“We have a lot to do, but I believe that the work that is being done shows foreign investors that the intentions to make Equatorial Guinea a preferred investment option are true.” — Bindang Ndong Okiri, Equatorial Guinean Secretary of State in charge of Planning
Dreams Talks: We sat down with the Equatorial Guinean Secretary of State in charge of Planning, where she talked about her career, the initiatives carried out by the government to assist citizens following the effects of covid-19 and how technology is the future.
Could you tell us briefly how your path into politics has been. Passion or inertia?
Bindang Ndong Okiri: My journey until occupying my current position, I want to think, that it is the product of the work carried out throughout my career in the public sector of my country over the last nine years. I greatly appreciate the trust that has been placed in me. I started in the Ministry of Mines, Industry and Energy, in the General Directorate of Petroleum Economy; there I learned that the best way to work in Equatorial Guinea (and anywhere in the world) was by hard work, innovation, rigour.
Today I hold the position of Secretary of State in Charge of Planning, which for me is an honor, but which carries with it an enormous responsibility. Curiously, a phrase that the President of the Republic of my country repeats many times in his speeches “charges are burdens” comes to mind. Well, they require a lot of responsibility since our decisions will mark the future of our country and this is something that you really do not realize until it is your turn.
I would summarize by saying that although my career may seem short to some, it is a path full of hours of work, passion, effort and a lot of dedication, with its mistakes translated into experience, and the successes have led me to this point in my career.
DT: Could you cite us three of the most relevant initiatives that the Ministry of Economy, Finance and Planning has created and promoted during these last months of the health crisis caused by COVID-19?
BNO: The COVID-19 pandemic has been as devastating as it is unexpected. Its arrival has brought the world economy to a standstill and many countries have been forced to establish aid mechanisms for the sectors most affected by the pandemic. In fact, in recent months, important changes have had to be made in the country’s budget programming, in order to allocate more funds to the fight against COVID-19.
First, I would talk about the purchase of vaccines against COVID-19. Although it is a project that has been developed and worked on by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, a ministry whose task remains worthy of admiration, I believe that our ministry has also participated indirectly by channeling funds for the acquisition of vaccines. Thereby avoiding a deficit greater than the one obtained.
Vaccines are the remedy that, for now, has been found to fight the spread of the pandemic and avoid the devastating effects that it is capable of causing. That is why I would like to take the opportunity to invite the entire population to be vaccinated, since it has been scientifically proven that they help control the effects of the virus in humans. Equatorial Guinea is fortunate to have a high percentage of vaccine doses, taking into account the total of our population, in fact many foreigners have been able to get vaccinated here in our country.
In this line of initiatives promoted by the Ministry of Finance, Economy and Planning, and that are cited in Decree 43/2020, dated March 31, which adopts Emergency Economic Measures to strengthen the National System of Social Protection and Support to SMEs. I will highlight the decree that includes the creation of a National Emergency Fund COVID-19 endowed with five billion (5,000,000,000) F.CFA destined to finance the Program of Public Social Guarantees against the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. A program established to guarantee:
Basic food and necessities for households especially affected by the pandemic. In addition, a basic kit for personal hygiene and social support for guidance and psychosocial, and health support.
It is also worth mentioning the reduction in the electricity bill throughout the national territory of the country during the harshest months of confinement caused by Covid-19. Measures that were implemented thanks to the strategy developed together with the Ministry of Industry and Energy and the National Electricity Company, SEGESA.
All other measures adopted are included in the aforementioned Decree. Among one of the measures that have been adopted is the adoption of the National Plan for Socioeconomic Response and Recovery, as opposed to the one proposed as a multidimensional framework of coherent and coordinated policies for the containment, mitigation and response to the social and economic impacts caused by the crisis for the next two years.
Regarding the mobilization of resources, it will work with all the partners, since the integral nature of the proposal for response and recovery requires alliances of diverse nature: political, financial, operational, coordination.
DT: Equatorial Guinea is one of the African countries that is responding effectively to the pandemic with the efforts of its government and its citizens. Let us talk about the foreign investment climate. How do you see the post-COVID picture? Could you give us a summary of the incentive program to promote and attract foreign investment?
BNO: The Government is currently working to improve the business climate and the competitiveness of the country’s economy. We are determined to improve our position on the Doing Business report produced by the World Bank every year. Unfortunately due to the internal audit being carried out by the World Bank, the publication of the 2021 report, which was scheduled to be published in October last year, has been delayed for several months. This report has been prepared with data on the reforms carried out until the end of April 2020. The Commission in charge of compiling the reforms and updates has worked throughout this period. Thanks to this, it was possible to inform the World Bank and we are very confident that the improvements implemented over the last year will take our position out of the 178th place, which it currently occupies, out of the 190 economies analyzed in the report.
In fact, this year we have again communicated to the World Bank about the reforms adopted and their implementation. We continue working, with the support of the World Bank, on the implementation of the roadmap for the improvement of the business climate and competitiveness of Equatorial Guinea approved by the government at the high-level seminar that was held in November three years ago.
This roadmap was adopted precisely to establish measures that would help improve our assessment in several of the areas measured in the Doing Business report. We have taken this document as a reference because it is a prestigious and widely consulted report to have a vision of what the business climate of a country is like.
These works, which have been promoted by the Ministry of Finance, involve other ministerial departments. Therefore, the achievements that we are going to reach will be the result of the efforts of the entire Government. We have a lot to do, but I believe that the work that is being done shows foreign investors that the intentions to make Equatorial Guinea a preferred investment option are true. As a country, Equatorial Guinea has incredible potential for many productive sectors. However, in today’s world what matters is data. That is why we are not only working to make the country attractive; we are also reporting our progress to the international community so that the lack of data on our country is no longer a handicap.
DT: Let us talk about the digital future, integrated with CEMAC and other African countries. Do you think that Equatorial Guinea has reached the degree of important and urgent need to implement and consolidate a monetary digitization?
BNO: One of the great lessons that COVID-19 will leave us is the importance of embracing digitization as a solution to various obstacles. Therefore, Equatorial Guinea cannot remain on the sidelines of this reality and the digitization process in the country must be followed and even accelerated.
The technological advances experienced in recent years have been spectacular. We have gone from phone calls to video calls in less than 10 years. In addition, since then, they have not stopped including new features to break the distance barrier. If there is something that COVID-19 has forced us to do, it is precisely to keep up to date on everything related to communication mechanisms so that distance and the closing of borders are not an obstacle to the development of our work or for our personal relationships. I put this example, because it is one with which we can all in some way feel identified but come on, the fact that we have to hug tight and not let go of new technologies is as true as that we need to breathe to live.
Years ago, in the country not a single payment terminal was observed in commercial establishments, but little by little we are seeing how the digital means of payment is being inserted. There are still many people who, if they do not touch the bill, that is, the paper money, they do not feel that they have money, despite the great security that this offers. It is not the same to carry five million in cash than to carry it on a bankcard or in a mobile application.
One of the policies included in the new development plan is that of Science, Technology and Innovation, which is based on the premise that science and technology is an intersectional sector that supports various developments; all stakeholders contribution will help modernize the Equatoguinean economy, overcoming delays by combining efficient management and sustainable use of resources in promoting development.
It is surprising how technologies, from interdependent projects, participate in the construction of systems that undoubtedly modify the social behavior derived from uses and customs over long periods. However, it should be emphasized that the design, construction and implementation of new technologies are due to decisions that in most cases are not the responsibility of the engineers who develop these technologies.
Hence, in the implementation of the digitization of the currency, it is done with an integrating vision, since, if it is done with an exclusively technical vision, the results will not be favorable for a large sector of the population, especially the layers of the most vulnerable society. Those that have not been included in the technological modernity and that in our country constitute a high percentage of the population.
The digitization of the currency must be done with a broad social sense; otherwise, we will continue to use technology to widen the gap between the favored and marginalized sectors.
DT: What integration policies and mechanisms are being implemented in the country, specifically in the Ministry of Finance, Economy and Planning so that digital financial products can be generated?
BNO: We are in the implementation of a new development plan. There are initiatives that come from the telecommunications sector, such as MUNI MONEY, DJANGUE by Dreams Hub, which aims to carry out digital payments and collections and other initiatives presented by companies.
Digitization is very important given the challenges that, in the banking sector, allows greater financial inclusion and a better relationship between the customer and the banks.
Banks have to make a greater effort so that the client can have their financial information anywhere and at all times, they must be more accessible to new digital media.
On the other hand, after the declaration of the state of emergency due to COVID 19 in the country, on March 31, the Government sanctioned Decree 43 by which emergency economic measures wereadopted to strengthen the National System of Social Protection and Support to SMEs. Article 20 empowers the Ministry of Transport, Post and Telecommunications, in consultation with the Ministry of Finance, Economy and Planning and private and public operators, to adopt a strategy that minimizes the payment of internet services for SMEs.
Thank you very much for your time Ms. NDONG, we hope to have you again soon.
Dreams Talks for Africanian.com – Sustainable Leadership
Dreams Talks by Dreams Hub (Equatorial Guinea) is a project that was born with the intention of articulating a network of organizations and prominent people in the business, professional and cultural field, to foster a cultural movement that values the importance of Sustainable Leadership, as a basis for manage uncertainty, prioritizing the management of values, as a fundamental pillar of any society.
The conversations/interviews of key African and World leaders, will analyze and reflect on topics that will help shaping a better Africa, with an ultimate goal; the practice of futurism as a lifestyle. Giving priority to how our actions will impact the future of next generations, on our planet and universe.
We promote entrepreneurship from early stages of educational training, promoting the creation of a generation of young entrepreneurs, stimulating the generation of skilled employment and the creation of value at the intercontinental and international level.