Interview: Jacqueline Bignoumba
What is contributing to the current skills shortage?
JACQUELINE BIGNOUMBA: Nowadays, 90% of oil industry jobs are done by locals. The Gabonisation process implies inserting as many locals as possible into management positions through targeted knowledge-transfer training or programmes. However, the real problem in Gabon is the shortage of population, which affects all industries. Furthermore, this shortage is exacerbated due to the lack of technical and scientific background among the students. In this sense, places that require mathematical and scientific backgrounds only have 15% of their positions filled with employees with these skills, while the remaining 85% have specialised in literary or economic education.
As the oil sector needs a high level of specialisation, it only accounts for approximately 50,000 jobs across the country, taking into consideration direct employment, oil service industries or subcontracted jobs.
All industries in the country will need to make a major effort to recruit and train the new Gabonese generations, so that they can take responsibility for key roles over the coming 10-15 years.
How are limitations in the transport sector affecting the oil industry?
BIGNOUMBA: The difficulties are mainly related to port infrastructure. Nevertheless, as we are now in an exploration period of time, the predominant obstacles are at a logistical level. More vessels and offshore trailers are needed to ensure the exchange of services between the exploration sites and ports such as Port Gentil or Mayumba, both offshore ground bases.
In terms of Customs clearance, UPEGA is currently working with the general management in order to both simplify and accelerate the clearance of oil equipment such as drills. This is an imperative requirement, as the port infrastructure currently faces a shortage of space, and the longer the equipment remains blocked, the more expensive costs will be for the companies, resulting in a less attractive business climate.
What can be done to improve the attractiveness of Gabon’s investment environment?
BIGNOUMBA: The first thing to improving the attractiveness of Gabon’s investment environment is legislative and fiscal stability; there has to be complete confidence between investors and government. Thus, if the government says that international oil companies will pay a certain percentage of taxes during the next 15 years, this percentage should not vary. The Code of Hydrocarbons will be an indispensable instrument to achieve this level of confidence. In this regard, the code is simple, transparent and not very restrictive, thereby increasing our attractiveness. The constraints have to be in the contracts among companies and not in the regulatory framework. Being currently in an exploratory stage, this is an essential approach as the oil sector companies are exposed to high risks.
The international business climate also plays a determinant role in the Gabonese context. If the global trend is for exploration, then the demand for exploration vessels, equipment or human resources will automatically increase, making the overall costs considerably higher. It has to be noted that prices between the different life stages in the oil sector can lead to variations of 25% to 40% in the final price.
How are current trends affecting the sector’s role in the overall economy?
BIGNOUMBA: Oil companies are currently focused on finding energy resources in the seabed. They are spending large amounts of money with the goal of making oil discoveries and boosting production. Despite these efforts, however, production growth remains steady. Although the main hopes lie in the deep offshore, conventional fields remain productive.
Furthermore, regarding the initiatives to diversify the Gabonese economy, the government is making efforts in the mining sector but, until the turning point is reached and the first positive results are achieved, oil will remain the cornerstone of the economy.
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