Interview: President Ali Bongo Ondimba
What are the priority measures to be implemented under Gabon’s Social Pact?
PRESIDENT ALI BONGO ONDIMBA: Gabon has the highest per capita health care spending of any country in Africa. We have seen significant progress in the health sector, with universal health coverage reaching out to more than half of the population and improvements in antenatal care. Huge efforts have also been made to create a performing health care system that should lead to a rapid improvement in the population’s health, with special focus on the most disadvantaged. For example, over the past few years we have built high-quality, modern health centres that are now considered jewels in the sub-region.
The Social Pact and the Human Investment Strategy remain priorities, even in periods of budget constraints. We are committed to social engagement. To guarantee solidarity-based transfers and economic safety nets, our revenue-generating projects and minimum welfare support programmes require total funds estimated at CFA171bn (€257m) in 2015.
Our most immediate future is the African Cup of Nations (Coupe d’Afrique des Nations, CAN) 2017. Similarly to 2012, CAN 2017 is a wonderful economic opportunity, as for us CAN is not only about football. CAN is first a development project, as the construction of sport, road, health care and digital infrastructure will create a large number of jobs and promote self-employment. CAN 2017 is a chance for us to diversify the economy and boost the services and construction sectors. I thank the African Football Confederation for awarding this to Gabon and providing the youth with a great opportunity.
The diversification of Gabon’s economy is under way. Solid foundations have allowed us to intensify economic growth since 2009, and our country has solid economic indicators and prospects. Our growth rate will reach 4.5-5% in 2015, in the top half for Africa. Non-hydrocarbons GDP growth is set to grow by 7.6% in 2015, up 0.4 percentage points from 2014. Extractive industries’ contribution to GDP fell from 41.8% in 2009 to 36.2% in 2013. Simultaneously, the processing sector gained 3 percentage points, from 16.4% to 19.4%. The wood industry, accounting for 17.5% of GDP, has seen double-digit growth over the past three years. The dynamism of our economy is appreciated by our financial institution partners.
To switch from a revenue-oriented culture to a production-oriented one, we must implement the National Pact of Adjustment for Competitiveness, which aims to modernise the business environment. The pact includes simplification of procedures, fiscal rationalisation, labour law and vocational training reforms, plans for a public-private investment facilitation centre, and the development of quality standards in the public and private sectors.
Since June 2014 oil prices have dropped by 50%, prompting the government to adopt a corrective Finance Law and resulting in the readjustment of our investment budget. Despite those difficulties the government is carrying on with the necessary structural reforms of our economy. It is also pursuing a policy of supporting underprivileged populations in the face of the current economic turmoil.
How will the Human Investment Strategy help to boost employment in the country?
BONGO ONDIMBA: Regarding schools, huge efforts have been made to make 400 classrooms available across Gabon. We have also raised the number of scholarships in the higher education system from 10,000 in 2009 to 30,000 today, which corresponds to CFA65bn (€98m) of budget spending. Universal health insurance has been extended to all students.
To foster the employability of young people, we have introduced important reforms regarding vocational training: nearly 400 youngsters benefit today from apprenticeships with partner companies.
We have also reformed the functioning and missions of the Fund for Vocational Integration and Reintegration, which has been allocated CFA10bn (€15m) within the state budget. The National Office for Employment now covers the whole territory.
In our top-priority education and health sectors, 10,000 jobs have been created since 2009. We have also put in place accompanying schemes such as Train My Generation. To foster employment among youngsters and women in rural areas, we have launched the GRAINE programme, which aims to engage citizens in agricultural outcomes and should result in the creation of 20,000 jobs. Young people want to play their part and they are already showing their entrepreneurship, boldness and capacity to take measured risks. We launched the initiative to create the Great Prize of Excellence to encourage and promote the best Gabonese entrepreneurs.
No sector or opportunity is to be neglected as the transformation of mentalities, value chains and industries is our national priority. A new generation of economic players, open to a borderless world, must conquer new markets and foster more robust, inclusive growth. I underlined the role young entrepreneurs have to take in the employment strategy. All responded to my call for a change of mentality and are now ready to set up their businesses. They know that we must be able to anticipate, adapt, change, and show pragmatism and innovation to survive.
From primary school to higher education, whether from those at home, working for a public administration or a company, the stress has also to be put on bringing education closer to the corporate world. We have to make sure that every individual has the capacity to adapt to innovation or to innovate. Human resources remain the key factor in this. Gabon is aware of those challenges and is determined to control its own destiny. This is the true meaning of the social project I proposed to my fellow citizens.
Will the Result-Oriented Budget Programme lead to better public management?
BONGO ONDIMBA: This policy encourages the state to adopt a result-oriented culture to make spending more efficient. The framework seeks performance and puts the capacity to reach previously defined objectives at the centre of public management. It structures the budget by public policies, puts the stress on the performance of these policies and imposes a new method of justification of credits.
What specific measures have been implemented to better secure Gabon’s maritime areas?
BONGO ONDIMBA: The day after the World Congress of Parks in Sydney, I announced that the UAE had offered an exceptional contribution to our system for the protection of national sovereignty in maritime spaces: 10 boats and a specialised aircraft, equipped with infrared long-range radars, were awarded to reinforce our sea surveillance system.
This important donation of patrolling vessels will enable our marine authorities, coastguards and guards from National Parks to better navigate and protect our coastal national parks and our new network of marine parks. This is an essential contribution to our efforts to stop the pirate fishing vessels that plunder our marine resources, and to combatting illegal immigration and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. We are very grateful to the government and people of the UAE for their support. The aircraft will facilitate the surveillance towards the limits of Gabon’s exclusive economic zones, where a lot of tuna-fishing vessels threaten our oil tankers.
It is worth recalling that 23% of Gabon’s exclusive economic zones will be soon turned into marine parks, on top of Gabon’s 21% of land-based ecosystems already included in the network of protected areas that comprises 13 national parks, nine Ramsar sites, and a series of hunting and fauna reserves.
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