Interview: Raymond Ndong Sima

To what extent can Gabon implement economic policies emphasising raw material processing?

RAYMOND NDONG SIMA: Beyond Gabon’s abundant and diverse natural resources, including minerals and forestry, the country enjoys political stability, beneficial to long-term industrial development. Local processing of raw materials will boost wealth creation and raise the standard of living of the population in the years ahead.

To that extent, we are currently increasing our energy production through the construction of the “grand Poubara” and two additional hydroelectric dams – F2 in Woleu-Ntem (Mitzic) and L’Impératrice in Ngounie (Fougamou). Furthermore, thermal power plants are being built in Libreville and Port-Gentil. However, there are still challenges that need to be overcome, like the limited size of the local market. Our railway must be maintained and enlarged so as to ensure transport of semi-finished and finished products. Moreover, increasing port capacity and efficiency is fundamental to address current congestion issues in the port of Owendo. To that end, we are currently building two deep water ports – one in Port Gentil and one in Mayumba.

How can the existing links between the private and public sector be tightened?

NDONG SIMA: The Pact for an Industrial Gabon aims to bring the private and public sector closer to each other. Through the combination of private and public expertise, this pact is a great opportunity to create successful partnerships and trigger local production. Hence, the government is keen to initiate an industrial phase involving as many sectors as possible, especially minerals, raw materials and forestry.

To that end, legal and fiscal incentives provided to private companies will ensure a smooth industrial transition, while the government can also support companies’ projects through equity participation. Today, many opportunities for private-public partnerships are found to be in extractive industries and the forestry sector, which are also the core of an industrialised Gabon.

In what ways can local skilled labour be improved, both in the short term and in the years to come?

NDONG SIMA: Undeniably, Gabon faces a shortage of skilled labour, especially in the industry sector. In the short-term, for jobs requiring few qualifications, local skilled labour could be improved through comprehensive transfer of knowledge. However, in the medium and longer term, dedicated training centres should be established so as to prepare the young generation to meet the expectations of newly-created jobs in the industry sector. Looking ahead, in partnership with public authorities, private sector involvement is crucial in designing thorough professional and vocational training programmes, in order to bridge the gap between supply and demand of a skilled labour force.

How attractive are fiscal and legal incentives for foreign investment? What measures are being taken to improve investment levels?

NDONG SIMA: Through its friendly business environment, Gabon offers generous incentives for foreign direct investors. Since 2011, development plans have been implemented – such as the Emerging Gabon plan/strategy and sectoral plans – resulting in great opportunities for investors. New institutions were created such as the Agency of Promotion of Investment and Exports, the Centre for Enterprise Development and Banque Gabonaise de Développement, which aim to facilitate foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows and enhance the business climate in Gabon. However, despite our efforts at institutional restructuring, a significant drop in FDI inflows was observed in 2012.

Hence, we need to take further measures to address this issue. Since 2009, the government has been proceeding with intense recruitment, resulting in 14% extra staffing between 2010 and 2011. Yet, our recent staff recruitment efforts targeted one-third security and defence force and two-thirds of civilian jobs. Indeed, recruiting security and defence staff can reinforce investors’ confidence in the country’s stability.