Interview: Jean-Bernard Boumah
What reforms can contribute to the development of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)?
JEAN-BERNARD BOUMAH: The “pact to maintain growth and preserve employment during a period of oil crisis”, signed in March 2016 between the government and the CPG, is a resolution taken to increase the effectiveness of mechanisms for the promotion of SMEs and very small entities. We will support them in their development by identifying all SMEs and creating a directory which will classify them by sector and size, thus labelling them and easing their access to the contracting process for both public and private projects. This will create a space to support SMEs’ access to technical information and training, improve the legal framework by adopting a national charter for SMEs and modify current legislation to better suit the current business environment.
What is the impact of the informal sector on the growth of the country’s economy?
BOUMAH: Despite encompassing several segments, the informal sector does not participate in the economy of the country in a conventional manner, and hence does not contribute to its GDP. Given its importance and its omnipresence in business, we rely on the state to regulate this sector, which accounts for large losses in tax revenue. Several causes can be attributed to the development of the informal sector, such as difficulties in accessing credit, the absence of specific legislation for each segment and the intent by some to evolve in such a sector.
What are the main obstacles to the development of the private sector?
BOUMAH: Many of the challenges faced by the private sector in the last few years remain valid today. Indeed, the lack of infrastructure is notorious, and the business climate makes it difficult for the private sector to flourish. Labour regulations and the formalities required to open new businesses are burdensome, the financial sector lacks depth and human resources are rare due to a disparity between education and employment. In addition to these significant aspects, we cannot forget the small size of the domestic market, the non-existence of an entrepreneurial culture and the rigid and discouraging tax regime, coupled with para-fiscal levies.
All these constraints were addressed in the aforementioned pact, culminating in measures to be immediately implemented to modernise and diversify the economy. These measures will focus on strengthening the business framework to promote direct national and international investment. In this context, a national strategy for the promotion of investment will be implemented to accompany the already existing High Council for Investment.
How can the business environment be improved?
BOUMAH: Concerning employment, the need to match the offer with the demand remains paramount in order to counter the effects of unemployment in Gabon. Given the current situation, employment needs to be preserved, and in this regard social dialogue is to be encouraged. A new labour code is being elaborated, and will require a certain level of flexibility concerning the relationship between the employee and the employer.
The guaranteed minimum wage is not open to discussion, but it must remain reasonable and manageable. We also expect the implementation of an enticing and clear fiscal reform, as well as a lift on all the constraints and challenges associated with starting a company in terms of delays and costs. In regards to training, increased synergy between the private and public sectors can be useful in helping to identify areas for overall improvement in the employability of our youth, helping to cover the needs of all activities, not only those of the industrial sector.
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