Interview: Nina Abouna

What are the main challenges facing foreign investors in Gabon in 2016?

NINA ABOUNA: The major challenges facing investors are essentially linked to the economic climate facing the country today. The strong budgetary pressures brought about by the drop in oil prices had a perceptible impact on the private sector, most notably, through a decrease in investment. Macroeconomic conditions make it difficult to envisage a short-term recovery of trust by local entrepreneurs and foreign investors. It is likely that several ongoing investments will slow down, while others might be postponed.

Additionally to this structural crisis at the macroeconomic level, there are elements of the business environment that remain obstacles to the fluidity of investment. These include limited access to financing, bureaucracy and an inefficient administration, insufficient infrastructure and a lack of skilled labour in certain sectors, among other things.

In 2016 the ANPI will elaborate and implement a national strategy for the promotion of investment with the objective of increasing investment and improving the business framework in Gabon through specific measures which favour the acceleration of investment in priority areas, and by offering quality assistance to investors looking for information and business opportunities.

What programmes are being put in place to help the development of the private sector?

ABOUNA: The government has decided to create a single window to welcome and support investors. The ANPI, with the support of the World Bank, is leading the implementation of the Gabon Investment Promotion and Competitiveness Project. Through this, the ANPI is seeking to simplify and streamline the procedures for business creation, shortening lead times from 50 days today to less than the sub-Saharan average in three years, and down to 48 hours by 2019.

Within the special economic zone of Nkok, the Administrative Agency of Nkok has also facilitated the establishment of 13 companies in the zone, with three more to be added in 2016.

The use of new technologies is also key to our strategy as a nation. The e-government initiative has already introduced the electronic declaration and payment of taxes, fast-tracking the process and making it more efficient. The e-visa has made it easier for businessmen and their families to enter Gabon, and we are also working towards an e-simplification process, which lowers the number of documents required to enter the country. Newly created bodies like the Investment High Council, the Arbitration Centre and the Commercial Courts also show the government’s commitment to protecting foreign interests.

To develop small and medium-sized enterprises, we are focusing on facilitating financing and access to electricity. The establishment of an approved management centre and a subcontracting exchange at the chamber of commerce also supports them in matters of technical assistance and education, as well as improving access to public sector tenders.

Boosting innovation and entrepreneurship is considered the best way to scale down a bloated public administration. Therefore, we have put in place support mechanisms for local entrepreneurs to incentivise local value creation and increase employment. The first business plan competition took place at the beginning of 2016 and saw 10 winners awarded up to CFA30m (€45,000) each to develop their businesses. A second edition of the competition is being planned for later in 2016. On the educational front, the government has started implementing a number of measures to improve the capacity of the labour force in order to meet industrial needs through technical training programmes, such as the Un Jeune = Un Métier (A Job for Every Youth) plan, or the opening of the Moanda School of Mining and Metallurgy.