This is Part One of a six-part series on Gabon
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The director of Gabon’s Special Economic Zone (SEZ) says the creation of the organization forms part of President Ali Ben Bongo Ondimba’s plan to transform and diversify the economy. In January 2010, Mr. Bongo Ondimba outlawed an age old practice of exporting the country’s raw timber overseas.
Theophile Ogandaga said the ban enables entrepreneurs and companies to add value by processing the logs before export, which he said, will increase the country’s foreign exchange earnings.
Timber exports are the second largest source of income and accounts for about six percent of Gabon’s GDP. Officials say forestry is the main private employer in the country creating over 30,000 jobs.
Ogandaga said the government is in partnership with Olam international to implement and promote the industrialization of Gabon’s wood, which he said will help generate a large number of skilled jobs through an incentive policy.
“The state of Gabon has 40 percent share in this project and the Olam Group, 60 percent share,” said Ogandaga. “This project is the economic strategy of the head of state emerging Gabon initiative which is based on three pillars; Gabon industry, services and Gabon green.”
The government has invested about $300 million for the construction of the SEZ.
“We are supposed to complete the first phase of the project this year. But then the investors will have to develop their plots of land and that will take about three years for them to complete,” said Ogandaga. He estimates the project will be completed by 2016.
The SEZ covers over 1000 hectares of land.
Ogandaga said SEZ continues to attract foreign investors who, he said are interested in processing the country’s timber.
“One of the key things is that the government offered many benefits to investors; one of the benefits is that they will have the exemption of VAT [Value Added Tax] for 25 years, they will also have the exemption of the 35 percent corporate tax for 10 years and for the future five years they will have only 10 percent corporate tax,” continued Ogandaga. “Their electricity cost will be reduced by two and there are other benefits too they will enjoy.”
Ogandaga said the government has demonstrated commitment towards attracting investors by creating business-friendly environment necessary to attract foreign direct investments.
He said the administration has set up a “single window clearance”, a government agency that expedites documents needed by investors to start their operation.
“This is a scheme where any permits, authorization and any operations the investors will like to go into, it will be the one stop shop for them where all these permits will be delivered by the state,” continued Ogandaga.” This is something which will allow investors not to waste too much time in administrative things so that they can focus on their core business.”