Slawomir Nowak: "I Have Survived This Year. A Kamikaze Does Not Survive"

In an exclusive interview with the CTFS portal, Slawomir Nowak discusses his success in Ukravtodor, failures and the plans for future.
Olga Bystritska 13 December 2017 12:22

"I hate Ukravtodor." I learned about this campaign the first evening after I came to Kyiv to work," Slawomir Nowak recalled. “A television program about the bad situation involving roads in Ukraine – potholes after potholes, Ukravtodor does not work – was broadcast on television. Then I thought, ‘What kind of job have I taken?

One year has passed since Polish citizen Slawomir Nowak became the head of Ukraine’s State Road Agency (Ukravtodor). Since then, 2,000 kilometers of roads have been repaired. Considering the fact that Ukraine has a total of 170,000 kilometers of roads, this is a ridiculously low figure. However, it is five to seven times higher than the figure for the period of 2014-2015. On this issue, Nowak himself says, "We have not yet been able to improve the situation radically, but I hope that fewer people hate Ukravtodor."

Nowak is not yet fluent in the Ukrainian language, so we spoke in three languages: Ukrainian, Polish, and a little English. The mass media nicknamed him Belmondo during his political career in Poland because of his pleasant appearance.

“Do you have a favorite clothing brand?” I ask Nowak.

“No, I just like smart casual,” Nowak said, smiling pleasantly.

After a year of working in Ukraine, Nowak has made his office comfortable and warm. Bach is playing softly. Photographs of his family, a pennant of the Lechia Gdansk football team, a MacBook computer, and a pile of documents are on his table. Also on the table ate three large flipcharts containing the agency’s development strategy for the period of 2018-2022, the Go Highway transnational transport corridor, and tasks for every deputy chairman of Ukravtodor. Nowak says he prefers to visualize everything because it is easier for him that way.

One gets the impression that things are really working out well for the new head of Ukravtodor. Road equipment is operating on major roads and the Facebook page of Ukravtodor is full of photos of renovated roads. It would not be fair to say that Nowak achieved this alone. He has great support from the government, which he does not hide. In fact, he wants the current Ukrainian government to be remembered for roads just as the Tusk government in Poland is remembered for its achievements in the road sector.

Many refuse to comment on the results of Nowak's work. Some say that he is just a "front" and others say it is too early to judge.

"Unfortunately, Nowak has not done the most important thing this year: he has not been able to create a team and present it to the public, the regions have relaxed, and everyone is pursuing his own policies. It will be possible to draw proper conclusions about the work of the head of Ukravtodor by assessing the two forthcoming challenges: the state of roads during the winter 2017-2018 and the transfer of control of 120,000 kilometers of roads to local authorities," said Artem Hrynenko, the former head of the Automobile Roads of Ukraine state joint-stock company.

The Construction Sector Transparency Initiative (CoST), which monitors the use of public funds, says that Ukravtodor is performing worse this year in terms of transparency. "Particularly on projects financed by international financial organizations, as well as on quality control of repair works financed with state budget funds," said Natalia Forsiuk, the head of CoST. The minister of infrastructure was brief in his comment, "I am satisfied with his work, and I am honored to work with him."

When Wojciech Balczun was in charge of the Ukrainian Railways public joint-stock company (Ukrzaliznytsia), he said that he had more enemies in Ukraine than friends. Nowak says he has been friends with many people, including some members of the Ukrainian parliament, since the time he worked in Poland. "Enemies? I do not see them, but they certainly exist," he grins.

02

I hope fewer people hate Ukravtodor

On Ukravtodor’s successes and Kherson

Firstly, we have repaired about 2,000 kilometers of roads. This is three times more than we repaired last year and five times more than we repaired in the period of 2014-2015. We have not yet been able to change the situation radically, but I hope that fewer people hate Ukravtodor. Ninety percent of the works that we have performed this year are intermediate and major repairs. The repaired sections of road will remain in good condition for 5-7 years. Secondly, the process of decentralization of roads will begin next year. This is a fundamental reform. It is essentially a constitution for roads. The third is the Road Fund, which will ensure the guaranteed funding for the road sector. Regarding our failures, unfortunately, the problem involving purchase of land remains unsolved, and it significantly delays implementation of investment projects. I was hoping that we would solve this problem faster. In addition, I have no time left for my family and training. I try to travel to Poland during the weekends to see my family. They have been to Kyiv several times and traveled to Odesa. I also want to show them Lviv, Ternopil, and Kamianets-Podilskyi.

Lviv is a wonderful city. However, I did not have the time to walk around and see historical places. I like Odesa. I feel its energy and atmosphere. This is because of the sea and the open avenues. I am from a seaside town, Gdansk. I also like Mykolaiv and Kherson, especially Kherson. The Dnipro River delta could become a pearl of the region and the entire Ukraine. I was in Zbarazh, which is an important historical place for Poles. When we were going there, I thought there would be a castle as big as the one that we have in Malbork (30 kilometers from Gdansk). However, what we saw when we arrived there was a little hut, he joked.

03  

I hope that construction of roads will be one of the achievements of Groysman and Poroshenko in Ukraine

On minefields and elections

Nowak: "I traveled, thought, and tried to decide whether to [take the position of Ukravtodor chairman] because it initially seemed like a kamikaze mission." Interfax Ukraine, March 2017

I have survived this year. A kamikaze does not survive. I would not have taken this job if I did not believe in the possibility of implementing the plans for reforming the industry and building roads. This year has been a minefield, but, thanks to God, my arms and legs are still intact. There are many problems that I could never have guessed existed. There were no plans for construction or a long-term strategy for development of roads in Ukraine... There is huge pressure to produce results – the number of kilometers of roads repaired – at the end of the year. However, the work should be done calmly, step by step, and according to plan. I feel a great level of responsibility every day, but I also experience satisfaction because the initial results are visible.

Nowak: "I wholeheartedly wish that politicians would win elections because of construction of roads." Interfax Ukraine, March 2017

I am not a politician. I want nobody to interfere with my work and I do not want corruption. I want Groysman and Poroshenko to support me because they provide not only political support, but also funding. We started building roads in Poland in the period of 2008-2009. We won the elections in 2011, thanks to the roads that we built. To this day, Poles say that the Tusk government’s greatest achievement was construction of roads. I hope that construction of roads will also be one of the achievements of Groysman and Poroshenko in Ukraine.

04

The road industry and Ukrzaliznytsia are different issues. Ukravtodor has managed to maintain its independence, but things are more difficult in Ukrzaliznytsia

On Balczun and four things

I am not comfortable commenting on why Balczun failed. As you know, nobody is irreplaceable. These are work issues. If you invite a manager to work and you are not satisfied with the results of his work, then, of course, you can dismiss the manager. There is nothing terrible about that. The road sector and Ukrzaliznytsia are different issues. Ukravtodor has been able to maintain its independence, but things are more difficult in Ukrzaliznytsia. It is the largest company in Ukraine and a monopolist that needs to be reformed. I think that cooperation could not be established between the Ministry of Infrastructure, Ukrzaliznytsia, the Cabinet of Ministers, and members of the parliament. I have a different approach: I try to connect everyone who wants to work with us.

I always say that the road sector needs four things: money, money, money, and people. People mean companies. We need competition. There is already great interest from various companies, but so far, these are only companies from Turkey, Azerbaijan, and China. Unfortunately, there is none yet from the European Union. I am trying to convince them as best I can.

05  

Work on a new Concession Law has been going on for two years, and it will continue for two more years

On the Concession Law and toll roads

We need to amend the Concession Law. We have prepared these amendments jointly with the parliament’s transport committee and submitted them to members of the parliament for consideration. I hope that the law will be considered before the end of this year. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to attract investors. I know perfectly well how the EBRD works. As far as I know, the work [on the new Concession Law] has been going on for two years, and it will continue for two more years. We do not have that much time. We need just a few changes that will allow announcement of a competition among potential investors. We will work on our area, and the EBRD will be able to continue its joint work with the Economy Ministry.

We are currently performing major repairs on the Kyiv-Bila Tserkva highway. In the future, it will be a free alternative highway to a concession highway. We are also working on the issue of profitability for the potential investor, as well as the Lviv-Krakovets highway, various sections of the highway from Lviv to the Hungarian border, and the Lviv-Ternopil highway. We are also considering the Odesa-Reni highway, but I do not think there will be interest in it from investors. We must develop the major transport corridors Odesa-Kyiv, Odesa-Lviv, and further to the border into the EU. We will implement this project next year.

In addition, I would like us to introduce an automatic system for monitoring the weights of vehicles in motion next year. We are ready to create within Ukravtodor a separate road management office that would implement a project involving monitoring the weights of moving trucks, using private funds or funds from international financial organizations. I do not want to interfere with Ukrtransbespeka (the State Transport Safety Agency). Let them do their work on roads. We are offering an alternative monitoring system. Our cameras will capture the weights of moving trucks. If a violation is uncovered, a signal will be sent to Ukrtransbespeka, which should perform another monitoring. I would like the first such system to begin pilot operation on approaches to Kyiv.

06  

I am ready to account for the money that Ukravtodor spends

On GO Highway, the SBU, and the NACB

When I arrived in October last year, the remainder of the annual budget was UAH 500 million. Now, we can say that the funds that were allocated for repairs are being used in accordance with the plan for 2017. It will total UAH 9 billion for the year. The situation involving the use of funds from the customs experiment is worse (UAH 17.3 billion was expected to be received under the experiment, UAH 7.4 billion was received, and UAH 7 billion was spent). However, these funds are in the hands of regional governors and not Ukravtodor. Money from international financial organizations has not been used this year.

According to proposals from the Ministry of Finance, the road sector should receive UAH 32.6 billion next year, of which 60% will go to Ukravtodor, 35% will go to local authorities, and 5% will be spent on road traffic safety. Thanks to a decision by the Cabinet of Ministers, we will also receive UAH 4 billion for the GO Highway international transport corridor (Lviv-Uman-Odesa-Mykolaiv-Kherson) and UAH 2 billion for the Kharkiv-Dovzhanskyi highway. At the same time, we need to pay a debt of UAH 6 billion and spend UAH 5 billion on maintenance of roads in in 2018. We have UAH 14 billion remaining for next year. This is more than the amount in the current year. UAH 11 billion will be spent on local roads, including the amount that will be spent on road maintenance. This is almost ten times more than the amount in the current year, which means that the situation will improve significantly.

Will this money not be stolen? That is not a question to me. The governors will account for this money. Politicians want to win elections, which means that they must show the results of their work. In addition, there are the SBU (the Security Service of Ukraine) and the NACB (the National Anti-Corruption Bureau), which should do their jobs. I am ready to account for the money that Ukravtodor spends.

07  

For the first time in three or four years, we have signed three new contracts that will be financed by international financial organizations

On tenders and a difficult situation

For the first time in three or four years, we have signed three new contracts that will be financed by international financial organizations. The first one was signed with Xinjiang Communications Construction Group Co Ltd. (China) for reconstruction of the M12 Highway (Stryi-Znamianka) in the Khmelnytskyi region and the second was signed with this same company for completion of the works on the M03 Highway (Kyiv-Kharkiv-Dovzhanskyi) following the suspension of the contract with an Italian company. The Onur company has begun work on three sections of the M03 Highway. We expect two or three more contracts to be signed. I hope that the result of the tender for performance of works on the M03 Highway will be announced by the end of November. Tenders for performance of work on the Kyiv-Chernihiv highway and construction of a concrete road bypassing Zhytomyr were invited this year. We should complete the work on the Kyiv-Bika Tserkva section of the M05 Highway before the end of this year. The repair work on the Kyiv-Obukhiv section of the H01 Highway has been completed.

The situation involving the M05 Highway (Kyiv-Odesa) is difficult. I understand that the company that won the tender (the Altcom company) has problems abroad. It has lost cash flow, but its biggest problem involves operating capital. If not for this factor, the company would have the resources to complete the project successfully. The work should be completed by the end of the year. A subcontractor is already helping it, and I hope that there will be results by the end of the year. We will see what the final decision will be. We will either extend the contract by five or six months to complete the project or terminate it, in which case the implementation of this project will drag on for another two or three years.

08

I cannot promise that I will be in charge of the road sector for five more years

On the future and football

I cannot promise that I will be in charge of the road sector for five more years. However, I would like the Road Fund’s budget to increase and the construction of the H14 Highway (Mykolaiv-Kropyvnytskyi), the H11 Highway (Mykolaiv-Dnipro), and the M05 Highway (Kyiv-Kharkiv-Dovzhanskyi) to be completed during this period. I would also like money from international financial organizations to be used fully and construction of the roads that are part of the GO Highway international transport corridor, which will connect the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea, to begin with new lines of credit and grants. Repair and reconstruction of the Odesa-Mykolaiv highway is my dream. I would like the Lviv-Krakovets and Kyiv-Bila Tserkva concession highways to be in the completion phase in five years.

I like active leisure. I played football with friends in Gdansk. I also played with Tusk every week when we were in the government. However, unfortunately, everything has changed a little because we have moved to different countries and there is less and less time. Football is my favorite sport. I also run a little bit, but I do not have enough time for it. I sometimes do it indoors. In Gdańsk, I ride bicycles with my family.