Throughout Eritrea there are visible and audible signs of a construction boom. Jennie Street interviews the Minister for Public Works, Abraha Asfaha.
African Business: Is there a construction boom in Eritrea?
Abraha Asfaha: In 1997 we spent more than 300m nakfa on construction, 150m on roads alone. There is a great deal to be done, from the infrastructure to the building of houses. The government is investing in infrastructure, a lot in roads, and encouraging investors in infrastructure and building materials. The people are investing in homes and we are giving land to cottage industries in woodwork, steel and plastic production. We have an open market system, and we have a lot of local materials -- marble, granite, gypsum, sand, aggregates, stones, ceramics materials, and we meet some of our cement needs.
AB: Which are the largest construction projects in the country?.
AA: The Hirgigo power plant will cost $114m, Sembel housing was $70m, the Massawa housing project is costing $60m and the Tokar Dam project is $47m.
AB: What are the priority areas for construction?
AA: The priority is infrastructure. Without a good infrastructure the country can never improve. But people also need homes so solving the housing problem is a priority too. The government will not provide houses, the people should build and the government will make the facilities available. We will give a lot of land to developers to build affordable homes. The Sembel housing project [where flats were expensive by local standards] was intended to help those coming back to the country, because housing for them was so difficult.
AB: Is the ministry a direct works operator, or does it maintain only have a supervisory and control role?
AA: So far we have had a direct works operation for road-building. To have new roads is simple, but to maintain them is complicated. We have to have a strong maintenance unit to show the people that we can do it. For new roads now we will give the work to private contractors, for example, the Tessenei to Barentu road. Once we have strong private construction operations we don't need our own. But we will always have direct maintenance operations. There is no direct works for buildings.
AB: Is there a shortage of labour? Why are Ethiopians coming here to work in the construction industry?
AA: The Sembel housing project, built by the Koreans, effectively trained 3,000 workers in different construction methods, The German OBS organisation has trained...