building a great partnership with them at this time. Especially now, we offer classes free of charge. We thus put at the disposal of private partners all of the tools we have to offer.
Should someone have a potentially profitable project, we put experts at the disposal of our partners, so that we can together execute the necessary studies. The studies are always complex, and there are private partners who have brought much to the table in terms of innovation by way of their collaboration. This type of exchange must be strengthened and maintained.
We have participated in numerous forums organized by private companies both in DRC and abroad. Recently, the Belgian Development Cooperation organized one of these forums to which the agency was invited. We shared our experiences with the private sector and discussed the DRC’s infrastructure opportunities. We want to present ourselves as a primary partner for the private sector.
All the tools that we offer allow the private sector to understand what we can bring to the table. Last year, we took part of an exhibition organized by the Congolese Association of Engineers and showcased our equipment so that everyone could see how modern and competitive we are. This equipment allows us to conduct studies in 30 days that would normally take up to six months.
This information is given to the private sector, but we still need to further elaborate a strategic communications campaign. This represents a principal axe of our strategic development plan. We must communicate so that people will understand the importance of executing feasibility studies before beginning large-scale projects, and that the success of a project is due to a combination of high-quality workmanship, cost, and time.
This is how we work, and professional training allows us to correctly manage projects. It is good to conceive projects, but as an engineering advisory office it is important to know how to manage projects as well. It is impossible for us to ignore the importance of costs, delays, follow up, etc. It is necessary to highlight the fact that only 35% of infrastructure projects worldwide respect their initial deadlines and anticipated quality.
So it is crucial to understand that in order to have a successful project, one must work hard on all aspects, from project identification through to execution, using the appropriate tools. Therefore, as an agency the ACGT looks forward to deepening and improving its project management skills.
How would you define your leadership style?
Our mission, to supervise, conceive, and manage projects, must be clearly defined, along with our long-term vision for the agency’s growth. We must then instill this mission and vision into our agents.
We had some issues at the beginning, a gap between the available resources and the projects we needed to accomplish. When we began working, we had to first try to reduce this gap by training our personnel and making them understand our difficulties through an open dialogue. For this reason, we held meetings with our principal agents in order to raise awareness, with exams held regularly to ensure progress was being made.
Thanks to this approach, we have convinced our staff to get properly involved: with no commitment, leadership is useless. In order to involve our staff, we set up a monthly evaluation system of our agents based on the objectives that we set out, which is rare in public institutions.
As a member of the agency’s management team, we must know how to build and execute a plan of action; we must know how to manage and evaluate our work. The agents must be held accountable for their work, so at end of each month the directors evaluate if each agent has met their objectives.
In order ensure that each agent improves, penalties and prizes are handed out each month, and a bonus is granted to those who favorably meet expectations. Within our organization, weak team members are forced to change or adapt to be able to continue with us.
What message would you want to send regarding both the ACGT and the partnership opportunities that exist?
DRC has a strong civil engineering agency working relentlessly to become a large engineering firm so as to support and spearhead the implementation of the President’s vision for the country’s development. This agency strives to meet international standards using the best tools, the best techniques and the best engineers possible; we want to develop our engineers’ loyalty through a policy of encouragement, offering training programs that allow them to bloom.
ACGT is accumulating a large volume of non-material wealth, a bank of knowledge in the field of infrastructure. We want to become a reference in Africa, and look to important partners to help us achieve that goal. We want to extend our network, but first we should have an impeccable skill level. ACGT is open to various partners in order to collaborate and share experiences, and therefore enrich the infrastructure sector in DRC.