MT Højgaard Leaves a Mark on Vietnam

MT Højgaard is Denmark’s leading construction and development company. The company has an impressive resume with previous constructions such as Øresundsbron, Storebæltsbroen and the Metro. About five years ago the company had an annual turnover of about two million Danish Crowns in foreign countries; today this annual turnover has grown to two billion Danish Crowns.
“In Denmark there are many years between major projects, and you are therefore forced to look abroad. Right now we are building the world’s fifth longest suspension bridge in Norway,” says Søren Riber Carlsen, MT Højgaard’s area manager of Southeast Asia.
Søren Riber Carlsen is responsible for 10 countries in Asia among others Sri Lanka, India, the Philippines and Vietnam. Because of MT Højgaard’s involvement in Vietnam the company recently opened an office in Hanoi.
For about four years Søren flew back and forth between Denmark and Vietnam. But travelling all the time meant less time with his wife and fourteen year old daughter so the family decided to move to Hanoi.
Right now Søren is busy with two big projects in Vietnam, a new modern sewerage system project in the Vietnamese city of Bac Giang and a bridge construction in the seaside town Haiphong -Vietnam’s third biggest city with about 3-4 million residents.
The sewerage system is almost done while the bridge project is in its start-up phase. Building the bridge takes about 21 months which makes the bridge ready in June of 2011 unless they are hit by delays, which Søren is quite sure will not happen.

A modern treatment plant in Vietnam
The new water treatment plant in Bac Giang is situated in the middle of a very idyllic Vietnamese landscape with paddy fields as far as the eye can see. The city of Bac Giang is located 55 kilometres north east of Hanoi and has around 200,000-250,000 citizens. By Danish standards a fairly big city but not on a Vietnamese scale.
Until recently Bac Giang had lots of open latrines running on the side of the road with waste water being discharged into the river, a river that the locals bathe, fish and wash their cloths in. Naturally it was a problem that had to be dealt with since the waste water ran directly out into the river without being treated in any way. This led to the creation of the waste water treatment project on the outskirts of the city.
The project, which is supported by the Danish International Development Agency (Danida), consists of a wastewater treatment plant and a distribution system under the city.
In order to catch the waster water MT Højgaard had a challenging task ahead as they had to build an extensive distribution system in the streets around the city. Workers put down about 25 kilometres of pipes, some concrete and some plastic. Some of the pipes were up to two meters in diameter, big enough to drive a car through.
The distribution system works in a way, so that the pipes under the streets gather the waste water, which is then led to the plant. Here the water is treated and led out into the river. Exactly like the sewerage systems in Denmark.
The waste water plant itself is not running yet, but a lot of the sewer pipes are operating, leading the waste water out into specially created lakes instead of the river.
If everything goes as scheduled, the plant will be up and running at the beginning of January 2010.
When building for donor countries such as Denmark the countries have a requirement that a certain percentage of the construction material must have a Danish origin. This meant that MT Højgaard had to buy 50 percent of the materials from Denmark, which is why all the slurry pumps and some of the plastic pipes are Danish.
“If this proviso didn’t exist, we would not have bought anything in Denmark, as the materials there are expensive and the costs of transportation are immensely high,” Søren explains.

Slow bureaucratic procedures
MT Højgaard has offices in the Maldives, Sri Lanka, India, the Philippines and Vietnam and a lot of branches in the Middle Yeast. But in some respect the work in Vietnam has been the most difficult. Søren thinks this has to do with the fact that the Vietnamese are old communists.
All things considered the bureaucratic system in Vietnam is the reason why there are a lot of delays, he says.
It has for example been really difficult getting through to the Vietnamese authorities, and to get in contact with competent decision-makers. “Also the fact that everything is in paper, you can’t just send the building owner a mail, because he doesn’t have a computer,” Søren adds.
Danish sewerage projects in Vietnam are not new to the country, far from it. Per Aarsleff a/s another Danish building constructor has been involved in sewer projects for the last 10 years.

Finnish Bridge in Haiphong
In Vietnam’s third biggest city Haiphong two bridge slopes stand on each site of the river Latsch Tray, but without being connected to an actual bridge. The slopes are all that is left of a Finnish development project, that went wrong.
The Finnish building contractor exceeded the budget, so Finnvera – Finland’s international development agency – had to abandon the bridge plans for a while, completing only the bridge slopes. After a lot of talks in the Foreign Ministry of Finland agreements were made to offer the project again but this time they decided to ease the conditions in terms of who could bid on it. Now the project was also made public to OECD countries, before it had only been offered to Finnish companies. This time though, no Finnish building contractors wanted to be a part of the project. Only a French company and MT Højgaard showed an interest and MT Højgaard was chosen for the job. Thus, the bridge in Haiphong became MT Højgaard’s first bridge project in South East Asia.
Like the sewer project in Bac Giang, a certain percentage of the material have to come from Finland seeing that the project is supported by the Finnish government. However in this case only 30 percent of the material has to be Finnish. Therefore MT Højgaard has bought the bridge’s health monitoring system in Finland – Equipment used to monitor potential problems with the bridge caused by factors such as weather. In addition the bridge has been designed by the Finnish consulting firm Finnroad.
Length wise the bridge is about the same size as Langebro in Copenhagen, approximately 230 meters long. Apart from that it has the same design as Øresundsbron.
The bridge, which is located in the middle of the city, is being build in order to ease the traffic in the city. As the living standard in Vietnam is steadily rising, it is very likely that everyone who has a scooter has a car ten years from now. And therefore there is a growing need to expand road systems and infrastructure, Søren explains.
Right now MT Højgaard has engineers in Vietnam working on the project. The next step is to hire some Vietnamese workers for the construction which will start in the beginning of October.

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