Angola’s ‘Money Pit’ Currency Museum

The Banco Nacional de Angola (BNA), the country’s central bank, is housed in one of the prettiest colonial buildings that the capital city has to offer: a confection of Portuguese colonial construction in pink and white, consisting of two colonnaded wings which meet at a circular tower topped by a distinctive red-tiled cupola. The ‘wedding cake’, completed in 1956, occupies an entire block of Luanda’s Marginal, the gently-curving and tree-lined avenue which runs the length of the picturesque bay.

Buried in the paved pedestrian square alongside the bank, some meters beneath an elaborate winged structure, is one of the city’s lesser known museums: the subterranean ‘Museu da Moeda’ (the Currency Museum). Opened in 2016, it may only have a single below-ground exhibition room with exhibits of dubious worth but this museum is worthy of a little more attention than it has received so far.

The Currency Museum project, which began in 2012 with an estimated budget of US $10 million swallowed up a stratospheric US $64.5 million in three short years. Aside from one small exhibition room and a 209-seat Amphitheatre, all there is to see is an entrance corridor, administrative office, equipment room and a 10-vehicle parking lot. Not only is there concern over the long-term solidity of the structure, it’s feared that this (pink-and) white elephant may yet sink into the adjacent sea.

It is a source of wonder to many at the Banco Nacional de Angola (BNA) as to how a relatively-modest heritage project could have escalated so alarmingly. By January 2015, when then BNA Governor José de Lima Massano pronounced the museum ready, the final bill so scandalized President José Eduardo dos Santos that he fired Lima Massano. An adviser to the President told Maka Angola that the arch-kleptocrat himself described the paucity of exhibits as “shameless” and demanded a refit to improve the permanent exhibition. That certainly added extra millions to the final cost and yet recent visitors complain that the exhibition remains uninspiring and that the ‘interactive’ exhibits are out of order.

Runaway costs phase by phase

This sorry saga began with Phase One of the project in July 2012 when Lima Massano entered into a contract with sibling architects Alexandre and António Falcão Costa Lopes (FCLAO Arquitectos Associados S.A.) to design and draw up the plans for the museum. The Costa Lopes brothers quoted a fee based on the final estimated construction cost of $10.1 million for a gross area of 2,615 square meters, amounting to a fee of US $458,775 for their work.

Three months later Lima Massano assigned Victor Manuel da Costa e Silva as Project Coordinator, with Filomeno Emanuel Rodrigues Fialho da Costa as his deputy. Fialho da Costa is an architect who has repeatedly been assigned to BNA construction projects even though the institution’s internal rules assign this role to the Department for Heritage Services.

Phase Two of the project, the “excavation, retaining walls and foundations” of the build was entrusted to a consortium formed by three companies (Griner, Somague and Tecnasol) by means of a contract in April 2013 worth Angolan US $14.4 million.

The original budget was already blown. Then “somehow” the gross area of the Museum project was increased to 4,350 square meters (66.35% bigger than the original design) and by the end of 2013 the cost of the build had doubled again to the equivalent of US $28 million.

On top of this, the architects discovered that the construction had expanded and established that the final gross area was 4,794 square meters. Given that their fee was based on 4.5% of the value of the finished construction, they appealed to the BNA for their fee to be revised upwards to US $1.2 million.

According to a memorandum dated December 27, 2013 and signed by BNA Deputy Project Advisor Filomeno da Costa, the Costa Lopes brothers were persuaded to agree to a final fee of US $940,000, a ‘generous’ discount of some US $340,000. How so? Well, the Costa Lopes brothers were the Dos Santos régime’s preferred architects for many of the state’s prestige construction projects. They had drawn up multi-million-dollar plans for the regeneration of Luanda’s bayside regeneration (Marginal da Baía de Luanda) as well as for numerous real estate investment projects for the Banco Atlântico (Atlantic Bank, now rebranded as ‘Millenium Atlântico’) amongst others.

They were also the architects behind the headquarters of the controversial Banco Espírito Santo Angola (BESA, now restructured and renamed as the Banco Económico). This 33-storey building (including five underground levels), cost 81 million Euros (approximately US $92.15 million at current exchange rates) for a 48,000 square meter area.

For Phase Three of the construction, in April 2014 José de Lima Massano signed a further contract with Griner and the Portuguese Somague (two of the three constructions firms in the original consortium) for “internal structure and finishing” of the enclosed space for the Money Museum. The value of the contract for Phase Three works was equivalent to another US $13.6 million.

The governor of Angola’s Central Bank, José de Lima Massano.

Nonetheless, the museum space was still not actually ‘finished’ – that became Phase Four of the project. Clearly a fan of the civil construction companies Griner and Somague, Lima Massano ordered the Project Coordinator, Victor Manuel da Costa e Silva, to sign yet another contract with the consortium in November 2014 for “architecture and finishing”, worth a further US $17.7 million. At this stage the project costs had already quadrupled.

Two months later when Dos Santos blew his top and sacked him, Lima Massano went back to his former job as Chairman of the Board at the Angolan Investment Bank (Banco Angolano de Investimento, BAI, formerly known as the African Investment Bank), which he had left in 2010 upon his appointment as BNA Governor.

It’s no coincidence that BAI is the majority stockholder in Griner and that Lima Massano retained a 2% share of BAI throughout his tenure as BNA Governor. As Maka Angola previously reported, ownership of BAI was distributed amongst former Sonangol executives and colleagues and Dos Santos régime associates, notably then Sonangol’s London Director José Carlos de Castro Paiva with 18.5% and former Chairman Manuel Vicente with 8.6%. Sonangol itself retained 8.5%.

Griner and Somague then submitted a bill for an additional US $4.6 million for Phase Five: “alterations, structures and special installations”. José Pedro de Morais had by now taken over as BNA Governor and it was his signature on the contract for Phase Five, dated May 2015 (with no day) – even though the actual works had been concluded the previous February.

A further US $1.2 million went to the engineering consultancy firm Africonsult, to inspect Phases Two, Three, Four and Five of the build. The first contract signed by Africonsult’s Fernando Álvaro C. Leal Machado in April 2013 with Lima Massano, was worth some US $468,000. Curiously, the contract for the inspection of Phase Three was signed retroactively in 2015 by José Pedro de Morais, even though Phase Three had concluded more than a year before his appointment. (Only the year is specified under the signatures of De Morais and Leal Machado). By now, the cost for this small basement museum had exceeded US $64.5 million and they were still not done.

Exhibit and refit

What was to be exhibited in this museum? Although by law there should have been a public tender for supplying content, the contract was arbitrarily awarded without competition to a company called ComCultura Lda. Also contrary to custom and practice, the contract, signed then and there in August 2014 by José de Lima Massano and Víctor Manuel da Costa e Silva required the BNA to pay 90% of the agreed fee upfront to ComCultura Lda., with the residual 10% due upon the conclusion of the ‘work’.

In return ComCultura was to supply services including “museological and museographic consultancy, the financing and licensing of Index Rerum software and multimedia, interactive and exhibition solutions and interpretative content”.

The sum worth of the contracts with ComCultura would be close to US $8.8 million. And who was behind ComCultura? The stated partners in the company when it was registered in 2013 were António Manuel Plácido Canhão Veloso and an Angolan government official named Joaquim Duarte José Gomes. Officially he was Director of the Planning Department at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development; unofficially he had been known to Angolans as the shadow minister – the real power behind the scenes at the Ministry – for more than two decades.

After replacing Lima Massano, José Pedro de Morais’s term as BNA Governor coincided with the phase of equipping the museum with exhibit materials. With an empty space to fill, De Morais and ComCultura’s Gomes and Veloso signed a further contract in April 2015 for approximately US $4 million. With this, provision of exhibit materials had amounted to close to US $12.8 million.

Beach sand and two shells on a pad make one of the exhibits.

In addition, De Morais then called upon an old friend, Miroslav Petrovic, who had served as Ambassador to Angola for the former Yugoslavia. He drew up an undated document and then in February 2016 ordered the BNA Deputy Governor António Ramos da Cruz to sign a one-year contract with Miroslav Petrovic, to supply “coins and bank notes from the 192 member countries of the United Nations” in return for reimbursement of the US dollar equivalent of the currency’s face value plus a 30% commission fee.

One month later Ramos da Cruz and Petrovic signed a contract specifying monthly payments upon submission of invoices for the supply of the foreign coins and banknotes, with the BNA reimbursing the equivalent face value of the monies in US dollars at the official exchange rate, along with the commission fee, which had somehow increased to 40%. The contract also allowed for unlimited reimbursement of Petrovic’s travel expenses to Brazil, Dubai, France, Russia and Singapore – including all flights, accommodation, meals and local transport. It has been impossible to determine exactly how much all this cost.

By now, the costs of building and supplying exhibits had topped US $77.3 million and it wasn’t over yet.

Enter the Archbishop

By March 2016 Pedro de Morais was history and Valter Filipe Duarte da Silva (nicknamed the ‘Archbishop’) had been appointed BNA Governor. Da Silva entered into a contract with a company named I3C Limitada, owned by a former presidential adviser named Francisco Simão Helena, to provide “the design, development and supply of multimedia solutions, equipment and installations for interactive and multimedia exhibits” at a cost of US$3.4 million. This took the running total for the construction and equipping (twice over) of the museum to US 80.7 million.

Once open, the museum would then have “maintenance costs”. The ‘Archbishop’ awarded one maintenance contract in April 2017 to a company named Projem (Prestação de Serviços de Limpeza S.A., also known as Projem Empreendimento e Participaçōes). It was worth US $2.5 million for “technical and industrial museum cleaning services, specialized hygiene services and the supply of gardening materials and consumables”. The contract was signed by Valter Filipe and the President of the Projem Board of Directors, Luzia Isabel A. Ferreira. Like all companies doing business with the bank, Projem had a Dos Santos Administration connection, in this case one Oliveira Guilherme, who was simultaneously the chief of staff of then spy chief, General André Sango (Head of the Foreign Intelligence Service, the Serviço de Inteligência Externa, SIE).

On the same day (April 24, 2017) Valter Filipe also gave orders for a contract to be signed with a company named P & W Imóveis – Gestão Imobiliária e Prestação de Serviços Lda., a firm linked to Frederico Cardoso, a former Secretary of the Council of Ministers (Cabinet) currently serving as the Chief of Staff in the Office of the President.

This contract was for “preventative and corrective maintenance services to the fire alarm system, hydraulic installations and structural and constituent elements of the building of the Currency Museum”. That alone was worth US $3.4 million a year, enough to build and equip an entire fire station – something that the capital city is desperate in need of. In all, the two maintenance contracts would amount to nearly US $6 million.

Worth the money?

Leaving aside the actual worth of this museum, there are some at the BNA who openly regret that the initial plan for building the museum in Talatona was set aside when former BNA governor Amadeu Maurício decided to appropriate the land for himself. They say that sooner or later, in spite of the expensive pump and drainage systems installed, the current museum is bound to suffer a flood because it lies below sea level and is located so close to the water’s edge on the Bay of Luanda. They point to an incident that occurred during construction, when the slab collapsed during the pouring of concrete. Information supplied to Maka Angola suggests that the construction consortium failed to give any explanation for the collapse, repaired the damage, and thereafter the BNA drew a veil over the event. Civil construction engineers have told Maka Angola that an issue like that could compromise the solidity and durability of the structure.

There have been repeated complaints about the equipment supplied by ComCultura, in particular the interactive technology exhibits, some of which are still not operational, and also about the quality and relevance of the exhibits. One BNA source told us “we had to insist upon the inclusion of an image of a slave as an historic instrument of exchange because the Portuguese consultants wanted to exclude that side of our history, as though there had never been a slave trade”.

Whether you live in Luanda or are visiting, we recommend you check out this Museum and decide for yourselves whether it has any value, other than that of standing as a monument to corruption and waste and then let the current Administration know what you think of a Currency Museum that already cost nearly US $81 million and a further US $6 million a year in maintenance costs.

Was it worth the money? You might also want to ask what possessed President João Lourenço to reappoint Lima Massano as Governor of the BNA, given his role in this whole sorry affair. Why put the old fox back in charge of the hen house?

Sadly, the evidence so far suggests this museum is nothing more than a monument to the vanity, greed and self-interest of a group of Dos Santos’ régime associates who took millions of dollars from the public purse for a project of no real value to the people of Angola, who continue to wait for the country’s oil wealth to be put into providing real public services.