In this interview, Mr Regis Immongault*, the current Gabonese Minister of Mines, Industry and Tourism discusses the country’s economic future.
Gabon has made significant efforts to strengthen its economy in the last years, could you tell us more about the policies that have been implemented?
The objective that President Ali Bongo Ondimba set when he came to power in 2009 is to transform Gabon into an emerging economy by 2025.
This objective includes three main dimensions. First, making our economy more resilient to adverse economic cycles notably through a lower reliance on oil. Second, ensuring the structural transformation of our productive base through increased domestic processing of raw materials and the production of higher value added and diversified exports. And third, foster the development of the private sector; through the promotion of Small and Medium Entreprises and industries.
For the last three, we worked hard on turning President Ali Bongo’s vision into a comprehensive Strategy and this how we came up with the Emerging Gabon Strategic Plan, the roadmap that guides our economic policy.
Can you tell us more about the Emerging Gabon Strategic Plan?
Three pillars support The Emerging Gabon Strategic Plan.
The ‘Green Gabon’, a strategy for the sustainable development of our economy, focusing on agriculture, forestry and fisheries. The ‘Industrial Gabon’, centred on the transformation in Gabon of our resources in hydrocarbon, mines and forestry, respecting sustainable development and environmental standards, so as to generate value added in our country. The ‘Services Gabon’, centred in particular on the development of tourism where we have a very important undeveloped potential, driving job creation in our economy and relying on an improvement in training and the promotion of a skilled labour force.
The development of these pillars is seen through four main lenses, which are the foundation of our development policies. These lenses are infrastructure, sustainable development, governance and human capital.
It is through these two dimensions, the pillars and the lenses that we define our economic policy and the milestones of the Emerging Gabon Strategic Plan
What is exactly your role in the execution of this Emerging Gabon Strategic Plan?
The mining sector is a key element of the Emerging Gabon Strategic Plan. It is the back-bone of the Industrial Gabon. We expect the size of the mining industry to be multiplied by 3 in comparison to its current size by 2018 and multiplied by 10 by 2025. In particular, Gabon has very large resources in Manganese, Iron ore and rare metals. In each of these, Gabon aims at becoming a major worldwide player.
How do you intend to develop the mining Sector? What are the pre-requisites?
We intend to develop the mining sector through the creation of several mining clusters leveraging on the potential and comparative advantage of the several geographic zones that Gabon has.
Of course, the success of this cluster strategy applicable to other sectors (petrochemicals, ICT, timber…) relies on a further and faster development of special economic zones and of our infrastructure network, including electricity, road corridors, ports, airports, railways, and internet and telecommunication connectivity.
Developing such an infrastructure development strategy requires a lot of funding, how do you intend to finance it?
Several major infrastructure projects have been developed already and we intend to pursue these efforts relying on public but also private financings to maintain public finance sustainability.
Public finance soundness is a very important objective for Gabon. So far most of our economic reforms have focused on making our public finances sounder and resilient to chocks. Since 2002, we have implemented a series of reforms to improve the efficiency of public finance management, align the budget with national priorities and comply with high governance standards. All this aimed at having a more effective administration, more accountable and transparent. Our reform efforts have resulted in consistent fiscal surpluses in our budget, and in one of the lowest government gross debt in Africa.
While Government obviously plays a key role in the development of our infrastructure and takes its share to cover investment costs, reliance on private investments is critical to our strategy: we intend to limit public sector financing at twenty five percent, the balance coming from the private sector either directly (for fourty percent) or through public and private partnerships (for thirty five percent)
In total, we plan to invest seventeen thousand billion CFA (34 US$ billion) in the framework of the industrial Gabon by 2025, 60% of which will be dedicated to infrastructure.
Does the private sector currently have the capacity to accompany you in this strategy?
We are fully aware that this strategy will not succeed without the empowerment and the strong participation of the private sector. And together with the private sector we are working on making this happen.
On the government side, we are working on making the private sector development easier. We are working on improving the business environment and investment climate; including a stronger legal framework; a better institutional support strategy to the development of SMEs; a reduction in bureaucracy and we are working on these reforms.
And I have to say that we are already noticing some positive progress. Most recently, the private sector and the Government in Gabon came to an agreement to promote together the project of Industrial Gabon by strongly committing to 86 key undertakings.
As a conclusion, where do you see Gabon 10 years from now?
Ten years from now, Gabon will be a booming and more diversified economy, able to create value from natural resources, but it will also be the regional hub, for trade, finance and services, for the whole Central African sub-region. President Ali Bongo Ondimba has a strong determination to implement the necessary reforms to reach these objectives and I am personally firmly convinced that we are on the right path.
*Mr Regis Immongault, the current Gabonese Minister of Mines, Industry and Tourism is among the key players of the new Gabonese economic strategy adopted by President Ali Bongo Ondimba since he came to power in 2009 and aiming at turning Gabon into an emerging country.
Mr Immongault has been one of the fierce defendants of economic reforms in Gabon ever since his early days at the Ministry of Finance. As a special financial advisor to Minister Toungui, he led the key macroeconomic reforms that enabled the country to strengthen its public finances and enhance the resilience of the economy. Later on, as a Minister of Energy between 2009 and 2011, he contributed to the launch of key infrastructures in water, sanitation and electricity, which were crucial for the promotion of an inclusive growth strategy. For the last three years, as a Minister of Mines, Industry and Tourism, he has been the key contributor to the ambitious Gabonese industrial policy.
Minister Regis Immongault was keynote speaker of this year’s edition of the African Development Conference at Harvard University held in Cambridge (MA) on the last weekend of March. The conference was an opportunity for Minister Immongault to share some thoughts on the future of the Gabonese economy with Africa Business Magazine.