Ricardo Viegas de Abreu

«I'm a technician, not a politician»

\\ Text Maria Cruz \
\\ Photography Photo Atelier ©Walter Fernandes

He likes getting things done! «Things that aren't really important», stresses Ricardo, with the conviction of his life values. This so-called «reserved» man, «unafraid of making mistakes», has family at the heart of his priorities, his safe haven. He likes to share with his friends. He wants to travel and «do new and interesting things». What things?! We?ll find out in the content of this interview. Ricardo Viegas de Abreu has a degree in Economics, gained at Lisbon's Lusíada University, in Portugal. Without once looking back, he immediately embarked on an adventure that led him to England, where he took a MBA in Business Administration, at the University of Bath, with his master's thesis entitled «The opportunities of the oil industry in Sub-Saharan Africa». But, instead of entering the oil industry, Ricardo chose to join the team that witnessed the creation of Angola's first private bank, what is now BAI - Banco Angolano de Investimentos. The year was 1997. 10 years down the line, he left. He was the co-founder of another bank, BNI ? Banco de Negócios Internacional. In 2008 he began working in the public sector. A year later he was appointed vice governor of the National Bank of Angola. He stepped down in 2015, to start lecturing post graduate studies at the Universidade Católica in Oporto and at the MBA Atlântico programme. And, since then, he wants to continue doing things!

The Angolan state budget for 2015 was strongly affected by the drop in the price of crude oil in international markets. How can Angola minimise losses in the near future?

The fall in oil prices, which began during the first quarter of 2014, has once again raised challenges within the national macroeconomic framework. Although some thought it would be short-term and only temporary, it is proving to be longer and more structural, especially for economies that are highly dependent on this natural resource. Minimising losses requires that, through selective and calibrated macroeconomic policy measures, combined with structural adjustment measures, we try to prevent, on the one hand, that the framework of macroeconomic stability is too greatly affected and, on the other, prepare a new phase for boosting the economy. We should make the very most of the less positive moment to get the national economy ready, and the country, for a new period of growth, more prosperity and sustainability.


Has this crisis highlighted Angola's dire need to find ways of making its economy less dependent on oil?

The importance of this sector is nothing new, it is something that concerns us all and will not be changed in the short term. What matters is managing to ensure that the careful and effective management of resources from the largest sector of the economy, for the time being, can make up the macroeconomic safeguards necessary for times of crisis, as well as supporting the growth and modernisation of the non oil sector. Conditions should be created to make the economy more resilient to the volatility of oil prices, while stimulating efforts for growth in the non oil sector, favouring food self-sufficiency and boosting the export sector, which at least manages to add value to export resources, such as, for example, mineral, forestry, fishery, tourism and cultural industries.


Does the Angolan economy urgently need to be restructured?

During the last 13 years the Angolan economy has gone through major transformations. Whether in terms of its gross domestic product and its structure, or in terms of income per capita, fiscal expenditure, boosting public investment projects and expenditure  arising out of the public administration's expansion across the entire national territory. All these gains, rooted in the National Reconstruction Plan, ensured unquestionable benefits for the national economy and for the nation's citizens. But, even so, given the persistent vulnerability of our economy, and the structural challenges we still face, we need to embark on a new cycle. It involves us having a lesser burden of the state, but with greater quality in its intervention, and more of the private sector, whether national or foreign. It's important not to forget that, over the years, sectors in which there were once 10 companies now have 200; sectors with 1500 workers now have 5000; sectors with tens of thousands of customers, now have millions.

«Angola, a prime investment destination for the next 15 years»

But hasn't this led to increasing gaps in knowledge and skills?

The growth may have been exponential in some cases. One of the main challenges facing the country is, also, executive training and incorporating skills, even when they come from other places. The state successfully launched the National Executive Training Plan (PNFQ), rising to this challenge, but the private sector should and could also do more in the area of training and skill improvement in executive staff. The education system should take into account the knowledge requirements of executives of tomorrow. Recent studies show that, by 2050, 56% of the world population under the age of 25 will live in Africa. 


Many foreign investors are facing difficulties and considering cooling investment in Angola?

Angola is still a country offering great opportunities. Looking at the global context and as Africa is currently the focus of attention of major international investors, Angola certainly occupies one of the top spots of countries within the continent that are interesting in terms of investment. Angola, without a shadow of a doubt, is a prime investment destination for the next 15 years. The global world is going through challenges, the answers to which, many of them that is, can be found in Africa. Although the road to travel is long, some areas have been developed, while other fundamental ones are still worthy of our special attention, in particular in the creation of human capital. Without wanting to find justifications, for some areas that could have been better, it is vital we don't forget that, when the war was over and during the last two parliamentary terms, Angola went through two cycles of crisis due to the fall in oil prices.


With uncertainty in the world's oil market, will 2016 be a year of many issues?

It will certainly be a challenging year, as the prolongation of dips in oil prices only adds to financial challenges, whether these involve tackling internal spending or the payment of commitments and requirements from abroad. I see it as a good year to reflect and strive to enable other opportunities. A model of external dependency needs to be redesigned, to domestic dependency, striving to find the essential abroad, and which is truly differentiating and necessary. The Angolan people are very creative; we need to take advantage of this spontaneity and verve, to overturn these less positive moments. 

Did you leave the post of vice governor of the National Bank of Angola at the right time, or was there still a lot left to be done?

Public posts aren't for life. After six years at the Central Bank, I left with a feeling of mission accomplished, in terms of the directives and mission that was given to us. You need to understand that, in the light of new circumstances and new challenges, other people might have a more suitable profile to deal with them. Despite the feeling of mission accomplished, we understand that the challenges are still there and as this concerns matters and a very dynamic sector, continually evolving, there is always something more to be done or improved. In this regard, your work is never complete.


How would you describe your experience as vice governor of the National Bank of Angola? What challenges did you see overcome and yet to be met?

A very enriching experience. The Central Bank is a highly comprehensive institution. There is the ?company? side, with all its related areas: administrative, human resources, accounting and financial. And, on the other, its primary functions, in terms of monetary and exchange rate policy: statistics function, managing money circulation, managing the payment system, the regulatory and supervisory system. I think that significant steps have been made throughout the institutional dimension of a large and complex organisation with state responsibilities. You have to view the Central Bank as an institution that serves the citizens: starting with the valuation of the national currency, striving to ensure the reduction of the level of variation of prices, to guaranteeing the just, balanced and equitable development of the banking and non banking function by regulated bodies. I am convinced that we strove to evolve this entire dimension. As I said, your work is never complete. I think that now we are in a phase of effective implementation of the series of regulatory initiatives and actions, which were triggered during that period.


What political ambitions do you have? Would you be happy, for example, if you were appointed to political office? What role?

I'm a technician, not a politician. As such my ambitions are very focused on life and on serving, or on providing a service to the nation through the technical knowhow I strive to build up, and that I can, thereby, transmit and pass on to others. Throughout my professional career, only my time spent at the Central Bank could be associated with political functions. I also think, and knowing my profile, that I am a person cut out for missions. I have always been open to helping and making my contribution towards seeing Angola as a country that we can all be proud of and in which we like living. 

«A model of external dependency needs to be redesigned, to domestic dependency»

What is your current profession?

After the sabbatical period imposed by law and regulations of the National Bank of Angola, I continued to contribute as an advisor to the Finance Minister and to give support in some initiatives related to that ministry, and also the Ministry of Justice. I am also lecturing post-graduate courses. This work is helping towards studying and concentrating in bringing together parts that I hope will come to be much more than this, - when it goes from dream to reality, I?ll talk about it in more detail... until then, the wisdom of elders teaches us that we should keep the secret to ourselves. Finally, organising my work in the private sector, to do with the financial sector.


How does the Ricardo Abreu, as a professional, as a public administrator, consultant, differ from the Ricardo Abreu, as a family man, among friends, enjoying hobbies and a social life??

Maybe the opposite question would be better. In which ways is he alike (he laughs). In many ways! Perhaps the most important thing is focus, passion and determination in doing things. The values of friendship, willingness, love, devotion to people and things that are truly important to us. I am a reserved person. Family is the focus of my priorities, in my friends I enjoy the comfort of sharing, sincere and true. I like cooking for the family and for friends. I do sport regularly; I have developed a liking for running and I also play golf. I used to be involved in music, and I still play a little (he smiles) and I could never live without the chance to listen to fine played music, a good voice, a fine composition. This is reflected in my children, any one of them was born with predisposed DNA; let's see if they get further than their father (he laughs).