Interview with Mawuena Trebarh, CEO of GIPC (Ghana Investment Promotion Centre)
Let’s start with a general look at the overall situation. How has doing business in Ghana and the level of investment been affected by the ongoing situation in the country? Where do you currently see the greatest need for investment?
Ghana is not unlike many countries globally that have been challenged with some of the economic issues that have confronted the business community all over the world. Obviously we have to deal directly with issues around gold prices and cocoa prices because those are the major commodities that have a significant impact on our economic outlook. Of course there is the additional complexity of having IMF conditions that are meant to create some additional structure and reinforce the business confidence that is vital for us to attract a certain quality of investments.
I do think though that demonstrating to the international business community as well as the domestic business community the reality that we do have governance systems and structures, a legal and regulatory framework that can allow us the flexibility to get back on track economically has been very important. For us as an investment promotion centre, what we have then seen is more focus on the medium to long term opportunities. In truth, a lot of the business community, both domestic and international, continue to look to Ghana as a premium place to begin the process of building a portfolio of investments on the continent because of all of the economic growth we continue to experience, despite some of the global economic challenges that everyone is facing.
A lot of the business community, both domestic and international, continue to look to Ghana as a premium place to begin the process of building a portfolio of investments on the continent because of all of the economic growth we continue to experience.
Could you mention some major sectors?
Sure. Power is number one on the list. Not unlike many African countries that are experiencing a great deal of economic growth, the demand for power has far outstripped the supply. So we are compelled to look again at retooling and reengineering some of the existing power infrastructure but also bringing on stream alternative renewable energy solutions etc. and ensuring that they are there for the sustainable future of our industry, business, the residential requirements etc. We have got very specific targets and the policy and legislation to support investing in power.
Infrastructure will certainly be number two on the list; we need to continue to close those ‘ease of doing business’ gaps so we need investments in our port infrastructure, our roads, our railway systems, our airport facilities etc. I believe anyone who understands how exciting the African continent is, recognises Ghana immediately because we have been able to position ourselves successfully as a hub of access into the rest of West Africa which represents 360 million consumers and so our ability to get our infrastructure requirements right has been very important. Quite recently the Minister of Finance announced that we are going to be investing some of our very early oil revenues in a Ghana infrastructure fund. I think that demonstrates the seriousness with which government is looking at partnerships between the public sector and the private sector to ensure that we respond to the deficits that we have had in infrastructure.
Finally we must look at the agricultural space. Historically, we are one of those countries that has a very long history of producing all kinds of cash crops but the processing and the packaging which is at the other end of the value chain has not seen enough in terms of investment. So what we are finding is a lot of interest from investors who are looking at the entire agriculture value chain. It is production, processing, packaging and distribution. That is certainly something that we will actively be promoting. If you appreciate in economic terms that more than 60% of our population are agrarian farming communities, bringing those small shareholder farming communities into a big agriculture business investment is going to be very important for us in terms of creating the maximum jobs that are required to address some of our unemployment requirements.
I see those as big areas of opportunity for us, of course there are several other sectors that I could speak of also, but these ones tend to be top priority.
Ghana was recognised by the World Bank Doing Business Report 2014 as the best place for doing business in the ECOWAS region. Why should someone invest in Ghana in particular? What ingredients does the country have that make it stand out in the region?
First and foremost, we have been very successful as I said in positioning Ghana as a peaceful, stable, democratic country within which there is a clear legal and regulatory framework to invest in. Historically, from a political perspective, we have transitioned from one political dispensation to another and those are things that are extremely important for the business community when they are thinking about investing. That image and the way we have projected that image has been one of those things that has attracted a lot of interest from the business community.
The experience that we are creating for the business community both domestically and internationally is very important. When they come into the country they know that there is a first point of contact and it is contact that is credible when they are looking at investment opportunities, creating the right framework in terms of the quality and the quantity of information that is available to the business community and in a format that makes sense, ensuring that they are aware of a broad suite of services that we as an investment promotion centre can make available to them so they don’t feel like they are going into this space without really knowing who they need to engage with, what the legal requirements are, what the processes and procedures are, who they need to meet with etc. Those are all things that as an investment promotion agency we offer. It is about creating the right sort of experience for the investor.
Finally it is about the kinds of results that we are able to deliver. Because we are looking at investments that will translate into development, we are being very clear as a country about our focused target areas, which are power, infrastructure and agriculture but also tourism and real estate. We want to make sure that those investments translate into development. What is development? It’s jobs, it’s skills transfer, it’s technology applications that are new to our space, it’s promoting joint venture partnerships so that the excellence in the corporate environment that we have in Ghana is properly showcased to the international business community. All of those things come together to deliver specific results, results that allow us to know as a country that we are creating jobs, our society is improving and progressing and that the business community are also meeting their commercial requirements. The image, the experience and the results are what are defining Ghana as this premium place to start doing business.
You already touched upon the role of the centre, what are other incentives that potential investors can benefit from?
Obviously, the kinds of services we offer are critical for the investor experience. Looking quantitatively at some of the things that we offer; we have a very competitive tax code, it covers quite a lot of different areas in terms of corporate tax, locational incentives and various rebates etc. and customs duties exemptions are generally covered in the existing tax code.
What is also interesting for Ghana is the status of strategic investors; that is a unique group of investors who by law we are allowed to look at and engage with because they are looking for some additional incentives that perhaps may not be covered in the existing tax code. Our law allows us as an investment promotion centre to have them put forward a very detailed application that justifies why they require some additional incentives which could be other customs wavers and duties exemptions because that investment is particularly important for us as a country. We need to be able to justify and determine that what is accruing back to the country if we offer these additional incentives will support our development agenda and also meet the commercial interests of the investors. These are quite a number of different exemptions and incentives but in general terms they are corporate tax exemptions and certain locational incentives so if you decide to invest in one of the non-traditional commercial capitals i.e. not Accra, not Kumasi, not Takoradi, but perhaps some other location within the country that is more rural based, there are certain exemptions that go with that.
It is also the flexibility of our investment legislation, which was recently reviewed as of 2013 to meet the new economic paradigm. I believe these are all things that the business community is seeing and they are quite interested in how we are evolving as a country and certainly as an investment promotion centre to serve their various needs.
Talking about those who have already come and set up here, could you tell us some of the success stories of international businesses setting up here?
Certainly, I like to point to our hospitality industry because tourism is becoming increasingly important to us. If you look at an investment like the Movenpick Ambassador Hotel, it came online at a time when we were really starting to see a lot of human traffic coming through the country. I don’t know if you are aware of this but our international airport was originally built to see about half a million people come through the country; now we are doing in excess of 1.8 million people per annum, and that necessarily means that we have to have hospitality facilities that can accommodate that. Thus we are seeing a lot of increase in investments and the Movenpick would be a good one to look at.
In terms of real estate I would point to Dream Realty’s facility, they have done an excellent job in delivering commercial real estate facilities to match all of the business interests in commercial facilities that the business community can access and use to reach out to the rest of the metropolis. Those are two almost immediate examples I can point to.
Olam group for instance in the agriculture space have also invested and I guess I would quickly add on some of our public-private partnership investments as well, through the public-private partnership unit within the Ministry of Finance. I would say we have one of the best examples of utilising pension funds for purposes of public-private investment having a very clear process by which the international business community and the Ghanaian business community can partner with government to identify specific projects to participate in. For instance our social security national insurance trust has represented the interests of Ghanaians in big PPP projects across different sectors for many years now and it is exciting to see how that model is being applied in other places in the world. We have quite a few good examples that people can look at and develop their own models from to suit their needs.
Coming back to the GIPC, will there be any major events that the centre is to host either in the second half of this year or early next year that you would like to promote?
One of the big ticket items will be our Invest in Ghana Forum where the hub of West Africa is the theme. This is taking place on October 21st. It is really an opportunity for all of the international investors as well as the domestic investors to meet, engage and discuss very specific projects that we have been promoting, and obviously to pursue potential joint venture partnerships. That is very high on our agenda. His Excellency our President will be opening that business forum so we are quite excited about that event. The next day on the 22nd, in the evening, we will be rewarding corporate excellence in Ghana with our Ghana Club 100 Gala awards event. It is an annual event to showcase corporate excellence in Ghana, again His Excellency the President will be there and we are looking forward to a very surprise guest speaker on that day. We are just really thrilled at the level of interest in participating and it represents all of the hard work of the team at GIPC and all the other Ministries, departments and government agencies that have been involved in promoting investments and at the head of all of that is His Excellency our President. We are very excited about that upcoming event; it promises to be an excellent one.
To conclude, what is your vision for the centre and for the country itself?
I have been asked a couple of times what I would aspire to in terms of legacy and I really believe that legacy is built around human beings. You are only as good as the team that stands beside you. I would be profoundly proud to have been part of a process to build a team of investment promotion agency officials who can cut across different sectors with ease and deliver investment projects that really do mean development in the medium to long term and individuals who have the capacity to engage on international platforms and showcase Ghana for what it is: the oasis of political peace and stability and the best place to do business in Africa. For me it is really about the legacy of the team that remains long after perhaps I move on to other things and someone else steps in to this service role. It is really important to build the capacity of the team here to deliver the value proposition to the business community. That would be something I would be very proud of and hopefully all Ghanaians would be proud of the Investment Promotion Centre for that purpose.