Raimundo Pereira, President of the National People’s Assembly of Guinea-Bissau, talked with African Business when he visited London to promote investment, reform and privatisation.
Pereira, a lawyer who also worked for five years as a journalist, is leader of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). He served as interim president of Guinea-Bissau in March 2009 after the assassination of former president João Bernardo Vieira but handed over to President Malam Bacai Sanhá after elections in September 2009.
African Business: What steps has the government taken to promote a stable business environment in Guinea Bissau?
Raimundo Pereira: When this government took office in 2008, our objective was political stability and sustaining democracy while promoting ourselves internationally and to international institutions, including the World Bank and IMF, to find foreign direct investment. There has been progress: GDP rose 3% in 2009 and we are aiming for over 5% by 2013. These figures are conservative, we can do much better if we increase the exploitation of phosphate and bauxite. We also want to boost the agricultural and tourism sectors.
Our growth has begun. We have the confidence of the international community, the IMF and the World Bank. We have benefitted from a loan from the IMF and from 95% debt write-offs.
Q: How are you building democracy?
A: In 1993, we held one of the first fully-democratic elections in Africa – we were the example. Our democracy is built on the fact that all parties have the right to access all organs of information, television, radio and media.
We have lots of private radio and newspapers. There is no censorship; the press is free and access to news and radio is very free.
The law guarantees access and the regulator, the National Council for Social Communications (CNCS), is empowered to investigates if a political party is denied access.
Q: How will you redefine the role of the military in the future?
A: We have laid the foundations to prevent instability. There is a mutual agreement between the government and the army that the military stays in their place and everybody fulfils their roles. We are working for democratic stability and all parties are working to combat poverty. Our objective is to make the security forces (army and police forces) function in the same model: there is a retirement age and a pension fund. The process has been supported by the EU, ECOWAS and Angola; the government has made its contribution.
Q: In September, Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Júnior asked for help to control the illegal drugs trade. What is the current status?
A: With the government in place, the drug trade has already diminished. Our focus is to consolidate the police resources to control it.
We are training special forces with the help of our partners. We don’t hear people talking about drugs any more. We want international cooperation because criminal activities are an international problem and it is not just Guinea-Bissau and our neighbours who need to tackle it.
Q: What business sectors can investors look at?
A: Business is free. Anyone – foreigner or national – can open a business in Guinea-Bissau. There is free trade and no restriction on which sector you can enter. You can open a business in one day – there is a one-stop investment office.
There are investment possibilities in insurance, petroleum and cashew nuts processing. Currently cashew is the biggest industry and there are lots of opportunities in it.
Guinea Bissau offers opportunities that other countries don’t. You have a lot of choices. For example, in tourism, there are many different types to invest in. These include hunting and exploiting the seaside. We have 88 islands, many uninhabited; you can build resorts for fishing and different activities.
There are also lots of opportunities in agriculture. We are the world’s fifth-largest exporter of cashew nuts but all the nuts are sold raw and unsalted – it would be possible to do the roasting and packaging domestically.
We have 3m hectares of farmland of which only 30% is being used. Fishing is very attractive; we have a biomass estimated at 400,000 tons and we estimate the sustainable catch at 150,000-250,000 tons per year.
Mining companies are here already. These include those exploring for oil and there is substantial opportunity for phosphate exploitation. We are linked to the OMVG (Gambia River Basin Development Organisation) energy project and from 2013, we hope to build another dam to solve energy problems.
Q: Is the environment welcoming to foreign investors?
A: We are succeeding in our reforms, including in the judiciary and we have established a Commercial Tribunal which is working well.
Our population is very hospitable, very open for investment. Our people want to work. We welcome people from everywhere, we want to create jobs and promote welfare. If the people can find jobs, they are happy.”