The Executive Secretary of the Ghana Free Zones Board (GFZB), Mr Michael Okyere Baafi, says the board will no longer focus all its attention on attracting foreign direct investments (FDIs) to the neglect of indigenous businesses.
While FDIs are crucial to the socio-economic development of the country, Mr Baafi, who took over in January, this year, said those investments needed to be encouraged alongside local ones, else the country would be building a one-sided economy.
“We focus attention on FDIs so much and the local investors are not also encouraged,” he told the Daily Graphic in an interview in Accra.
“A time will come when these FDIs come and build big businesses and when the time comes for them to leave, they will not even get people acquire those businesses, they will not get because the capacity of the local businesses are not encouraged,” he observed.
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To help grow the entrepreneurial skills of local people and avoid such a predicament, Mr Baafi said the GFZB would, henceforth become “the positioning factor to attract local investors.”
As a result, he advised indigenous entrepreneurs to approach the board with ideas on how they could take advantage of its tax incentives to grow their businesses or turn their ideas into realities.
Given the flexible nature of operating under the free zones programme, Mr Baafi said beneficiary local investors could easily roll over their profits to the business and that would help them to grow quickly.
“We want to help the local companies such that when these big companies that we are courting come to set up in Ghana, the small businesses will be there to help them,” he explained.
The board is the implementer of Ghana’s free zones concept through the export processing zones (EPZs).
The EPZs encourage businesses to manufacture, process, develop commercial services and export majority of them. The concept gives tax incentives to businesses that export 70 per cent of their produce and has since its establishment in 1995 played a key role in raising the country’s foreign exchange levels.
"We want to shift the paradigm from what the Ghana Free Zones used to be to an institution that has come to champion the ‘One district, One factory’ policy. We can spearhead it easily and that is what we are doing now,” he said.
Mr Baafi added that the board was "trying to talk to opinion and community leaders to see if they can get us lands to set up land banks across the country and to monitor Free Zones operations so that local and foreign companies could expand and also recruit more Ghanaians."
Target in 2017
Mr Baafi said the target for the year was to develop new enclaves. “We will have Free Zones companies across the country. And all of these will be taken care of by the head office in Accra. So we are elevating Takoradi and Tema to main offices, and we’re transferring officers there to man the places."
He said the Tamale office would come alive during the year and also get land banks.
“We want to get land banks everywhere in Ghana, demarcated as Free Zones area, so that when we bring in investors, we will direct them to appropriate locations in tandem with their areas of expertise,” the Free Zones Board CEO said.
"When you go to Dubai Free Zones, or Singapore, they have such free zones for all industries. So we will do such things and provide even internet and everything."
Mr Baafi disclosed that “last week, Dangote came to buy 105 acres of our land and it is going to build one of the biggest cement manufacturing plants in Ghana. Apart from paying their royalties, they will also create employment for the youth in the areas because our people will be the first port of call when it comes to recruitment.”