Twenty-five years ago, Gjoka Konstruksion began as a small family business in northern Albania and has grown to become one of Albania’s top-three infrastructure companies. Having successfully constructed roads, highways, tunnels, hydro-power plants and other important works across the country, in 2017 the company won a tender to construct one of the largest infrastructure projects in Albania’s history – a complicated highway project that will link the Albanian capital Tirana with the underdeveloped Dibra region and Macedonia. Infrastructure, Rrok Gjoka, the company’s owner explains, is now one of the government’s top priorities and a key piece of the puzzle to help Albania become part of the European Union. Here, he explains how the Gjoka Konstruksion’s hard work and dedication has paid off not only for his company’s approximately 450 employees, but for the country as a whole
What have been the main milestones and achievements for the company?
The company was established in 1994 in the city of Puka, northern Albania. In the four following years, it grew steadily, until the year 1998 when we moved to Tirana. There, the company started to grow by approximately 20 percent every year.
During the period 1997-1998, Albania underwent a difficult political and economic situation until 2005. With the entry into power of the Democratic Party, the period 2005-2009 saw a large number of infrastructure projects and therefore, a lot of work for companies like us. In the second mandate of that government, from 2009 to 2013, the situation became more difficult as growth slowed down and the government’s debt to the private sector started to pile up. During the mandate of the next government, from 2013 to 2017, the situation improved again. The new government paid off all its debts to us and other companies and then gave us the go ahead for a three-and-a-half-year 32MW hydro-power plant project, which represented an investment of €55 million. It is now in operation and is producing a lot of energy every year. We are operating the plant under a 35-year concession from the government.
At the beginning of 2018, we signed a public-private partnership (PPP) agreement with the government for a highway concession. This road, Arbëri road, is one of the biggest infrastructure projects that Albania has ever embarked upon. It has a total cost of €250 million. It is a contract for 13 years. We designed it, we will construct the road and we will also assume all the risks. We will carry out the construction in just over three years and then maintain and operate the road. It has a lot of tunnels which need to be operated, and it is, in fact, a very complex project. It is a feat of engineering, with 150-meter-high steel and concrete structure bridges. There are 8.6km of tunnels in total, and the biggest tunnel is 3.3km long in an area with extremely difficult geological conditions.
Are you carrying out the highway project alone?
This is a 95-percent Albanian project because we have subcontracted to a very capable Turkish company for some small works like part of the steel construction of the bridges. They will do the production and assembly of the steel structure. All the other works are carried out by us and some local companies from the cities along the route, who we mobilized to work on that project.
How would you describe the moment in time that Albania is going through in terms of its infrastructure?
This second mandate of Prime Minister Edi Rama has infrastructure as its main focus. This current road project is a demonstration of that because it is a project which was promised by every government over the last 20 years. The whole project is 74 km long and in the last 15 years only 20km were built. The remaining part is the most difficult, and it is being built now. In just eight months we have done more than 30 percent of the work, so we think that we will finish it sooner than the contract deadline. The contract is three years and eight months and we think it will be finished in 36 months. Also, in late 2018 and early 2019, a lot of projects from north to south have begun to be implemented.
This government has initiated a lot of infrastructure projects, but Albania is a small country and we depend a lot on Europe, so it is very important that political problems do not stop this progress. From our point of view as investors and constructors, it looks like Prime Minister Rama has very clear ideas about Albania’s progress, not just in infrastructure, but in everything that he is doing. As we see it from the ground, it is very clear that he is trying to do everything to drive this country forward. But it doesn’t just depend on him. Therefore, we in the private sector hope that his objectives will be reached because it will be good not only for the companies but for the whole country. Our company alone has over 450 employees who are dependent on us. If everything goes well, everyone will benefit.
What are the qualities of the company that make it a trusted partner to carry out these complicated projects?
Most important is the will. We have the will and the wish, the big wish to go forward and to grow this company, and of course, our 25-year experience, our know-how, and our investments in machinery and technical goods. In addition, we have good collaborations with Albanian institutions, private entities both inside and outside of Albania, clients and everyone else that can make all of this work. It is a concerted effort. Hard work and concentration are key. We are here 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all of us.
Do you feel that your work here is going to help pave the way for EU accession?
It is a small role, but of course, we play a role. Infrastructure is very important. It creates corridors for Europe to accept us. Another important point is that in 2015, Albanian quality, health and environmental regulations were brought in line with those of the European Union. They are the same laws. Therefore, this project has followed every step that would be followed in an EU country. This project will be the same as any EU project. We want to improve and we want to be in the EU as soon as possible, not only to enable EU companies to come here but also to enable us to go and compete in the EU and be part of the union.
There are many players in the Albanian construction industry. What are the competitive advantages of your company?
It is difficult from our part to stand here and say why we are better than the others, but we can say that we got to where we are through hard work. We are among the top three biggest Albanian infrastructure companies, and that means we have experience. We have invested a lot. We have also arguably taken on more risks than our competitors with our role in the current road project. We took a step further than other companies by entering into what is the first project of its kind in Albania. It took a lot of guts to do this, but we think we made a good decision, and we hope that we will succeed as a result.
What would you like the German audience to understand about your company and your country?
Albanians are known for their hospitality, and I would like to extend to them an invitation to come here, maybe even to teach us something, to collaborate, and to help us to go further. We have a good climate, we have the sea, we have the mountains, and Albania offers a lot of possibilities for investment. Albanians respect Germany a lot, so they will be welcome here. We see them as an example of how we need to be in the future. There are a lot of German companies here, but let more come and have the guts to take a chance on Albania. Albania has improved greatly over the last 25 years. It is becoming better every day. The time has now come for companies from the rest of Europe to look at Albania. Albania can do great things, and the rewards for those who take the opportunity will be great.