News from Project Countries……

June-August 2008


Public Contracts, the Need for Transparency

Long live the Republic.

During the Council of Ministers meeting on 3rd July the Government invited the Minister of Economics and finance to declare the termination of around one hundred contracts, the suspension of eight companies for a period of 2 years and reconciliation with certain contractors whose failings were beyond their control. It is without a doubt a historic decision but there are a million and one reasons to be sceptical. Doubts persist.

Citizens of Burkina Faso are still wondering what the motives are behind this decision. Is it just a smokescreen? Many are beginning to think so. There are already murmurings of some companies whom shall here remain nameless but if the list had been made public many people would surely have a clear conscience. This is not to say people are not pleasantly surprised by the decision, but they are bound to question it and many are sceptical. It is indeed true that the suspension of these contracts and businesses is in line with recent trends. “Transparency” is the word on every policy maker’s lips – we are all witness to the fight against corruption. The new Government Supervisory Authority (l’Autorité Supérieure de Contrôle d’Etat (ASCE)) replaces the Coordinating Authority for the Fight against Corruption (HACLCC), the General Inspectorate of state and certain functions of the anti-fraud apparatus.

Additionally, on the 1st July the Prime Minister established the Authority for Public Market Regulation (Autorité de Régulation des Marchés Publics (ARMP)). The ARMP will ensure freedom of access to procurement contracts, equal treatment of candidates, transparent procedures and an efficient acquisition process. The Prime Minister made quite clear that “Henceforth all offenders will be punished, whether they be businesses or civil servants. The ARMP will make public the names of any failing businesses”. Already however there are question marks over the nomination of some members who are facing accusations of embezzlement. Furthermore, whilst granting the ARMP the power to disclose the names of these companies and bring the individuals responsible to justice is indeed an important achievement, it tackles only half of the problem. Pressure must also be brought to bear on those who demand bribes from these entrepreneurs. That is a list which should also be made public.

Transparency all the way

It was long over due. Suspending contracts and companies is a historic decision – a ray of light against a dim backdrop of ever increasing corruption. Burkina Faso’s citizens have been waited for it for a long time. On only the 15th of July, images of the half-finished police head quarters were shown on the national television network. The building was scheduled for completion 16 months ago. Alas the police are still waiting. It is all too easy to blame funding problems. However the country’s track record on market management is well known. Everyone wants their slice of cake, and they want it now. Initial predictions are distorted. The completion date has to be extended. The Ivory Coast crisis was blamed for the sports stadium. Delivery estimates and handover dates were again extended. The finger was pointed at inflation. The Ministry for Culture, Tourism and communication has been waiting years for the regional headquarters of the rural radio in Ouahigouya. Then there is the guttering problem, and the unfinished road surfaces in parts of Ouagadougou recently christened “roads of the expensive life” as opposed to the Prime Minister’s preferred “charity roads”.

Transparency? They would have had to send the list of all the lame ducks to the press. Why are we rushing to reconcile with contractors whose failures ‘were beyond their control’? This is a question which needs answering. When failure is the result of external factors is the business no longer failing? It’s time to call a spade a spade. If a business is failing, the words speak for themselves. There is no need for reconciliation. The same sanctions should be applied to everyone, in this case a two-year suspension. It is without a doubt the only way to get the big names back in play. There’s no use if they can’t be trusted to finish the job. People have enough of selective transparency and of two-tier justice. It has been said that Burkina Faso is a country of the Sahel where nobody can hide. The people know which businesses not finish jobs; it will be difficult to cheat him. They will soon be named.

(L’Indépendant n° 776, 22.07.08)

What do Telmob take us for?

Competition is fierce between the different mobile telephone companies operating in Burkina Faso at the moment. The main players are bringing out treasures of imaginative marketing to entice the man on the street. The question is who has the best offers? Who offers the best incentives? Who sponsors the best events? The battle is so unrestrained that we poor consumers are caught in the crossfire and some will have us believe anything. Many Telmob customers may not yet have deleted this generous text sent out a few days ago: “Talk for free from Midnight Sunday to 7am Monday after the third minute for calls to Telmob and landline numbers”.

Our first instincts are to jump for joy on receipt of this message. At last a company that thinks about its customers from time to time! Generously offering a time to talk for free! For free! These are the only words of the message we recall. With relief we allow ourselves to think that, at last aware of the exorbitant cost per minute for a call, Telmob is offering concessions to its customers to make up for it. Rubbing our hands with satisfaction we imagine the moment when we will legally perpetrate the sweet act of having long, very long conversations for free without that insidious fear in the back of our minds that the call will cut off half way through due to lack of credit. Ah! Sweet revenge at last for all the profits these guys make off our backs!

But suddenly all our enthusiasm evaporates. The offer, this most generous offer, is only available on Sunday from midnight until 7am on Monday. From 12 O’clock at night until 7 in the morning! It would seem that Telmob have a different concept of time from everyone else. Sunday from Midnight until 7am! Exactly the time when there’s not a soul awake, when the sandman has been to send us to sleep, when Morpheus, Greek god of dreams is at his post, and when 99% of Telmob’s clientele is fast asleep! Is it an accident that Telmob should ignore what are, sociologically speaking, the basic habits of Burkinabès, and in fact of the entire human race?

Busy as they might be counting their profits, surely the company ought to all the same be aware that on Sunday the average Burkinabè (from whom Telmob without a doubt draws the majority of its clientele) goes to bed early because Monday is a day of work! It’s quite simple: From Monday to Friday (sometimes until Saturday lunchtime) burkinabès work relentlessly, From this moment they then enjoy their weekend until Sunday evening when they retire early in order to be on top form on Monday morning. Therefore at the precise moment when Telmob’s generosity manifests itself Ouagadougou sleeps, Bobo-Dioulasso sleeps, Koudougou sleeps. In summary, Burkinabès to whom Telmob offers such sudden kindness are not up at these hours and therefore cannot profit from them to the maximum.

Suddenly we begin to realise that we have been taken for fools. But it doesn’t end there. The trickery continues: “…after the third minute for calls to Telmob and landline numbers”. In fact the cost of the first three minutes of the call will be debited (tax inclusive) and it is only at the end of the third minute that Telmob begins the application of its generosity. What do they take us for? Imbeciles clearly. What exactly is there that is free as stated in the text? Brave Burkinabès, One Sunday night at around 3am call one of your acquaintances and wake him up. Explain to this gentleman that you have woken him up in order to chat for more than three minutes and wait and see what happens. Believe me, you will have made an enemy for life, and for free, courtesy of Telmob.

These sorts of advertising messages – circulated by mobile phone operators by every means possible – are evidence of the way consumers are regarded. We are treated like disembodied targets that must be aimed at and hit with the first shot. The right to respect exists and consumers are not exempt. The Burkinabè Consumer’s league, increasingly popular these days, should take up the surveillance of the quality of such advertisements. Equally ARTEL should expand its activities to include ensuring a better quality of services for consumers.

Editor’s note

According to latest sources, having realised that their offer was untimely for their customers, Telmob has modified the system. Telmob is now offering sms at 15 F CFA instead of 25 F CFA from 10pm to 7am Monday to Saturday and all day Sunday. Equally they offer a service whereby one can pay 500 F CFA and register one number to call all weekend.

(Sanfinna, n° 473, 23.07.08 – 04.08.08)

Respect your Sources of Information

The boom in private radio stations in Burkina Faso is evidence of ease of entry to the market, of freedom of speech and above all of free competition. The vast majority of stations have dedicated news slots however those running such stations do not routinely respect certain basic principles of journalism such as acknowledging their sources of information. The presenters of news bulletins for these such are happy to read articles from the written press word for word without citing the sources of information. For example, early last week, a presenter for a commercial radio station based In the capital announced the transfer of the burkinabè striker Moumouni Dagano of Sochaux, a French premier league team, to a Qatari club: the Al-Khor Sports Club. This presenter repeated a newspaper article word for word without acknowledging his source. On another commercial radio station the presenter of the midday news reported events in the town of Bobo-Dioulasso announcing the death of two individuals as a result of rainfall in the area and also on the embezzlement of millions of francs in the districts of this same town. The presenter repeated word for word the same information which appeared in the columns of Le Pays on Monday 14th July without citing his source.

It boils down to a question of honesty as the presenter is effectively tricking his or her listeners. He allows them think he has gathered the information, all the time happy in the knowledge that he has plagiarised it from a newspaper. It is true that the media is the first source of information for any journalist but one must be careful to acknowledge one’s sources. It is not fair for a journalist or a newspaper to work tirelessly collecting information for a colleague to then use it for his own personal profit. The professionalism of the industry depends on respect for sources of information.

(L’Indépendant n° 776, 22.07.08)


PURA launches Consumer 148-Helpline

The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) on Thursday launched its Consumer Affairs Help Desk Service tagged 148.

This new service is designed to put into place an impartial and effective consumer complaints resolution mechanism, related to communications, electricity, water and sewerage services as mandated by the PURA Act 2001.

Speaking at the occasion, Alhagie B. Gaye, Director General of PURA, said that the PURA Act 2001 established PURA to regulate the Telecommunications, Electricity, Water and Sewerage, Broadcasting and Transport sectors. He added that, it was then through the Regulatory Framework Study for The Gambia that, PURA would practically regulate these sectors with the exception of Transportation and Broadcasting.

“Hence one of the objectives is to protect the interest of consumers and the public utilities. Since 2004, PURA has devoted a significant amount of time and resources to develop its capacity in terms of human capital and ensures that the fundamentals are in place for an effective regulatory institution. PURA is also challenged to ensure universality of services, which requires that utility services are accessed by all Gambians irrespective of their geographical location” he said.

Mr Gaye then made it clear to the public that, their customer care platforms are ready and developed to effectively and efficiently handle complaints from customers.” But one golden rule or principle that underlines PURA’s complaints resolution mechanism is that, the Helpdesk is not a first port of call for complaints.

This means that all complaints must first be lodged with the regulated service provider, but when the specific time has elapsed, the complainant can use 148 services,” Alagi Gaye emphasized. He stated that consumers of electricity, water and sewerage services who are dissatisfied with services rendered to them by any operator or service provider, have the right to seek remedy of the situation by lodging a complaint to the Pubic Regulatory Authority.

Abdoulie Touray, chairperson of PURA Board of Commissioners stated that, a very important part of PURA’s work is to ensure that the Gambian consumers get value for money. “Since to examine rates and fees chargeable for the provision of regulated public services is among PURA objectives, the institution’s focus on utility regulation in The Gambia has ever been on Telecommunications, Electricity, Water and Sewerage” he said.

Mr Touray added that, “PURA has been challenged over the last three years, especially to provide rates and fees for the provision of regulated services, initiate and conduct investigations into standards of services provided by public utilities, promote fair competition amongst Utilities and also to recommend and administer a licensing system for Public Utilities. PURA has steadily transited from infancy to adulthood with notable achievements along the way”. He used the occasion to highlight some of the achievements of PURA.

In his launching statement, Malick Njie, secretary of state for Health and Social Welfare on behalf of President Jammeh said, “the ‘Helpdesk’ has been set up to ensure that where consumers have failed to have their complaints resolved by a service provider or a regulated Utility, then PURA can intervene as part of its regulatory functions and oversight of Public Utilities as provided for by Section 13 (1) (c) of the PURA Act 2001.”

He added that all service providers are expected to guide their consumers to lodge complaints with them before they resort to lodging a complaint with PURA, as this will ensure that every service provider focuses on ensuring and guaranteeing customer satisfaction directly with their clients. He explained that PURA, through their in house Customer Query Logging Database (CQLD), would log all complaints and documents and take action to resolve the complaints they receive. Gabriel Latjor Ndow, director of policy, strategy and consumer affairs explained the importance of the CQLD and Help Desk during a visit into PURA offices shortly after the ceremony.

Moses Campbell and Momodou Lamin Sompo Ceesay, electrical engineer and senior electrical engineer in PURA respectively, gave detailed explanation and demonstration on the use of energy saving bulbs while Alex Dacosta chaired the ceremony.

(Yunus Saliu & Sheriff Barry, Daily Observer, 14.07.08)

Mobile Telecommunication- A Case of Competing Business

The consistent growth of The Gambia’s mobile telecommunications industry within the past three years brought with it intense competition, requiring mobile GSM companies in the country to devise workable strategies backed by customer-focused policies that translate into flexible innovative products and services to ensure the attainment of customer loyalty.

There is no doubt that investing in a developing country should be seen as a way of investing in local people and the development of their expertise but in a situation where industries are devoid of competition, consumers would not enjoy any good products and services from the various providers. So in a situation where one business predominates, the consumers will always suffer at the hand of that sole business concern.

To be precise, our discussion concerns the perceived competition between Africell, Gamcel and Comium. Whilst Gamcel is a company partly owned by the state, Africell and Comium are privately owned companies. All three companies seek to provide cellular phone services to the people of The Gambia.

In what has been viewed as an aggressive marketing strategy, Africell provided good services to their customers in various forms a few among which are the giving out of brand new cars, a dream house and the much talked about D10m promotion currently going on.

Gamcel apparently responded by embarking on their own campaigns, latest among which is the giving out of Hajj tickets, brand new cars and scholarship packages to students.

It is against this backdrop that the new comers, Comium, emerged to take up the challenge. The Company has also embarked on its own campaign strategy by giving out D1m, weekly cash prices and brand new cars.

Actually, these strategies have elicited animated and enthusiastic responses from the companies’ clientele. We therefore acclaim all the three companies and urge them to keep up both the spirit and momentum as the success of any business could be linked to the products and services it renders to its customers.

(The point for freedom and democracy, 16.06.08)

Much Needed Relief for Commuters?

Commuters and schoolchildren will have been delighted to read about the inauguration of the new bus company Unique Transport Company (UTSCO). Transport has long been a serious problem for many people travelling to and from work and school with dreadful stories of crushes at garages and minor injuries. According to information gathered, school children can pay as low as D185 as their monthly fares. Other commuters will pay less than the normal taxi charge. This kind of competition in the market will be music to the ears of commuters who have also long complained about the cost of transport. When commuters and schoolchildren board these new buses they must ensure that they endeavour to keep them clean and tidy to ensure the longevity of the fleet. On this issue the government must address the issue of poor road surfaces. Many drivers have suffered damage to their vehicles because of bad roads and a poor surface adversely affects the vehicle and the amount of time that it can serve its owner or the public.

During his address President Jammeh commented on the price hike of transport fares in the country. He made it clear that he would not tolerate anybody who takes Gambians for granted. He also used the opportunity to warn the business community to be reasonable in the prices of basic commodities or otherwise he would very soon intervene in that sector in the interests of the Gambian people. What this intervention would be he did not specify but it is good to know that the government is aware of the extreme pressure that many people are under at the moment because of the spiralling costs of basic commodities.

We sincerely hope that the new company is a success and that the commuters and schoolchildren of The Gambia benefit from the service. It will at least be one less worry for people as they struggle to make ends meet. If this business is viable for a private company to run then it must beg the question as to why it would not be the same for The Gambia Public Transport Corporation?

“To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.”

Robert Louis Stevenson.

(The point for freedom and democracy, 24.7.08)


Government to increase market access for SMEs – MOTI

Trade and Industry Minister Papa Owusu-Ankomah says the Ministry would soon commence a programme to increase access to various markets where there are Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to enable that sector to fit into the broader goals of national development.

He said government considered SMEs, which constituted about 80 per cent of registered businesses in the country, as a major player in the development agenda of the country, and as such would promote the sector to generate income for development and eradicate poverty in Ghana.

Mr. Owusu-Ankomah was addressing executives of the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA), who called on him to introduce a project commenced by the Association to equip journalists with the requisite skills and knowledge to support private sector business in undertaking actions to improve the sector.

The project, Using Media to Strengthen Business Advocacy in Ghana, funded by the Business Sector Advocacy Challenge Fund (BUSAC), and managed by KAB Governance Consult, would enable journalists to learn about the business sector and improve their knowledge of public policy process at the national and district levels. It is expected that the project would improve the coverage of business financing and advocacy by the media.

Mr Owusu-Ankomah said government was interested in promoting Ghana’s domestic market in the face of soaring commodity prices worldwide, to enable Ghanaians to patronize domestic commodities to grow the SME sector. He commended the project undertaken by the GJA to improve private business in Ghana through advocacy, saying that, it fitted into the Ministry’s policies.

Mr Ransford Tetteh, President of the GJA, told the Minister that journalists needed to identify with particular areas of the economy that needed greater policy support.

He said the GJA was using the platform not only to draw attention to small-scale businesses but also to develop the capacity of journalists to serve the interest of the country.

Mr Kwasi Afriyie-Badu, Chief Executive Officer of the KAB Consult, called on government to give greater support to the National Board for Small Scale Industries to make it relevant to the growth of SMEs.

(GNA, 25.7.08)

‘Donkomi’ of Ghana Telecom – Sell One Sell All

The recent hullabaloo surrounding the sale of Ghana Telecom (GT) for me reveals the deep psychological state of Ghana as a nation: Disillusioned. We are a bunch of people who, rightfully so, show so much pride in our country, sometimes, so much to the detriment of the collective good of the nation.

Ghana Telecom an asset? Just as the so-called Ghana International Airways is? My point is, sell Ghana Telecom – sell all the non-critical state owned companies because it is right to do so at this time and dispensation when telecommunication is the most lucrative industry in the developing world.

In fact, the richest man on earth today, Carlos Slim, owes his wealth to his telecommunication investments all across Latin America. So it is not surprising for Vodafone and other telecom giants whose markets in Europe and North America have peaked to show interest in GT.

My main premise is government has a role in business, but only as a facilitator and not a player. It is required of government to do business to the extent that it is unprofitable for the private sector to do so. Once the private sector comes in, the role of government should be limited to governance of the industry.

For instance, before Mobitel, Spacefon and the rest set up shops in Ghana, GT was the only available telecommunication medium in Ghana and therefore, government could not have sold it since that would have left us at the mercy of a monopoly. The $900 million question is why is it in the interest of Ghana to sell GT today?

The simple answer to the above question is we have nothing to lose but $900 million and more competition in the telecommunication industry to gain. We don’t have to look far to appreciate how competition in the telecom industry has benefited Ghanaians.

By the early 2000s, one needed at least GH¢100 plus some connection at GT in order to get a One Touch chip; and at least GH¢30 plus some luck for a Spacefon chip. However, as at 2007, all one needed was about GH¢1.00 with nothing else in order to get a chip of his or her choice.

The difference between the early 2000s and 2007 is the level of competition in Ghana’s telecom industry. So selling GT would only increase the competition in the industry because, the only way Vodafone or whoever the buyer is can succeed in Ghana is to provide good services at cheaper prices to consumers.

At the end of the day, all consumers care about is how good and cheap the service is and not who is providing it. I know that for sure because over the past two decades whenever the Black Stars had won games, we never paused in our celebrations to ask of the nationality of the coach. We just enjoyed the win.

I have a hard time understanding why opponents of this sale and all other sale of state-owned corporations say nothing about the inefficiencies and total waste at these under-performing companies until government decides to sell them. Then suddenly, these white elephants become high-rated national assets – precious eggs that need protection when their sales become eminent.

Why should we continue to pump money into them when we know for sure that we are not getting our monies’ worth? Our past and most recent history proves that our government, be it CPP, PNDC, NDC or NPP is not good at managing corporations. Ghana Airways for instance was a mess in the hands of the NDC and it isn’t doing any better in the hands of the NPP. What came off the Presidential Initiatives President Kufuor started? Isn’t it ironical that we complain about the large size of our government, and yet expect it to oversee the day-to-day operations of big corporations? Should our government be that petty?

This equation is simple enough: sell GT for its fair value, and invest the money in the people of Ghana. Ghanaians don’t lose out on this because we will still have telecommunication services either from GT or from one of its four competitors. At the end of the year, for assuming no risk at all, government comes into play only to take the people’s share of profits as taxes, just as it does with MTN, Tigo, Kasapa and the rest. Those who cry over foreign investors repatriating profits forget that, investment comes before profit, and though they can repatriate their profits, their investments in our people and infrastructure will continue to live on.

Though the British left with all their gains after independence, they could not take along, Korle bu, Takoradi Harbour, the southern rail network and the human resources that managed them. So far as the business climate in Ghana remains lucrative, investors – be they indigenous or foreign – will continue to reinvest their profits in the economy. The most important thing is for us to patch up the lax in our government, which allow untaxed profits to leave the country.

Though the debate surrounding the sale of GT is a healthy one, and one that reflects the level of openness in our democracy, it saddens me that opponents of the sale are distracting us from the real issues surrounding the sale of GT. At this level of our development the debate shouldn’t be about whether to sell GT or not, but rather, whether the process is open and competitive enough for us to attract more potential investors – be they local or foreign. Also, does the contract have provisions to ensure that Vodafone does not monopolize the National Fibre Backbone included in the sale?

In short, is everything being done to ensure that GT is sold at its fair market value? How are we ensuring that the NPP doesn’t give out these ‘assets’ on a silver platter just as the NDC did during the massive divestiture of state corporations in the 90s? Do we have to wait till another episode of Fast Track High Court to find out? The more time and energy we expend on these pertinent questions, the better value we will get from this sale and all the other sales to come.

Those who oppose the sale of GT just for the sake of having a national telecommunication carrier lack an appreciation of the global world we live in today. In the 21st Century money and for that matter investment has no specific shape or form, and therefore has no boundary. With just the click of a button an investor in Tokyo can send money to my grandmother’s village in the form of investment for micro finance. Closing our doors to the global world in the name of keeping national assets limits our access to the global investment pie.

Some people carry a false belief that Africa and for that matter Ghana has all it takes to be self-sufficient. They misconstrue availability of natural resources to wealth. What they refuse to acknowledge is gold is not mined until it’s discovered, and even after discovery it is not mined as jewellery; oil is not discovered until it’s explored, and even after that it’s not drilled as petrol; Cocoa is not harvested until it’s planted, and even after that it’s not harvested as chocolate. The point being, it takes investment to turn natural resources into something of value, and investment is what Ghana is lacking at the moment.

One way to attract investment is exactly what we are doing by selling off GT to investors. The United States is what it is today because Britain financed its development centuries ago; Asia is the giant it is today because America bankrolled its economy in the 90s. So what makes we think that Africa can rise up all by herself in this more interdependent global village?

I never appreciated the value of foreign investment until I visited the Bahamas a couple of weeks ago. I must admit I have never seen black people so proud of their country until my visit. However, almost all the investments in the biggest industry in the Bahamas, tourism, are foreign-owned. In some cases, whole islands are sold out to investors to put up tourist attractions. One of such islands, Paradise Island, sold out to a South African billionaire employs 9,000 of the 310,000 people of the Bahamas. Non of the biggest mansions I was shown was owned by a Bahamian, yet they took pride in the fact that those rich and famous spent their money on their land, and for that matter on them; they took pride in the fact that their Dollar has been at par – value wise – with the US dollar for decades; they took pride in the fact that developing countries like Ghana could only envy their $15,000 GNI (Gross National Income) and their 71 years life expectancy. At no point in time did I hear anyone complain about the lack of Bahamian government ownership of tourist investments, because they were living testimonies of the value of foreign investments.

It’s about time we realized that for Ghana to progress any further than it has so far, government would have to narrow its focus on the most pertinent issues facing the country at the moment: human resource development and not state-based employment, private sector empowerment and not state-run corporations, provision of good healthcare, potable water supply, adequate energy supply, etc. It’s about time government weaned itself off the day-to-day operations of petty businesses and focus on the larger picture of governance. Government’s role is to ensure competition in all industries so consumers would get value for their money. Government’s role is to protect the interest of its citizens by enforcing labour laws and environmental regulations.

The long and short of it is GT is not being sold because no Ghanaian mind can manage it as some claim, but rather, government lacks the needed investment to keep it going. The truth is no matter who buys GT Ghanaians will comprise over 99% of its workforce. How can GT compete effectively in the telecom industry when its competitors don’t have to fight for government’s budgetary allocation like GT does?

GT is what it is today because it has been stifled of needed investments much to the detriment of its very own survival. Though it may sound paradoxical, the only way to save GT and all the ailing state owned corporations is to let them go. Pride is of no value when our people live in poverty and yet are buried in untapped riches. Allowing our national pride to overcome reason will simply keep the status quo – one, which puts pride ahead of needed investment.

(Eric Boafo, myjoyonline, 30.07.08)

You Have to Speak Up When Competition Destroys You

Business has been slow for many Ghanaian traders. They blame the situation on not only the influx of cheap Chinese products but also insufficient legal protection and corruption.

The concern about the Chinese expansion in business circles was illustrated with the convening of a roundtable discussion in November last year which looked at ways to protect small industries against the intrusion of Chinese products.

But views on the issue are varied. Some see it as an opportunity while others think it is destructive to the economy.

IPS visited the central business district of the capital Accra to hear from local traders what they are talking about when they say Chinese goods are killing their businesses.

Philip Asobonteng (45) has operated a shop in Accra for more than 20 years. He told IPS, “we have no problem with competition but, if it is coming to destroy you, there is a need to speak up”.

Last year traders closed their shops to protest against what they regard as unfair competition. However, this elicited no response from the government. After all, the Chinese traders are not breaking any law.

The country’s investment code stipulates that any foreigner investing a minimum of 300,000 dollars can open a retail business. In addition to that, the business should employ 10 Ghanaians.

Any foreigner who meets these requirements can legally start her or his own business. But, Asobonteng says, “they are using the laws to create hurdles for us and we want the government to take a stand”.

The Ghana Union of Traders (GUTA) sent a proposal to parliament in November last year urging members of parliament to review the investment code. They claimed that the code had not been reviewed since being enacted 13 years ago.

According to GUTA, the minimum investment amount should be raised to one million dollars and the number of Ghanaians to be employed increased to 25. In addition, the commodity categories should also be reviewed. GUTA executive member Joseph Addy claimed that foreigners, including Chinese, were abusing the law.

The Association of Ghana Industries (AGI) has insisted that a partnership with China should be a win-win situation: “We need a measured approach to protect our interests in the trade relationship with China and other developed countries.” This concurs with the majority of traders’ views sampled by IPS.

William Afflu, a seller of household products, told IPS, “These Chinese are using tricks to get around the law. They break the law in a very clever way and no one can take them to task.”

Addy had told the roundtable conference last year that some foreign traders registered as free-zone companies but then imported goods to sell on the Ghanaian market. Free-zone companies are given government incentives to manufacture and process goods inside Ghana.

Other foreigners use the pretext of exporting goods to neighbouring landlocked countries to divert goods to the Ghanaian market without paying the necessary taxes, which makes these goods cheaper.

In order to fight off the threats posed to local commercial interests, the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC), together with the customs and excise services, immigration services and the police, set up a task force last year to arrest those foreign traders who were abusing the law.

Unfortunately this intervention has not been sustained. One reason is the collaboration of some Ghanaians with foreign traders to flout the law. Afflu alleged in an interview with IPS that he knew Ghanaians who had approached foreigners, especially Chinese, to “front” for them to avoid them having to meet the criteria for foreign businesspeople.

“These are things you see, you know what has gone on but the paperwork tells a different story. In the event of this happening, what can you do?” asked Afflu rhetorically.

This development poses a difficult problem. How can business partnerships between Chinese and Ghanaians be checked? Meanwhile the government’s trade with China is on the increase.

Joseph Henry Mensah, a senior cabinet minister and chairperson of the National Development Planning Commission, does not regard China’s increasing presence in Ghana as a threat to the country. Rather, he sees it as providing trade opportunities which the country should take advantage of for the benefit of all.

“We are all spending time to fight a threat from China when actually there is none,” Mensah argued.

(IPS, 31.07.08)


Border conflict between Malian and Senegalese haulage contractors

Afraid of the competition from Malian companies providing new transport material, haulage contractors from Senegal have declared war against their Malian counterparts. Tensions have escalated in Kidira, a border city between Mali and Senegal where the main players have almost come to blows. A team lead by the minister of Equipment and transport is awaited.

Previously considered a link between the two countries, a veritable symbol of sub-regional integration, the city of Kidira is on the verge of loosing its reputation.

Afraid of their competition, Senegalese haulage contractors have decided to regulate the activities of their Malian counterparts.

In Dakar, the powerful president of the road haulage contractors trade union of Senegal has stopped Malian companies opening haulage depots in the capital city and ordered them to park in an old, run down and out of the way place in Dakar. The organised Malian haulage contractor companies have thus decided to drop off all their passengers in Diboli, the border city of Mali. From Diboli the passengers are transported to Dakar by other hauliers from Bamako. The Senegalese refuse to accept this compromise.

According to the police superintendent of Kidira, “the behaviour of Trade Unions of haulage contractors of Kidira is illegal and contrary to the Agreements of the WAEMU”.

(Le Républicain, 24.07.08)

The State wants to do a botched privatisation

On Monday, members of the parliamentary group Sadi Parena addressed the press at the head office of the Radio Kayira to present their arguments against the enactment of certain laws including the privatisation of the CMDT (Compagnie Malienne pour le Développement des Textiles) which they claim has been botched.

The press conference was broadcast live on Radio Kayira. Opening the debate, representative of Parena and President of the group Ms Amidou Diabaté highlighted two main points raised during the last session of the National Assembly: The vote on the budget and the general policy declaration.

“In the course of the debate, we opposed the government’s budget programme for 2008 because it was inconsistent with the public interest. The amount of expenditure in the 2008 budget-programme differs from the figure appearing in the expenditure statement. We maintained that the general policy declaration will not reach its objectives. We have not been listened to,” stated Ms Diabaté.

He regretted that, despite a heroic battle by the opposition, the bill privatising the CMDT was passed. “The opposition launched an all-out attack. We stayed united. We think that we played our role”.

According to the right honourable Koniba Sidibé, another representative of Parena, “the government wants to do skimp on privatisation. In effect, private monopoles will replace the CMDT. The government simply wants to privatise the CMDT and doesn’t care about the rest”.

For the national elected representative in Dioïla, the State wants to privatise the CMDT without any idea about the terms of reference or requirements. “This is irresponsible. We maintain our opposition. This privatisation will have serious consequences that we little understand. These are the reasons for which we oppose the botched privatisation of the CMDT”.

Dr Oumar Mariko explains that, “when it was proven that the CMDT was not in fact a burden on the State budget, the minister of Finance claimed that they have never claimed it to be a burden. So, this is not about privatisation, it is worse than that. Most of MPs recognise the relevance of our arguments, but they are obliged to tow the government line”.

(Les Echos, 06.08.08)

Governance of firms in Mali: Administrative unwieldiness is killing off our businesses

On 30th July 2008 a conference debate entitled “Issues in business governance” was held at the Faculty of Management and Economic Sciences (FSEG) in Badalabougou, by chartered accountant Moussa Mara. The conference was held in the context of the implementation of activities of the Management group of the 2004-2008 class of the FSEG. Moussa Mara was notably accompanied by M. Moumouni Traoré, general secretary of the Faculty and M. Moussa Djiré, president of the steering committee of the 2004-2008 group.

Looking at the business environment from a historical angle, Moussa Mara declared that we have little to be proud of. According to him no Malian business is competitive at the international level. “What Malian company can today go and establish itself in Guinea, France or China? None! This is food for thought,” he declared. He added that the problem is due to inadequate governance inherited from colonial times which different governments have been unable to resolve.

Consequently 27 of some 40 state enterprises which existed have now been liquidated. According to Mousa Mara we find ourselves today in a logic of privatisation with the privatisation of BIM and the ongoing process of privatising the CMDT. He said that there are two broad categories of Malian businesses: public and private one. Both however are evolving in an unfavourable environment. “Mali is isolated from the inside and from the outside. Furthermore we are actively cut off”.

Quality human resource is seriously lacking. Red tape and administrative unwieldiness are killing off our businesses. The law is unfair; it discourages investors and economic operators” Mara stated. Speaking of governance of business itself, he admitted that it suffers a lack of transparency and competence in terms of human resource.

“One would not be surprised to see an army colonel chosen as a director for Sotelma, a philosopher as director of CMDT or a PE teacher as financial director. Herein lies the real problem of governance. We are not matching the right man to the right job.” Mara declared. Lack of financial transparency, markets by mutual agreement, and absence of internal control despite the existence of internal auditors, herein lie the ills which undermine our businesses.

He underlined that private businesses are individual led rather than community led. “Everyone wants to evolve independently. Family ties are privileged to the detriment of national competencies. And when a Malian businessman dies, his business dies with him – the heirs don’t know how to manage it. This is why I say that in Mali, there are no economic operators, only traders” he explained.

To this cocktail add corruption and nepotism which prevent our businesses from becoming competitive and contributing to the development of our country. As a solution Moussa Mara suggests that the government promotes entrepreneurship, that it makes education more relevant with the labour market. Bureaucracy must also be simplified, law strengthened, transparency made the keyword, economic patriotism cultivated.

Investment should also be encouraged from Malians abroad and finally the class of economic operators needs to be renewed by supporting the SMEs where young entrepreneurs emerge.

(Le Républicain, 06.08.08 )


House Goes After Diesel Cartel

The House of Representatives yesterday explained that the 26 man panel set up to carry out an investigation into the oil sector, would expose the cartel that has held the industry hostage for years, especially with regard to its stranglehold over the supply and price of diesel in the country.

Speculations have been rife over the years that one or two of the major oil marketers have had a near monopoly in the supply of diesel in the country, which has enabled them determine its availability and price at will.

The chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Eziuche Ubani, who stated this, said the House was of the opinion that the cartel in the downstream oil industry must be exposed and brought to book hence the decision to set up the panel headed by Honourable Igo Aguma, the chairman of the House Committee on Gas.

Ubani said if the cartel is exposed and dealt with according to the law of the land, there would be no need for discussions on the issue of subsidy on diesel because the difficulty experienced in accessing the product was caused by the cartel.

“We resolved that the problem of the oil industry can be tackled by exposing the cartel in the industry that is making things difficult for people.”

Ubani further explained that the motion on the provision of subsidy for diesel in the country which was sponsored by the chairman of the Petroleum Committee (Downstream), Honourable Clever Ikisikpo on Tuesday had to be withdrawn by the sponsor because of the mandate given to the Igo Aguma panel to investigate the oil sector.

“The motion on subsidy on diesel which came to the floor within the week had to be withdrawn by the sponsors because we feel that the committee set up to probe the oil sector will expose the cartel responsible for the problem and once that is done, we will witness an improved oil sector that will move the nation forward.

“So, the motion was withdrawn so that the committee on the probe of the oil sector could carry out that function. What we need now is not a subsidy but how to sanitise the industry and that is exactly what the committee that was set up is going to do,” he said.

Ubani also spoke on the bill, which seeks to democratise political parties in the country.

Sponsored by Honourable Henry Seriake Dickson from Bayelsa state, the bill among other things, is seeking to liberalise the choice of candidates for elections by political parties.

Ubani said the bill had been submitted to the committee on Intra and Inter Party Matters because members felt that if passed into law, the legislature would benefit immensely.

He said some members of parliament under the current dispensation do not feel free to make robust contributions to debates on the floor, for the fear of their godfathers who might not be comfortable with such contributions.

He added that the fear of being sanctioned by either their political godfathers or the leadership of their political parties had prevented some members of parliament at the federal and state levels from expressing their opinions on issues brought before parliament.

According to him, the passage of the bill would eliminate such tendencies and “members will begin to exercise the right to free speech.”

On the former Speaker of the House, Honourable Patricia Etteh, the Media and Publicity Committee chairman expressed concern over “the manner some members of the House constantly use Etteh’s name to whip up sentiments over certain issues.”

Ubani said Etteh had remained quiet since her resignation and no member should drag her name around indiscriminately.

“People are using Etteh’s name in vain. I don’t think she is sitting anywhere calling meetings. Those who claim to be her loyalists did not support her candidates when the new leadership emerged.

“They should please allow her to have her be instead of dropping her name recklessly. It may get to a stage where some people will have a headache and blame it on her,” Ubani lamented. In a related development, the Minister of State for Energy (Petroleum), Mr. Odein Ajumogobia, yesterday disclosed the nation’s four refineries were yet to operate at optimal capacity, a development he explained might continue to worsen the fuel supply situation currently being experienced in the country.

Speaking at an interactive session with the Senate Committee on Petroleum (Downstream) in Abuja, Ajumogobia said the state of the refineries had compelled the Federal Government to inevitably depend considerably on the importation of fuel to complement local production.

He told the committee under the chairmanship of Senator Emmanuel Paulker that the refineries had not been able to pick up despite efforts by government to turn them around.

In his remarks at the session, the executive secretary of the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency [PPPRA], Dr. Olu Oluleye explained that supply disruptions accounted for the hike in the prices of diesel and kerosene.

(Stanley Nkwazema, This Day, 190.7.08)

Housewives Sweating for Kerosene

Mrs. Tinuade Alabi last Saturday walked from her Ejigbo residence to the popular Cele Bus stop on the Apapa-Oshodi Express Way in search of kerosene that she would use for her cooking that weekend. Clutching a ten-litre container, she searched from one petrol station to another, even in AP gas stations until she ended up at the Cele bus stop without seeing a drop of the product to buy.

The distraught housewife told THISDAY that it is becoming difficult to survive in Nigeria. “I have searched every where to buy the Kerosene they even told us they are selling at N50 per litre, but we cannot see it to buy. Why are things so different and difficult in Nigeria?” she asked rhetorically. “I will now go back to the Ejigbo Market to see if I can buy charcoal, at least we manage that despite its danger. What can we do? There are many like Mrs. Alabi across the country who throng fuel stations in search of kerosene, but cannot buy, and where it is available the price could range from N70 to N100 per litre. Those who cannot afford to buy at these prices go home and resort to using saw dust or charcoal. At the black market, a gallon of four litres of kerosene sells for about N650.

In an attempt to reduce the suffering of the people, African Petroleum Plc decided to bring down the price of the product to N50 per litre. Ironically since the announcement was made, Nigerians have been disappointed as products scarcity and rising price have trailed the announcement. At AP stations visited by THISDAY in Lagos, the product is only sold once in a week or is not available. Other major marketers have however capitalised on the development to jerk up their prices to between N85 and N90.

The fact that the Federal Government is yet to decide on whether to extend the Petroleum Support Fund to kerosene and diesel in view of the current high international oil prices now above $147 per barrel, has been identified as a key reason why kerosene and diesel prices may continue to soar.

As things are, the independent depot operators believe that doing this would open up the market to more competition, rather than the current situation where, only a hand full of operators are enjoying the benefits through sole importation of the products. Unlike petrol and diesel that are in high demand, depot operators say only two cargoes of kerosene were all that is needed to flood the market and crash the price even to below the N50/litre pegged by government.

While going round the AP stations in Lagos, THISDAY discovered that in as much as the oil company try to make the product available to the retailers who are mainly house wives, other marketers come in with bigger containers to buy off the products and resale in their outlets. What seemed like a good intention is seemingly being abused thereby frustrating the consumers.

African Petroleum Plc, Chief Operating Officer, Mr. Tunde Falassinu confirmed as much last week when he spoke to a section of the press on the scarcity of Kerosene in its outlets. He said the nation should appreciate the fact that African Petroleum Plc. in its own wisdom decided to sell the product at the deregulated price. He noted that any kerosene that comes into this country through importation is subsidised by the government. The only kerosene that is not subsidised by the government is the one produced by the refineries.

So, he added that in the wisdom of the company, it decided to say that if government is subsidising kerosene and petrol there is no reason this product cannot be delivered to the Nigerian populace at the regulated price of N50. “It was just a decision by our own management and board. Why did we go into that? We see it as our own form of social responsibility, there is no way we can tell the world that we bring in kerosene through importation and it is landing in Nigeria at about N138 into the tank. And we are collecting a subsidy of N138 with a difference of N50 pricing from the government and we still don’t sell at that price.

“So that was the reason why we went into the project as a matter of social responsibility, we need to do it; we need to deliver kerosene to the country at the regulated price since we are going to get our subsidy back from the government.

“Because of the financial outlay, that is why many of us didn’t go into kerosene. When you bring in PMS, you sell it at the regulated price and you collect your subsidy but kerosene was just AP’s thinking. We said that let us do something for the people let them enjoy kerosene at the regulated price that is why we are taken the financial burden upon ourselves, though it will take us time to collect our subsidy but we want to do it as a form of social responsibility.

“So having said that, you will realise that we are not coerced, we are not forced by any agency to go and do it, it was done by us. And the other explanation I gave was that how then do we plan to make it to work? First of all when we were launching, we never at any time say that we will deliver kerosene and wet the whole nation. We said we will be supplying the kerosene to our customers that visit AP filling stations.

“So, if 500 stations are selling at the normal price of N50 then there are no ways we can satisfy the whole nation. We can only satisfy customers that visit AP stations and also no matter what we delivered the rush for it does not make it to last,” Falassinu said.

(This Day, 22.07.08)

Competition by submarine cable operators may drive down call rate

IF all goes well, telecommunications subscribers in West Africa in general and Nigeria in particular may pay less for international calls.

This is courtesy of a new investment drive promoted by four sub-marine cable operators in the west coast region of Africa.

The new direction is fuelled by competition to justify their investment and the need to remain in business.

Four international fibre projects are racing to complete ahead of each other on the west coast of Africa to give some much needed additional capacity and price competition to SAT3. The drop in bandwidth prices could be spectacular.

Russell Southwood looked at the runners in the race and asked whether West Africa was ready for the potentially market-changing impact of cheap international bandwidth.

At last week’s U.S. Trade and Development Agency organised event (West Africa ICT Road Map to Opportunities Conference), Funke Opeke of Mainstreet Technologies, the project to build the main one cable down the west side of the continent promised that an E1 would cost $400.

“It might have been my imagination, but I’m sure I heard something like an audible intake of breath.” There are four international cable projects racing to complete new routes that will connect that side of the continent to Europe and the USA. They are Globacom’s Glo One: The Glo One cable has been built from the UK to Dakar but has not yet been landed in Dakar. Despite an announcement that it would connect most West African countries between Dakar and Lagos, it has not yet been completed. Various cynics said that it had run out of money but this is a company that had just rolled out in Benin and planned to do the same again in Ghana. More credible rumours reaching us are that the countries where it was to have landed are asking too higher licence price, hence the delay.

“Mainstreet’s Main One: Previously aired versions of this show a routing that pretty much matches SAT3. You would expect this company to focus its efforts on the growing Nigerian market. If NITEL is anything like sorted by then, a great deal of expansion may come from that direction.”

Last week Opeke was sounding very bullish about the prospects of completing. IWTGC’s Infinity cable: Again routing along the same course as the SAT3 cable, IWTGC looks close to signing its financing deal with European investors and a West African financial institution. The latter will put up $300 million and the former will offer together with that amount a package that will be able to go up to $1.5 billion.

Recently, it signed a protocol with Gran Canaria to put “back office” functions there. Infraco/DTI’s Africa West Coast Cable: This South African Government project signed a contract with the company that was going to build it two weeks ago but has not yet completely finalised its financing. Its final list of shareholders will reportedly include both telecoms companies, such as Telkom, Neotel, Equator Telecom Nigeria, and British Telecom, as well as Tenet, Tata Communications, Multichoice, Vox Telecom, Internet Solutions and Gateway Communications.

It was touted as being ready for the World Cup in 2010 but looks unlikely to make that deadline. At least two of these cables look set to be built and a third is more than likely. This will push prices for international bandwidth down to the levels likely to be achieved on the East Coast: somewhere between $500-1,000. But it is clear that unlike on the East Coast and in South Africa, there is not the same focused attention on getting the cables done at the political level.

The U.S. Trade and Development Agency and the U.S. Department of State, under the President’s Digital Freedom Initiative, co-sponsored with the Government of Ghana the “West African ICT Roadmap to Opportunities” Conference in Accra from July 8 to 10, 2008 to engage policy makers, project sponsors, financiers and technology providers to match West African needs with solutions.

The conference convened top business and governmental decision makers from 11 African countries including Ghana, Nigeria and the U.S. to promote dialogue on key issues including regional infrastructure integration, deregulation, privatisation, public sector initiatives and telecom solutions.

In his keynote speech, Mr. Larry Walther of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency noted how Africa was home to 12 per cent of the world’s population, but contributed only two per cent of the global economy and challenged conference participants to use further ICT development to close the gap.

Likewise, David Gross, an ambassador and the U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy, highlighted the fact that West Africa was one of the final frontiers for dramatic Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector growth in the coming decade with plans for increased international connectivity, liberalisation of telecommunications policies, and economic growth in the region creating opportunities for a range of ICT infrastructure and services.

During the opening session, Ms. Funke Opeke, CEO of Main Street Technologies, Nigeria spoke on a panel addressing how to maximise competitiveness in West Africa. She challenged participants to build regional infrastructure solutions and liberalise policies to enhance competitiveness in the region and thus close the gap between the 12 per cent population and abundant natural resources in Africa and the current two per cent’s contribution to the global economy.

Opeke highlighted that in today’s information age, enhanced access to information through high quality and competitive telecommunications services was critical for any country to participate meaningfully in the global economy. She described how the Main One submarine cable project that is currently in deployment by her company to interconnect countries on the West Coast of Africa with each other and the rest of the world would make a significant contribution by reducing the wholesale cost of international telecommunications bandwidth from $4,000 – $10,000/month/E1 (2 Mega bits per second of information) to an equivalent of $400 or thereabouts when the system is in service in May 2010.

She urged West African telecoms regulators to set policies that supported the deployment of shared and regional infrastructure in order to improve access and reduce costs of telecommunications services to African businesses and consumers.

In addition, she challenged the large multinationals deploying these solutions to assist West Africa in skills development via the development of centre of excellence for various technologies in Africa. Opeke highlighted that investment in such areas will make current investments in ICT sustainable and would ensure a healthy market for these corporations over the long term while assisting Africa in building its own indigenous ICT industry.

The Main One Cable system is a two-fibre pair submarine cable designed to provide connectivity to countries on the West Coast of Africa from Portugal to Cape Town. The contract for the turnkey supply of the cable system was signed between Main Street Technologies, the developer of the cable and Tyco Telecommunications of the United States in April 2008. The system is planned for implementation in two phases, with Phase 1 providing connectivity between Lagos, Accra and Portugal, where the cable will interconnect with other cable systems providing connectivity to more than 40 major cities across the world.

The company has been working with regulators in Nigeria and Ghana to secure licenses for landing the cable system and Tyco has recently completed surveys for the landing stations for the cable in both countries.

Private investors from Nigeria and Ghana and a few Nigerian banks currently fund the project. In addition, the project has obtained interest from institutional investors across U.S., Europe and Africa to provide funds exceeding the $240 million required for completion of the Phase 1 project.

The situation is made more complicated by the cultural differences at many levels between Anglophones, Francophones and Lusophones. No one seems to be prepared to crack heads at a political level to get regulators to line up (metaphorically speaking) on the beaches of their respective countries as welcoming committees. Without this kind of political determination, the cables will take much longer to be built.

Forget the high licence fees and lie back and think about what cheap bandwidth will do for the economy. Also at present only four countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal) have connections to two or more or their neighbours and only four (Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Togo) have a connection to one neighbour. And unlike South Africa, Nigeria as a powerhouse economy of the sub-region is not connected to all of its neighbours.

Inevitably cheaper international bandwidth will begin to push down the price of national bandwidth. If it is cheaper to go from the capital city of a country to Europe than from the capital city to another city in the same country, something is badly out of shape. And when the new cables arrive, then that will be as true for West Africa as it will be for East Africa.

At the same event in Accra recently, somebody asked who were the most expensive countries on the SAT3 route at present in terms of international bandwidth. The answer? Gabon (Gabon Telecom), Cameroon (Camtel) and Angola (Angola Telecom).

(Sonny Aragba-Akpore, Guardian, 23.07.08)


Technological innovation: the « Société Finacière Internationale put the « toolkit » at the disposal of SME.

Senegal and Mali are committed to finding a solution to the problems undermining the road transport sector between the two countries. They met yesterday for a meeting, which it is hoped will stimulate an easily enforced agreement.

Mali and Senegal are two countries united by a same people, same history and same geography. Between two such countries there ought not exist a quarrel which cannot be easily resolved. There is no need to wash their dirty linen in public. It is understandable then for the two to sit down and resolve the current problems in the transport sector. “Senegalese hauliers complain that they run into a lot of difficulty in Mali and Malian hauliers complain that they encounter many problems in Senegal” despaired Mr Habib Sy, Senegal’s Minister of State, infrastructure, road transport, telecommunications and ICT. Given the close relations which unite the two countries, such differences cannot and should not exist and the age-old relationship between the two demands swift action.

The two parties therefore congregated for a meeting in Dakar yesterday to find a solution. The meeting gathered together the two ministers responsible for road transport in the countries as well as other stakeholders such as haulage contractors, trade union officials and operators. Given the problems and challenges that exist in the world, especially in Africa, Mr Sy qualified the meeting as particularly important. Among other issues he cited the necessity of a competitive sub-regional and continental economy, the integration of people to achieve lasting peace in Africa, and sustainable mobility of persons and of goods. Such challenges demand the professionalisation of African haulage contractors, the elimination of physical and non-physical barriers and the strengthening of interstate transport and transit. “Faced with this situation, conscious of the importance of the agreements which bind us, and convinced of the necessity for efficient ad effective transport policies for accelerated growth, poverty reduction and economic competitively,

Recalled here are the commitments made in Addis Ababa, Bamako and Durban by African road transport ministers, notably relating to halving the difference between the average transport tariff in Africa and that practiced in Asia by 2015, and halving the cost of transport in landlocked and transit countries to promote access to international markets for African products. Mr Sy holds that respect for these commitments in the Dakar-Bamako corridor certainly requires the willpower of public powers, but equally public-spirited practices from public and private actors, in the framework of good socio-economic governance. “It is true that effort has been made here and there but it is clear that there is much work to do,” said the Minister of State. According to his Malian counterpart Ameth Diané Semega, Minister for Transport, the importance of the road transport sector between the two countries demands continued cooperation, and the displacement of populations should also be a strong consideration.

For Mr Sy, a fundamental factor, which must be considered in the revision of the agreement protocol, is ease of application.

(Le Soleil, consulté le, 25.08.08)

Difficulties in inter-state transport: Malian and Senegalese are concerting each other.

The SME toolkit was officially presented on Saturday to the Chamber of Commerce in Dakar and to relevant authorities, support institutions, SMEs, SME developers and executives and to the press.

The director of SMEs of Senegal, M. Ibrahima Diouf who chaired the ceremony used this opportunity to emphasize that small and medium-sized enterprises are an important means of fighting poverty, unemployment and under employment. However, he stated that their vulnerability in light of internal and external shocks is significantly affecting their growth and limiting their contribution to GDP and to job creation, particularly for young people and women. This is due in particular to an unsuitable environment and to insufficient consideration of their particularities and specificities in the national, sub-regional and regional development strategies.

He acknowledged the effort which has been made since 2000 to attempt to resolve this situation. Several studies and surveys have been carried out to identify the main constraint and bottlenecks that affect the development of SMEs.

Equally the government has taken sound initiatives and sent strong signals that it is keen to develop SMEs. Thus in 2001 the head of State created a Ministry dedicated to SMEs to allow them a central role in the economic emergence of the country. To further boost the sector, a charter was officially validated in 2003 by all of the concerned stakeholders (State, private sector, civil society, local authorities and development partners). Mr Diouf added that the process for transforming this charter into blueprint law has recently been finalised and that the Business Development Agency shares the government and its development partners’ desire to press Senegalese businesses to increase their competitively and their position on the national, sub-regional and international market.

Referring to the accelerated growth strategy in force in the country, which aims to diversify sources of growth to ensure durability, the SME’s director underlined the importance of uniting the aforementioned initiative in order to optimise their effects. They illustrate that there is a general agreement in the country that SMEs will be the national economic champions of the future in terms of income generation and job creation. As such the SME toolkit will enable SMEs to access means of appropriating modern methods of creating, managing and developing a modern business.

The rolling out of this important instrument, accompanied by an extensive training programme, will also facilitate the relationship between these establishments and banks and sources of financing.

Ms Aïda Hovanessian, regional representative of the International Finance Corporation said that the goals of this toolkit include facilitating access of SMEs to sources of finance, strengthening support services available to them (notably in terms of their establishment and of advice), reinforce supply chains. Re-establish links with big business and improve the business environment for SMEs which represent 90% of the private sector in developing countries. She highlighted that at present the sector is not reaching potential because of multiple constraints resulting from the incapacity of the entrepreneurs and their environment.

These obstacles curb the development of the private sector in general, particularly SMEs. The toolkit is an information and training tool, which prioritises information technology. It offers SMES useful and varied information in the fields of accounting and finance, business planning, HR, sales and marketing, and IT.

It offers a wide range of tools: articles and commercial formulas, free software, web-based training, self-evaluation exercises, tests and resources for entrepreneurs, developers and managers of businesses in emerging markets.

According to Ms Hovanessian, SMEs will be in a position to develop partnerships with local support services and even explore international markets thanks to detailed and free information on the market, investment and business in over 64 countries with a high export potential. The toolkit has been rolled out to around 30 countries on the basis of partnerships between the IFC and local organisations capable of translating the product into the local language and providing the relevant content at the local level.

(Le Soleil, consulté le 25.08.08)


Revival of the phosphate sector too slow for trade unions

The incapacitated Phosphate sector in Togo, which is vital for this small West African country, has been in the process of revival for a year. This relaunch however is considered too slow for trade unions who have called a strike this week.

According to mine’s technical departments, a break in work for 24 hours are the beginning of the week will have cost the state a loss in excess of 140,000 dollars.

Furious, the trade unions triggered this strike demanding the removal of the liquidators of the firms previously mining phosphate. They accuse the liquidators of holding up the state owned Société Nouvelle des Phosphates du Togo (SNTP) which was created in May 2007.

Having been planned for 48 hours, the strike was suspended on Tuesday when the workers demands appeared to have been met: “The liquidators will leave by the end of July at the latest,” announced Mathurin Atinoh, advisor to the sector’s management union, to the AFP (Agence Française Presse). According to Atinoh the authorities have also promised that a further 2500 workers will be hired by the new enterprise.

The sale price of phosphate – 70 dollar per tonne – will also be raised in the following days according to a union representative.

When questioned by the AFP authorities refused to comment.

We get the feeling that the authorities have decided to kill off the sector, for reasons unknown to us. But we will not give up the fight because we will be the first victims” declared Kramotche Diabat, head of the Inter Union Committee of Workers for the industry.

Doh Komlan Atidokpo, Secretary general of the Democratic Union of mines described an “organised Mafia”, a barely veiled allusion to suspicions of past wrongdoing.

In August 2007 the state appointed two experts to liquidate the Office Togolais de Phosphate (OTP) and the International Fertalisers Group (IFG-Togo), the two structures charged with managing the phosphate industry.

Their contract was for three months but it continues today, the task being arduous according to sources close to them.

The phosphate saga began in 1952 with mismanagement and allegations of corruption. Five years later extraction and sale of phosphate was entrusted to the Compagnie Togolaise des Mines du Bénin (CTMB) in which the state had a 35% stake.

In 1974 the CTMB was nationalised and the aforementioned OTP was created.

Damaged by mismanagement, in 2002 the OTP opened investment to their Tunisian partners and became IFG-Togo. In turn this company dissolved in May 2007 and the SNPT was born.

In order to recover its activities, in September Togo obtained a loan of 45 million euros (30 million Franc CFA) from the Islamic Development Bank however, according to officials of the Ministry of Mines, the funds have not yet been paid out because of the length of time being taken to liquidate the old companies.

“My hopes were raised after the SNPT was created and even more so after the loan from the IDB, but given the pace of things, frankly I’m worried,” confessed Jean Messan, a mineworker for the past 25 years.

The recovery plan launched over 6 months ago by the SNPT predicted that production would be almost double this year in excess of 1.4 million tonnes however this goal cannot be met according to ministry officials.

According to recent union figures, Togo has only produced 420,890 tonnes of phosphate between January and June 2008.

(République Togolaise, 09.07.08)

The government raises the price of cement

The Togo government has decided to increase the price of cement across the country in an effort to combat speculation which creates a shortfall in the country. The decision was taken on Wednesday evening by the Council of Ministers and will come into effect on Thursday.

Thus the price per tonne of cement produced by CIMTOGO will be 81 000 F CFA instead of 69 600 F CFA previously. Cement produced by West African Cement (WACEM) rises from 66 000 to 77 000.

By raising prices the government hopes to align the price of cement in Togo with the prices in its neighbouring countries (Bénin, Burkina Faso, Ghana) where previously the product has been illegally imported.

“This situation is due to the speculation practiced by certain registered distributors and resellers who illegally export cement earmarked for national distribution for sale in neighbouring countries where the price is higher,” explained the government for whom the only solution is to proceed with a price adjustment to end speculation which is increasing at an alarming rate.

According to sources close to the Ministry of Commerce, CIMTOGO and WACEM, the two units of cement production in Togo, have a production capacity of 105 000 tonnes per month and average consumption is between 45 000 and 50 000 tonnes.

Since the beginning of the year the sale price of a bag of cement, which was 3 300 F FCA in 2006, is sold for between 4 500 and 5 000 F FCA.

However following dialogue between the country’s two producers, “Operation Togo First” was established on 18th April which consisted of following cement from the moment it leave the factory to when it reaches the consumer via the registered distributor.

In this system, the security forces supervised the transport of the product to ensure its arrival at its intended destination and thus preventing it’s diversion by speculators.

Whilst this system had functioned more or less successfully during its first week, it proved itself flawed in the longer term.

(Le Togolais, 11.07.08)

Following the seizure of tonnes of maize, Colonel Ouro Agadazi alleges fraud

Last Wednesday members of the Food Security Observatory of Togo (OSAT) held a press conference at Hotel Acropolis in Djidjolé during which Colonel Ouro Agadazi described the ongoing tug-of-war between traders whose stock was seized recently by the Gendarmerie in Sokodé.

According to Ouro Koura Agadazi, the Director General of OSAT, the traders implicated in this affair are only a drop in the ocean and that they are following the orders of “a number of bigger personalities who one wouldn’t believe capable of implication in such an affair”.

He defended himself and made allusion to threats he has receives “if you knew the number of threats I receive… and they are not from these women traders or their loved ones. Rather they are from individuals in air-conditioned offices with apparently nothing to do with maize. Even the person responsible for the enquiry is under pressure from these people,” he added before deploring the attitude of these women who now claim to have made false confessions.

Fraud, unfair competition, speculation, attempts at exportation and retention of stock are among the infractions of which this institution accuses these individuals. The stock is being held by OSAT and will “perhaps help victims or be used in some other way,” said Mr Agadazi. He insisted on the fact that the enquiries will be followed to the end to expose the real culprits and thus reduce the shortage of essential commodities. Already OSAT plan to reach across the country by allying with villagers and all the sectors responsible for trade.

This could allow farmers, transporters and genuine women-traders to benefit. According to OSAT this new method will help to protect the market from rogue traders.

(Canal Togo, 22.08.08)