Interview: Marie Gabrielle Boka-Varlet
What are the principal challenges faced by companies in getting their goods to clear Customs?
MARIE GABRIELLE BOKA-VARLET: One significant challenge is related to the Customs value of imported merchandise as determined by BIVAC, a subsidiary of Bureau Veritas. Operators do not always understand changes in Customs value and sometimes opt to contend these. There is an arbitrage committee to resolve cases, of which so far in 2013 some 656 have been submitted and, of those, 130 have already been examined, with 96 favourable decisions for the submitting companies.
Another issue is the limited space around the port, with a lack of parking and space for trucks. Average waiting times for Customs clearance is around 10 days, and Customs officials have stepped up engagement with the private sector by holding communications sessions.
How is the government’s policy in combating corruption adapted to private sector needs?
BOKA-VARLET: Targeting racketeering has been one of the top priorities, as roadside checkpoints had exacerbated the post-electoral crisis by paralysing transport and, thus, the circulation of food. The CCI-CI, with the support of its public and private partners, put in place the Activity Professionalisation Programme to help teach companies about their rights and responsibilities, especially when faced with corruption. Further, a USAID-backed investigative system, Borderless, has been launched to record information on roadblocks. Côte d’Ivoire had been poorly ranked in this domain, though the number of roadblocks has been falling.
In what way do late government payments negatively impact on the private sector?
BOKA-VARLET: We have proposed to create an observatory to ensure that payment timeframes do not exceed 90 days and that orders are paid with well-defined priorities. Without a definition of procedures for paying down the government’s internal debt, companies’ cash flow will continue to be adversely affected. Not only does this pressure lead to a jump in prices, but it also helps maintain corruption. The government ought to communicate payment schedules and be more transparent. The Public-Private Cooperation Committee exists, but late payments remain a problem. Nonetheless, the government’s internal debt is being audited.
To what extent will the creation of commercial courts facilitate the resolution of legal disputes?
BOKA-VARLET: The advantage in having commercial courts lies in the quality and speed of handling court cases. However, many legal problems will not be judged by the commercial courts alone. An appeals court, a court of cassation and other affiliated courts are also needed. Conflicts between employees and their employers remain in the jurisdiction of common law and civil courts. In the meantime, the World Bank has shown support for the creation of a court of arbitration.
What steps can be taken to ease access to credit for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)?
BOKA-VARLET: While financing SMEs has been problematic, there is a guarantee fund and other establishments specialised in this area. The authorities have made an effort, with the Central Bank of West African States set to open credit bureaus in the country, and easier access to information should encourage financial institutions to grant more loans to SMEs. However, the banking sector has remained hesitant, given past experience and reimbursement problems, thus requirements in terms of the quality of the applications they receive are more rigorous. There is often insufficient collateral for operators to secure a loan, and banks are already sufficiently rich in their real estate holdings and mortgages that they are not tempted to take risks even on collateralised loans. Ratings agencies could help mitigate this challenge, but use of the stock market needs to be more widespread before ratings can be effective. SMEs also need to bring their balance sheets in line with globally accepted accounting standards.
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