In the last six years, both government and the private sector have been engaged in the construction of buildings and road infrastructure triggering what economists now dub a ‘construction boom in Rwanda’.
A provisional Foreign Direct Investment report from Rwanda Investment and Export Promotion Agency shows that this year, foreigners have pumped Frw128 billion in the construction of commercial buildings. But there is still pressure on the infrastructure.
The New Times’ Kabona Esiara talked to Eng. Linda Bihire, the Infrastructure minister.
What is the state of Rwanda’s building and construction Industry?
Rwanda’s building and construction industry today is rapidly growing and has seen a boom in the past couple of years as it is being transformed from being state funded to private funding More private real estate developers have come on board to develop housing estates on a commercial basis.
Similarly several private investors have come on board to develop commercial and industrial areas using private funds.
Previously, parastatals such as Caisse Social du Rwanda (CSR) or the Rwanda Social Security Fund if you like, and state insurance corporations such as RAMA have been the main driving force behind the construction of many housing and commercial structures in Kigali.
When it comes to investment in road infrastructure, the government and development partners are still the main source of funds. However, the injection of private capital , into the economy is more than welcome and encouraged in the transport sector.
Does government offer any incentives to attract investment in the sector?
The establishment of Rwanda Investment and Export Promotion Agency (RIEPA) by the Ministry of Commerce (MINICOM) has been a very important step in our effort to attract private investment.
We are in the process of enacting a Law (which is already a cabinet agenda) concerning privately funded infrastructure projects.
The objective of this law is to facilitate and protect both the private entities and the Government and build confidence in the private sector by assuring that projects that are being financed and implemented by private enterprises, or jointly as Government/private partnerships will not be terminated.
This will encourage Public Private Partnerships (PPP’s) in infrastructure development projects between the private sector and the Government as a “best practice” as demonstrated globally.
The Ministry of Infrastructure provides leadership, planning and construction innovation and this way; promotes professional and technical expertise on Capital Project Planning.
Roads are the nervous system of any country. What is your ministry doing to see that roads remain good?
During the last 5 years, efforts have been made to ensure that the National Road Network is rehabilitated and maintained in a good state of repair.
To date we have completed some major road rehabilitation projects which include the ‘NyamataNemba Road, the Kicukiro-Kirundo road, while ongoing works include the Ruhengeri-Gisenyi road, the Gitarama-Ngororero-Mukamira road.
Apart from this we have a Road Maintenance Strategy in place to ensure that all newly constructed and rehabilitated roads are placed into a regular maintenance programme in order to safeguard the original investment.
As you are may be aware, Rwanda is a landlocked country and we are currently carrying out a technical feasibility for the construction of a railway line from Isaka in Tanzania to Kigali.
The main objective of this is to reduce the costs of import and export cargo as well as passenger transportation. All these are being done in an effort to reduce transportation time between places, improve passenger comfort and reduce vehicle operating costs (VOC’s).
These factors collectively, would eventually bring down the cost of transportation of goods and services and in turn improve the quality of life. Standards and professionalism are critical components of building and construction.
What measures’ are being taken by the ministry to ensure that standards and professionalism are complied with and consistently enforced?
We have a Rwanda Bureau of Standards that has been in existence for a number of years now. Standards for building materials that are manufactured in the country as well as those imported into the country have been developed by them. These are enforced by way of regular inspections, technical audits which are conducted by the RES inspectorate.
In addition to, this, British Standards Institute (BSI) is assisting developing actual construction standards, specifications codes of practice to be used in the construction industry as a whole. Regulations are complete and Policy is being drafted.
On the question of ensuring professionalism in the construction industry, the’ architects have an established Architects Association which mandate all Architects to obtain registration with them prior to practicing their profession.
Similarly the Association of Building and Public Works Contractors ensure that all entrepreneurs concerned with construction, obtain registration with them before they are allowed to take on construction works of any nature.
The Engineers Institution of Rwanda (EIR) and the Engineers Registration Board (ERE) are currently being revived and it will become mandatory for all Engineers to practice their profession in Rwanda to obtain prior registration.
What challenges does the ministry face in ensuring an enabling atmosphere for players in the building and construction industry?
One major challenge is the shortage of skilled local engineers and construction workers, especially artisans in vocational fields such as masons, bricklayers, metal workers etc.
Currently we have to import this expertise from regional’ countries or internationally. This in effect has proved to be expensive as they have to be provided high remuneration packages in order to attract them to come to Rwanda.
Maintaining and upgrading of existing infrastructure is another challenge that the Ministry faces, as this has to be balanced with the construction of new infrastructure to accommodate Rwanda’s growth.
Furthermore, environmental aspects have 10 be taken as a factor infrastructure the planning stages of any development. This is a big challenge as Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries in the region and scarcity of land is a major obstacle.
In addition the cost of construction in Rwanda continues to rise rapidly with the global increase in cost of materials, labour and energy prices.
As an example, CEMERWA the local cement manufacturer is unable to meet the growing demand for cement within the country forcing us to seek alternative sources causing an automatic increase in the price of the commodity.
This situation is aggravated by our landlocked situation. Currently the price of cement in Rwanda stands at more than $420 per tonne which is more than double that of some of our regional countries.
The’ cost of transportation has also increased at an alarming rate. Although this may be attributed to the high world oil prices, there seems to be a multiplier -effect when it comes to Rwanda.