Interview: Jean-Marie Ackah
How could local competitiveness be improved?
JEAN-MARIE ACKAH: In my opinion, the competitiveness of local companies is in line with that of the region, but remains weak from a global perspective. When we compare ourselves to neighbouring countries, Côte d’Ivoire remains one of the top performers; however, we must benchmark our capabilities with our real competitors, such as emerging countries in Asia and South America, among others. Currently, operational costs, such as those related to energy and transport, remain higher than elsewhere in the world.
Lowering the costs of doing business in Côte d’Ivoire, providing the right incentives and creating a conducive and efficient investment environment will enable us to move away from the export of raw materials and into more value-added sectors, in turn increasing the competitiveness of our industries. Moreover, fostering the development of micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and ensuring the availability of a skilled workforce and competent managers will contribute to enhancing the competitiveness of our economy.
What can be done to support MSMEs’ development?
ACKAH: Strengthening the backbone of local companies has been at the core of our discussions with the government for quite some time. In the years since the crisis, great efforts have been made to create an environment that is conducive to investment. While we consolidate our achievements in this regard, we must also focus on empowering national firms to take a larger role in the development of the economy, as this will ensure more sustainable and inclusive growth.
A crucial element will be gradually moving a larger share of the economy away from the informal sector and towards the formal sector. Several initiatives are under discussion to enact fiscal reforms that are better adapted to the needs of MSMEs. This fiscal policy for development is aimed at acting as a catalyst for smaller enterprises to progressively enter the formal sector, by, for example, lowering or removing taxes for certain companies and simplifying procedures.
Our current taxation policy puts great pressure on the small group operating in the formal sector, and also excludes those unable to withstand the pressure of our tax regime. Easing smaller companies into the formal sector will allow them time to adapt to its requirements and understand the benefits it provides. Five proposals for this have been presented to government and are under assessment. The Office of the Prime Minister has assured us a policy will be fully implemented by 2020.
A second pillar concerns developing a stronger ecosystem of national companies. The government agrees that more emphasis must be put on helping local companies access a larger share of the wealth that is created in the country. Whether it be through incentives to hire locally or a process of reserving projects for local companies, we are working on new ways to empower our nation’s entrepreneurs and businesses.
How can curricula help meet labour market needs?
ACKAH: Indeed, we have seen the skill gap widening between education and the needs of the labour market. In the short term, we have pushed for the development of internal modules within the CGECI to provide technical training to the local workforce for faster adaptation to market needs. We have achieved this through partnerships with foreign institutions specialised in metalworking and electricity, for example. However, quick fixes cannot reach the entire economy and will thus require larger public investments in technical fields.
For the long term, we must look to provide more targeted education that is relevant for future professionals. The CGECI acts as a bridge between employers and educational institutions by weaving partnerships and opening communication channels between them. A commission on training and research was established to create such partnerships and participate in companies’ committees to assess the needs of the private sector.
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