Chief Executive of the Ghana Free Zones Board (GFZB), has given the biggest assurance yet to people looking for a safe-haven to put their money.
According to Kwadwo Twum-Boafo, “Ghana is open for business, Ghana is the preferred destination, Ghana is the favored destination. Your investments are safe. Investors, who have come to work here, and have been genuine partners in development, can testify that GFZB program has been very good to them”.
He described Ghana as the preferred and highly favored destination for enterprises in the West Africa with policy of not expropriating investments thus making it a safe country for investors. On top of this, is a conducive environment provided for investment because Ghana believes that “money doesn’t like noise”.
The GFZB boss gave the assurance in an exclusive interview in the latest edition of the respected Africawatch Magazine. Published below is the full interview, conducted by the editor of the magazine Steve Mallory.
Q: What is the Ghana Free Zones Board and what role does it play in the country’s economic development?
A: Ghana’s free-zone program has a focus on building development through exports, so the program encourages investors to produce goods and services for export -oriented development.
To facilitate this we offer incentives such as duty fee and tax fee regimes on input, so that the business of export through manufacturing, processing and other ventures is enhanced. The caveat is that business must export at least 70 percent of what they produce.
They can sell up to 30 percent on the local market, but they need to pay taxes and duties on those inputs, so as not to unfairly compete with
other that are manufacturing and selling on the local market.
The second objective is to produce jobs, because we feel that when we provide incentives for people to come in and invest, job opportunities are created through technology transfer and other avenues.
Q: How would you describe the current government’s support for the Free Zones Board?
A: The government has been very supportive. A case in point: The board was included in a China Development Bank loan arrangement, in which we being given over 67million to start another industrial institute in Sekondi. So, in terms of support, the current government has been fantastic.
They have also put before Parliament a Subsidiary Legislation to review the current free Zone law to change it from a board to an authority, so that the oversized body for the free zone itself is able to improve on its own programs, without necessarily having to be hitched to the Ministry of Trade.
So, there has been a lot of support from the government. I have also worked with two capable ministers: Madam Hannah Tetteh and the Honorable Huruna Iddrisu, who have been nothing short of fantastic in terms of what this program stands for.
Q: What do you consider to be the Free Zone Board major achievements?
A: Our biggest achievement is that we have put more than 30,000 people in employment. Without the free -zone program, I don’t think those 30,000 people would be in employment.
We have had a total export schedule of about $11.7billon since 1998. The capital invested in the free- zone program alone is about $2.3billion. So I think that, in terms of what it has brought, the numbers speak for themselves. This is something you will not have, if you don’t streamline the program to make it attractive to investors.
Q: Are there any misconception among the public about the Free-Zone Board’s mission?
A: I would like to say that a lot of people assume, rightly or wrongly when you talk about free zones, it means investment coming from outside Ghana. That is not true, because up to 47 percent of investors in Ghana’s free zones are Ghanaians –some of them have gone into partnerships with overseas entities. So Ghanaians are investing in free- zones program.
Q: On your website, you say that Ghana offers businesses conducive environment to enable them produce at minimum cost for export. Could you elaborate on that?
A: Yes, Ghana is the premier destination for investors who wants to come to this sub-region, because of our political stability. People feel safe here, and so, one of the things that attract people to this country is that Ghana has a law that does not allow the government to expropriate investment. It is enshrined in our Constitution. So people feel comfortable to come here.
When you talk about conductive environment, we all remember ex-President John Kufuor’ s very famous words that “money doesn’t like noise.” So investors want to know their investment will be safe before investing in any country. They want to know that they are facilitated to set up their business. So one of the things we do here is to help investor process things like immigration clearance for their workers, something that will take them considerably longer to do if we don’t assist them.
In cases that we find appropriate, we also offer them land to set up, at a very good price.
I think that, all in all Ghana represents the most stable destination in West African subregion.
Q: Which sector of Ghana’s economy offers the most opportunities for exporters?
A: Without a doubt, it is agro processing, because our strongest companies are agro processing. Let me start with the big conglomerates-ADM [Archer Daniels Midland], Barry Callebaut and Cargill. And then we have companies that are exporting sheanuts, like 3F.
There are also companies that are interested in exporting cashews. We have here the biggest Brazilian cashew exporter, Usibras. It had been here previously, simply buying and exporting cashews. Now it has decided to set up a free zone and is actually processing the cashew here, because it is cheaper to process the cashew here before sending them abroad. They are on the verge of setting their own distribution center here. They have bought lands in Prampram and are in the process of setting up the center.
Q: Can You Cite Any Other Examples?
A: We also have companies in the non-traditional export trade, such as pineapple, bananas and the like. They have taken it to another level. So we have companies like Golden Exotic and Blue Skies.
In fact, Blue Skies is an example of what the Free Zone Board is proud about- today when you go to supermarkets in Britain, especially Tesco, Waitrose and Asda, most of the fresh foods you will see there comes from Blue Skies, and these foods are processed and packaged in Ghana. Blue Skies has a unique relationship with Ghana’s Farmers. I am proud every time I see that package-it’s a source of pride for us all.
Q: What kind of infrastructure and services do you provide to investors in the free zones?
A: One of the things we do for example, is when your imports come in, we have what we call “form lines” which are purchased from here. We have an excellent relationship with the Customs Exercise and Preventive Service (CEPS). We have an arrangement with CEPS that allows importers to bypass the hassle of having to navigate those waters by themselves. We also have a custom commissioner dedicated to free- zones companies, and that helps a lot. It facilitate in getting their inputs cleared in a timely manner, because in business time is money.
We also try to encourage companies to maintain a healthy relationship with their employees, because at the end of the day the employees are the bedrock of the program. So we mediate between workers who are unhappy with their employers to ensure that everything works out well.
Q: How successful has that mediation been?
A: I am proud to say that since the free zones program started, we haven’t any labor unrest. We are almost always there to make sure that everything is done well. We are, however, tightening our monitoring regime to make sure our employers do not fleece the country- because it very important we broach that topic. Some people have felt that the free zones program is a source of revenue leakage, and so we have a three-tier monitoring system that makes sure that people do not get away with attempts to fleece the nation.
Q: What will you say to a company that is considering participation in free -zones program?
A: I would say that Ghana is open for business, Ghana is the preferred destination, Ghana is the favored destination. Your investments are safe. This country cannot expropriate investment.
The president of this republic has been the most ardent supporter of the free- zone program, because everywhere he goes, he carries us along. And he is more or less our biggest advertiser, because he takes it upon himself to make sure that people are told about our free-zones program and about our investment programs in general.
Investor who have come to work here, and have been genuine partners in development, can testify that the GFZB program has been very good to them.