Interview: Michel K Brizoua-Bi, Joachim Bilé-Aka

What effect has the creation of commercial courts had on commercial lawsuits?

MICHEL K BRIZOUA-BI: Two aspects of Ivoirian justice that have been criticised are the lack of specialisation among judges and the subsequent lack of celerity with which cases are processed. Setting up commercial courts responds to these issues, allocating a specialised jurisdiction for commercial litigation with irreproachable judges. Not only can cases be processed more quickly, but lawyers have better visibility as to the approximate duration of proceedings. Beyond improved technical competency and speed, the transparency and independence of the new court should boost investor confidence. There is an overall effort to improve governance and fight corruption, which are major difficulties. An anti-corruption law is being drafted and will hopefully be implemented so that investment is not slowed.

How has the lack of a public-private partnership (PPP) law affected collaboration for these sectors?

BRIZOUA-BI: The absence of PPP legislation has certainly been an issue, but a law is currently being prepared, though it remains to be seen what specific provisions it will include. Nevertheless, PPP development is sure to benefit from added momentum induced from a clear framework once it is in place and once investors are informed of specific modalities. Private entrepreneurs who take risks need security, which is not afforded by a legislative vacuum. Adopting legislation will serve to popularise PPPs, to increase legibility and to make the various, specific mechanisms known.

Does the new Labour Code strike a balance between competitiveness and labour rights?

JOACHIM BILÉ-AKA: Discussions on this new code are under way, though it seems that the text is balanced as there appears to be a consensus between employers and employees. The private sector wants more flexibility, but greater protections of employees’ rights is also on the table. This is important legislation for our economic recovery, as human resources departments need a balanced regulatory framework. The code must also encourage various types of employment, and it can be a winning element by meeting investors’ concerns.

In what ways can competition laws be improved?

BILÉ-AKA: National and regional competition laws are high quality. There are, however, some issues in terms of implementation and stronger institutions are needed. The authorities have to give more power to the appropriate entities. The legal and business environment has been evolving, so laws have to be adapted, and Côte d’Ivoire cannot do this alone. Changes in the West African Economic and Monetary Union’s regulatory framework are also needed. Certain laws could be modernised, but the private sector should act to ensure that competition issues are brought to the forefront.

How can access to land titles be facilitated and the risks to acquiring real estate be attenuated?

BRIZOUA-BI: Land titles are a sensitive issue, as access to land depends on different regimes. An important piece of advice is to carry out due diligence on the validity of land titles and the quality of the property being acquired. There are many conflicts because of problems in organisation and the reliability of information. The authorities must secure information so that it is authentic and unforgeable. Also, it would be helpful to know if an area is available. In any case, the Ministry of Construction is working on these details. Modernising and coding this information is absolutely crucial.

What legislative changes can help boost local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)?

BILÉ-AKA: Besides changing laws, other initiatives would complement the current framework in favour of SMEs. New measures preferring local SMEs in PPPs could be included, as long as firms can meet the technical and fiscal requirements. Preference could also be made in public tenders. Education is also a major issue.