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Gonzalo Castillo


Bridging the Gap

Minister of Public Works and Communications, the Dominican Republic


Gonzalo Castillo founded his first business in 1983, which evolved and transformed to become MINICOMPSA in 1994. He also created Constructora Castillo López y Asocs, a company dedicated to the construction and administration of buildings, in 1989. In 2008, he founded AEROAMBULANCIA, an enterprise oriented toward complementing the healthcare sector with the transportation of patients to hospitals in and outside of the Dominican Republic. He has been Minister of Public Works and Communications since August 2012.

"We share the President’s vision of establishing the tourism sector as the strategic engine driving the national economy."

How will the austerity plans announced by the Dominican government impact your Ministry’s plans?

Many of the key people within this Ministry come from the private sector, and therefore we are used to living under austerity plans. For that reason, when I recently took over the position as Minister, my team and I assumed the responsibilities handed over by President Danilo Medina. Sometimes, a team can do better than its predecessors with half of the economic resources the others had, and therefore our vision is to tend to the needs of small projects rather than look at the big picture. The country currently has very important road infrastructure that over the years has been forgotten. For that reason, we aim to boost road maintenance investment rather than develop new projects. Our main target is to implement road infrastructure policies and works that will last—those that the Ministry will not need to re-invest in every time there is a change of government. In addition to that, we are currently revising all of the existing project contracts as part of what we call “value engineering.” We will revise the terms, work done, and budgets of these projects to see if they conform to today’s realities.

What plans does the Ministry have to contribute to the government’s target to reach 10 million tourists per year?

Our Ministry’s working agenda is tightly linked to the government’s national plans, and through our strategies and work we aim to reinforce them. President Medina established tourism as a strategic sector for the country’s economy, and the first thing we did here was to revise all of the road infrastructure projects in the eastern part of the country, the main tourism destination of the Dominican Republic. For example, the tourism boulevard project was initiated eight years ago and has yet to be completed. At the moment, we have reached an agreement with contractors to boost the project and accelerate its construction by signing a new contract. We have also re-established some of our Ministry’s priorities after a long and fruitful meeting with the tourism authorities in Puerto Plata, another very important tourism center for the country. We agreed upon a working agenda for the next four to five years. We share the President’s vision of establishing the tourism sector as the strategic engine driving the national economy.

“We share the President’s vision of establishing the tourism sector as the strategic engine driving the national economy.”

Since foreign investment has played a key role in developing infrastructure projects in the country, how would you assess the importance of FDI in the Ministry’s future plans?

In terms of the Ministry’s work, we have not developed projects through foreign investors, because it has been an investment carried out by the country. The Ministry, either on its own or through either local or foreign contractors, directly develops road projects. The latter option is prioritized when beneficial payment agreements are reached. However, at the hospitality level, the great majority of the projects developed over the last few years have been done through FDI, because they are private initiatives. Having said that, any foreign investor interested in developing projects in the Dominican Republic will always be more than welcome, and from the Ministry, we will make sure that they will compete at the same level as any local company.

What role can private investment play in the implementation of national infrastructure plans in a time of budget cuts?

We are currently working on several areas. For example, we have set up a working group to determine the best utility for the taxes collected from road tolls, and at the same time, we are working on raising awareness among Dominicans of the importance of paying these fees if they want to enjoy high-standard roads. The Dominican Republic is home to the most important city with colonial heritage, Santo Domingo. However, current tourism trends are not linked with these cultural aspects because of the lack of good road infrastructure linking the main cities of our country. The Coral Highway and some other complementary projects along this road will make the eastern part of the country a well-connected tourism destination that should boost the overall number of visitors and investment figures.

What are the key strategic plans that the Ministry has to improve transport infrastructure with Haiti?

There are two main roads that currently connect the Dominican Republic and Haiti: through the Dajabón province in the north, and through Independencia province in the south. We have already started the whole southern road circuit, and we are working toward recovering the road across Enriquillo Lake in Independencia province. In addition, we are finishing repaving work around the border connection in Jimaní­, which is the border point with the highest traffic density between both countries. We believe that, for our part, the southern connection points will be fully completed by early 2013. We are also in the process of establishing the infrastructure needs of Dajabón, and that will be one of our main focuses of 2013, because Haiti is where we export the most.

How is the Ministry working to strengthen the country’s response work for natural disasters?

We currently have the highest and latest international regulations related to earthquakes when developing construction projects. The Dominican Republic has always been at the international forefront in this field, and we have learned a lot from catastrophes in other countries in the last 20 to 30 years. Also, we belong to leading international bodies and institutions, and that enables us to always be on top in terms of regulations and procedures. At the same time, we have a plan to strengthen the monitoring of construction work in the country, as well as to start a process to monitor the quality of older buildings in the country.

What are the main projects that will be inaugurated in the near future?

We will be launching a new Caimán Bridge between Enriquillo and Pedernales in December 2012 to replace the one that collapsed 14 years ago when Hurricane Georges hit the country. At the same time, we just finished the Jatubey Bridge in Bonao, and we will inaugurate several new roads such as the Guaco and Salcedo roads. We will boost the Eastern Road Circuit—which is formed of about eight roads—and we expect that it will be finished in 18 months. From December, we will inaugurate the toll points on the Coral Highway, and that will help us to collect funds that will be allocated to the maintenance of the highway. Finally, we will open the first part of the seafront promenade in El Malecón, Santo Domingo. These are only some of the many infrastructure projects we are currently handling and that we will be completing in the next four years, with an average investment budget of Ps50 billion per year.

© The Business Year – November 2012



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