During the last Cabinet reshuffle Vincent Karega was named as the Minister for Infrastructure(MININFRA).
Karega’s new appointment comes at a time when MININFRA is undertaking many structural changes and initiating various new policies in line with the country’s aspirations for growth. In this interview with The New Time’s Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah Karega talks about how he intends to steer this key ministry especially during the course of 2010.
What are some of the urgent issues you needed to fix in the ministry once you got the appointment?
Before I talk about urgent issues I must say that Mininfra is an outstanding ministry. It has been tasked with a lot of issues. So the most urgent thing is to ensure that continuity is upheld.
The second thing is to add value. For instance the implementation of all the new laws have to go on. We also need to put in place new agencies and boards as one way of improving the functions and workings of the Ministry.
Strategy wise I’m working on developing a 5 year plan. For Mininfra I think having a much longer perspective is key to its workings. Otherwise the ministry has a clear vision and activity plans and projects on the ground. So sustainability is also very important.
One key area which needs more focus than in the past is maintenance of infrastructure. We need to develop the private sector capacity to participate in some of these projects. We need to involve more local government actors into this maintenance programme.
So would you say that these are some of the priorities you have for 2010?
In 2010, we would need to streamline procurement in terms of planning ahead and budgeting. I would also wish to have staff to better understand their roles and responsibilities.
I would particularly like to integrate Mininfra with other sectors. Like I was saying, I would like to bring on board the private sector and local government into our workings.
The purpose is to ensure that infrastructure business is not seen as purely Mininfra business. We need others to participate.
Shed more light on the several agencies your ministry wants to establish.
There is going to be a board on urban planning and settlement. There is going to be another one on transport. We will have another one on energy, water and sanitation.
These are big bodies. For Mininfra to coordinate their workings, we will have to restructure a bit. We need to readjust and build in capacity to do quality control. We need to inspire and give these new agencies more focus in areas that the economy needs them to make an intervention.
I think that within the short term your ministry will be under the spotlight in as far as overseeing major projects this country is embarking on. A case in point is the new airport. Or the railway. Have you looked through some of the constraints that we are likely to face while developing these seemingly huge projects?
I personally do not look at constraints as an important aspect of operations or as an attitude by choice. In a situation you are talking about I would rather strengthen the focus needed to get the job done.
I would rather mobilize the manpower and resources needed. What I know is that if I cannot achieve it now, we can work out something and get the job done tomorrow.
Sequencing is very important and that is where I’m going to concentrate. Items that cannot be done in a set year can always be pushed forward for the purposes of completion in another.
Within control measures I will make sure that all the critical elements needed are in place just prior to start up phases of all these projects you are talking about. The main idea is to make sure that the vision is implemented.
So what is the latest on the railway project?
A study has been carried out and this has been reviewed. The review has indicated that the project is bankable and for the partner countries various options were presented. A common ground for the three countries have been arrived at.
This is one very important step. The next step is the incorporation of a project implementation committee. This committee will be tasked to source investors and to figure out all the regulatory aspects to be adhered to.
It will also analyse more deeply all other issues the project will have to grapple with during implementation.
I personally tend to think that it will be more ideal to have a special purpose company to do this project in which investors will come on board.
That is very right.
So does it mean that given that kind of situation the member countries will hold stakes in the company too?
As we speak there are focal points from the member countries who will represent the interests of these member countries in this project.
Now that Rwanda has joined the Commonwealth and the EAC what is the latest in terms of harmonization of issues like the transport to conform to the wishes of both the EAC and Common wealth. There are several issues that seemingly have to be worked out that impacts on national infrastructure.
The starting point has been studies being carried out highlighting the pros and cons of both systems within transport for instance. The study as a technical document is ready and it is yet to be taken to cabinet for a decision to be reached.
On other areas such as electrical systems I think we have come up naturally with ways of overcoming the challenges which have so far worked out well. It will be very costly for Rwanda to review and remake all those systems.
But what I know is that even countries like Japan and the USA have different systems and when people visit these places what happens is that they naturally adopt to the system in place.
Electricity rates in Rwanda are very high when compared to other countries in the region. What is being done to reverse this situation?
Number one is to ask why it is expensive. How is it generated? You must be aware that generation has been thermal based meaning fuel costs impact negatively on rates. Diesel was widely used which was costly now it is heavy oil which is cheaper than diesel and the rates have to be readjusted down wards.
But that is not good enough. So we have new plans and programmes to address this issue of rates. We want to widen the mix to ensure not only energy security. But you must be aware that widening the mix will most likely bring down the rates.
In this, methane gas exploitation comes in handy. Contour global is on the ground in which come next year 25 MW will be channelled into the national grid. So is Rwanda Investment Group’s energy project will by the same time add another 10 MW into the grid.
We are developing some hydro assets. There is a hydro project that is being completed soon -the Rukarara dam. We will start building a new dam on Nyabarongo. We have various micro hydro projects here and there.
So all these combined will be able to deliver on energy security which will ultimately impact positively on rates which will come down to very competitive levels.
In this we will increase access and reduce costs as well. At the moment we will have to make do with thermal sources as we have no other alternatives.
Several projects you are running though one of the issues will be qualified manpower needed on the ground.
In today’s world Rwanda cannot afford operating in isolation simply because of the fact that it does not seem to have some capacities such as technical expertise. Like in countries carrying out massive infrastructure projects, a case in point being Dubai technical expertise can easily be imported as a short and medium measure to bridge the gaps.
However to specifically answer your question, we will develop our own capacities in two ways; through education and through learning by doing.
As our people will work with these companies they will earn skills. So all those aspects will be combined to provide a solution to the challenge.
The DRC has expressed interest in jointly developing natural resource exploitation on Lake Kivu with Rwanda. What is on the table?
We want to jointly develop a project to produce a 200 MW power plant. Initial terms of reference are under discussion. As soon as consensus is reached will move to the next stage. For instance we will have to define the kind of consultancy to be undertaken.
Thereafter we will have to look at financing. There will be many other projects. I must inform you that they are also interested in the railway meaning that they want an extension of the line to reach their country.
From my understanding I think Rwanda needs over 30,000 new housing units annually in a situation whereby those supplying cannot even reach half of that. As line minister what is in works to correct this situation?
We will create more incentives by speeding up urban planning nationally. Different masterplans will be developed. We will provide guidelines for rural settlements as well.
Planning is critical. It facilitates access to real estate development across board. That is incentive number one. Incentive number two is continuity of facilitation for the companies partaking in this sector.
We will have to work with banks to see how mortgage can be streamlined and fast tracked. Other aspects will focus on items such as law and order in which issues such as contracts being arranged within the sectors can be respected and upheld.
There was also the problem with the new mortgage law. This has been reworked. It is much more attractive now.
Such a development impacts on mortgage industry which ultimately impacts on the real estate industry as a whole. Locally banks are being restructured to attract more liquidity into the system. This will impact on the industry too in one way or another.