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Côte d’Ivoire

Executive Summary

Côte d’Ivoire offers a fertile environment for U.S. investment, and the Ivoirian government is keen to deepen its commercial cooperation with the United States. The Ivoirian and foreign business community in Côte d’Ivoire considers the 2018 investment code generous with incentives and few restrictions on foreign investors. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic slowed the economy in 2020 and created new financial burdens for the government as it sought to put health mitigation and economic stimulus measures in place. International organizations such as the IMF and World Bank see some cause for optimism for a recovery in 2021 and 2022. According to the IMF, Côte d’Ivoire’s GDP growth fell from 6.5 percent in 2019 to 1.8 percent in 2020, with a return to growth at a more robust 6.2 percent projected for 2021.

U.S. businesses operate successfully in the following Ivoirian sectors: oil and gas exploration and production; agriculture and value-added agribusiness processing; power generation and renewable energy; IT services; digital economy; banking; insurance; and infrastructure. In 2020, Côte d’Ivoire maintained its position of 110 out of 190 economies in the World Bank’s Doing Business ranking. Côte d’Ivoire was eleventh among the 48 sub-Saharan Africa countries, notably coming in ahead of Ghana, Senegal, and Nigeria.

Economically, Côte d’Ivoire is among Africa’s fastest growing economies and is the largest economy in francophone Africa, attracting regional migrant labor. Also, home to the headquarters of the African Development Bank, Côte d’Ivoire attracts a significant expatriate professional community.

Doing business with the government remains a significant challenge. The government has awarded a number of sole-source contracts without competition and at times disregarded objective evaluations on competitive tenders. An overly complicated tax system and a slow, opaque government decision-making process hinder investment. Other challenges include weak access to credit for small businesses, corruption, and the need to broaden the tax base to relieve some of the tax-paying burden on businesses. The government is introducing a local-content law for the oil and gas sector that, once passed, will put additional requirements for local hiring and procurement on companies operating in that sector.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 104 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 110 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 112 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 -$495 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $2,290 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The government actively encourages Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and is committed to increasing it. Foreign companies are free to invest and list on the regional stock exchange Bourse Régionale des Valeurs Mobilières (BRVM), which is based in Abidjan and covers the eight countries of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU). WAEMU members are part of the Regional Council for Savings and Investment, a regional securities regulatory body.

In most sectors, there are no laws that limit foreign investment. There are restrictions, however, on foreign investment in the health sector, law and accounting firms, and travel agencies.

Land tenure is a complicated and sensitive issue. Land tenure disputes exist all over the country owing to multiple forms of traditional collective tenure and the lack of formal private land ownership in most areas. Companies that wish to purchase land must have the property surveyed before obtaining title. Surveying is tightly controlled by a small group of companies and can often cost more than the value of the parcel of land. Freehold land tenure in rural areas is difficult to negotiate, however, and can inhibit foreign investment. Most businesses, including agribusinesses and forestry companies, circumvent the complicated land purchase process by acquiring long-term leases instead. There are regulations designed to control land speculation in urban areas, but they do not prevent foreigners from owning land.

The Ivoirian government’s investment promotion agency, the Center for the Promotion of Investment in Côte d’Ivoire (CEPICI), promotes and attracts national and foreign investment. Its services are available to all investors, provided through a one-stop shop intended to facilitate business creation, operation, and expansion. CEPICI ensures that investors receive incentives outlined in the investment code and facilitates access to industrial land. More information is available at http://www.cepici.gouv.ci/ .

Côte d’Ivoire maintains an ongoing dialogue with investors through various business networks and platforms, such as CEPICI, the Ivoirian Chamber of Commerce (CCI-CI), the association of large enterprises (CGECI), and the bankers’ association.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign investors generally have access to all forms of remunerative activity on terms equal to those enjoyed by Ivoirians. The government encourages foreign investment, including state-owned firms that the government is privatizing, although in most cases of privatization the state reserves an equity stake in the new company.

There are no general, economy-wide limits on foreign ownership or control, and few sector-specific restrictions. There are no laws specifically directing private firms to adopt articles of incorporation or association that limit or prohibit foreign investment, participation, or control in those firms, and no such practices have been reported.

Banks and insurance companies are subject to licensing requirements, but there are no restrictions designed to limit foreign ownership or to limit establishment of subsidiaries of foreign companies in this sector. Investments in health, law and accounting, and travel agencies are subject to prior approval and require appropriate licenses and association with an Ivoirian partner. The Ivoirian government has, on a case-by-case basis, mandated using local providers, hiring local employees, or arranging for eventual transfer to local control.

The government does not have an official policy to screen investments, and its overall economic and industrial strategy does not discriminate against foreign-owned firms. There are indications in some instances of preferential treatment for firms from countries with longstanding commercial ties to Côte d’Ivoire.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Côte d’Ivoire has not conducted an investment policy review (IPR) through the OECD. The WTO last conducted a Trade Policy Review in October 2017, which can be found at https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp462_e.htm .

UNCTAD published an Investment Policy Review for Côte d’Ivoire in February 2020, which can be found at https://unctad.org/webflyer/investment-policy-review-cote-divoire 

The Government of Côte d’Ivoire provides information about sector policies and business opportunities in publicly available reports. More information can be found at: https://www.cepici.gouv.ci/ .

Business Facilitation

The CEPICI manages Côte d’Ivoire’s online information portal containing all documents dedicated to business creation and registration ( https://cotedivoire.eregulations.org/ ). All the necessary documentation for registration is available online, however actual registration must be done in person. Further information on business registration is also available on CEPICI’s website ( http://www.cepici.gouv.ci/ ).

Businesses can register at the CEPICI’s One-Stop Shop (Guichet Unique) in Abidjan. The One-Stop Shop allows businesses to register with the commercial registrar (Registre du Commerce et du Crédit Immobilier), the tax authority (Direction Générale d’Impôts) and the social security institute (Caisse Nationale de Prévoyance Sociale). The One-Stop Shop also publishes the legal notice of incorporation on CEPICI’s website. All necessary documents for registration are also available on the website. Registration takes between one and three days. The business licensing process, controlled by sector-specific governing bodies, is separate from the registration process.

Women have equal access to the registration process. There have not been any reports of discrimination in that regard.

Outward Investment

Côte d’Ivoire does not promote or incentivize outward investment.

However, the government does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The government aims for transparency in law and policy to foster competition and provide clear rules of the game and a level playing field for domestic and foreign investors. Transparency of the Ivoirian regulatory system is a concern; both foreign and Ivoirian companies complain that new regulations are issued with little warning and without a period for public comment.

There are no informal regulatory processes managed by non-governmental organizations or private-sector associations.

Regulatory authority and decision-making exist only at the national level. Sub-national jurisdictions do not regulate business. For most industries or sectors, regulations are developed through the ministry responsible for that sector. In the telecommunications, electricity, cocoa, coffee, cotton, and cashew sectors, the government has established control boards or independent agencies to regulate the sector and pricing. Companies have complained that rules for buying prices determined by the agriculture commodity regulatory agencies tend to be opaque and local prices are set arbitrarily without reference to world prices.

Côte d’Ivoire’s accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are consistent with international norms, though both foreign and Ivoirian businesses often complain about the government’s poor communication. Côte d’Ivoire is a member of the Organization for the Harmonization of African Business Law (OHADA), which is common to 16 countries and adheres to the WAEMU accounting system. In accounting, companies use the WAEMU system, which complies with international norms and is a source of economic and financial data.

Draft legislation and regulations are not published or made available for public comment. The government, however, often holds public seminars and workshops to discuss proposed plans with trade and industry associations.

Regulatory actions are published in the Journal Officiel de la République de Côte d’Ivoire (Official Journal of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire), which is available for purchase at newsstands and by subscription on the Journal’s website http://www.sgg.gouv.ci/jo.php  and at https://abidjan.net/ .

The Autorité Nationale de Régulation des Marchés Publics (National Regulatory Authority for Public Procurement; ANRMP), polices transparency in public procurement and private sector compliance with public procurement rules. Consumers, trade associations, private companies, and individuals have the right to file complaints with ANRMP to hold the government to its own administrative processes.

The U.S. Government does not have any knowledge of regulatory system reforms that have been announced since the last ICS report, including enforcement reforms. The government has fully implemented regulatory reforms announced in prior years, with the goal of creating an enabling business environment, fostering competition, and building investor confidence.

Public and private institutions tasked with controlling and regulating various sectors make regulatory enforcement mechanisms available to the public.

Regulatory bodies regularly publish and promote access to their data for the business community and development partners, allowing for scientific and data-driven reviews and assessments. Quantitative analysis and public comments are made available.

The Ivoirian government promotes transparency of public finances and debt obligations (including explicit and contingent liabilities) with the publication of this information through the following websites: http://budget.gouv.ci 

https://www.tresor.gouv.ci/tres/fr_FR/rapport-de-la-dette-publique/ 

International Regulatory Considerations

The Ivoirian government incorporates WAEMU directives into its public procurement bidding policy, processes, and auditing. This includes separating auditing and regulating functions and increasing advance payment for the initial procurement of goods and services from 25 to 30 percent. The ANRMP regulates public procurement with a view to improving governance and transparency. It has the authority to sanction private-sector entities that do not comply with public-procurement regulations and to provide recommendations to ministries to address irregularities.

Ivoirian laws, codes, professional-association standards, and regional-body membership obligations are incorporated in the country’s regulatory system. The private sector often follows European norms to take advantage of the Ivoirian trade agreement with the EU – Côte d’Ivoire’s largest market.

Côte d’Ivoire has been a WTO member since 1995 but has not notified all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade. Côte d’Ivoire signed the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in December 2013 and ratified it in December 2015. The National TFA Committee (NTFC) coordinates TFA implementation.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Ivoirian legal system is based on the French civil-law model. The law guarantees to all the right to own and transfer private property. Rural land, however, is governed by a separate set of laws, which makes ownership and transfer very difficult. The court system enforces contracts.

Côte d’Ivoire is a signatory to OHADA, which provides common corporate law and arbitration procedures for the 16 member states. The Commercial Court of Abidjan adjudicates corporate law cases and contract disputes. Mediation is also available through the Ivoirian legal framework in addition to the Commercial Court and the Arbitration Tribunal. The Commercial Court of Abidjan retains jurisdiction for the entire country.

The Ivoirian judicial system is ostensibly independent, but magistrates are sometimes subject to political or financial influence. Judges sometimes fail to prove that their decisions are based on the legal or contractual merits of a case and often rule against foreign investors in favor of entrenched interests. The greatest complaint from investors is the slow dispute-resolution process. Cases are often postponed or appealed without a reasonable explanation, moving from court to court for years or even decades. Regulations or enforcement actions are appealable and adjudicated through the national court system.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The 2018 Investment Code is the primary governing authority for investment conduct. The Code does not restrict foreign investment or the repatriation of funds. The Code offers a mixture of fiscal incentives, combining tax exoneration and tax credits to encourage investment. The government also offers incentives to promote small businesses and entrepreneurs, low-cost housing construction, factories, and infrastructure development, which the government considers key to the country’s economic development. Some sectors have additional laws that govern investment activity in those sectors. In mining, for example, the Mining Code allows a period for holding permits for ten years with a possibility to extend for two more years on a limited permit area of 400 square kilometers.

As of January 2021, the Government of Côte d’Ivoire has been preparing a bill detailing local content requirements for the petroleum sector for consideration by the legislature (see also Performance and Data Localization Requirements).

The CEPICI provides a one-stop shop website to assist investors. More information on Côte d’Ivoire’s laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements can be found at: www.apex-ci.org/ 

www.cepici.gouv.ci/ 

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Small Business Promotion, through the Commission on Anti-Competition Practices, is responsible for reviewing competition–related concerns under the 1991 competition law, which was updated in 2013. ANRMP is responsible for reviewing the awarding of contracts.

No significant competition cases were reported over the past year.

Expropriation and Compensation

The Ivoirian constitution guarantees the right to own property and freedom from expropriation without compensation. The government may expropriate property with due compensation (fair market value) at the time of expropriation in the case of “public interest.” Perceived corruption and weak judicial and security capacity, however, have resulted in poor enforcement of private property rights, particularly when the entity in question is foreign and the plaintiff is Ivoirian or a long-established foreign resident.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Côte d’Ivoire is a signatory to the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and a signatory to the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.

In cases where a firm does not meet the nationality conditions stipulated by Article 25 of the Convention, the dispute must be resolved within the provisions of the supplementary mechanisms approved by the ICSID.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Côte d’Ivoire is a signatory to investment agreements subject to binding international arbitration of investment disputes. Côte d’Ivoire recognizes and has been known to enforce foreign arbitral awards, but enforcement is inconsistent.

Côte d’Ivoire does not have a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) or a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States.

In the past 10 years, foreign investors have had investment disputes, which have often been resolved through arbitration or amicable settlement. There have been no reported disputes involving U.S. firms in the past 10 years. As Côte d’Ivoire is a signatory to the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, local courts are obliged to enforce foreign arbitral awards.

The U.S. government is not aware of any history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors, including U.S. firms.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The Abidjan-based regional Joint Court of Justice and Arbitration (CCJA) provides a means of solving contractual disputes. The arbitration tribunal has the ability to enforce awards more quickly, but most business contracts are written to specify that disputes will be settled in Ivoirian courts, thus the Ivoirian court system is the first resort.

Côte d’Ivoire is a member of OHADA, whose provisions adopted in 1999 have replaced domestic law on arbitration. The unified law is based on the model law of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNICITRAL).

Judgments of foreign courts are recognized but difficult to enforce in local courts. To avoid being forced to work through the Ivoirian legal system, some investors stipulate in contracts that disputes must be settled through international commercial arbitration. Yet, even if stipulated in the contract, decisions reached through OHADA are sometimes not honored by local courts.

The U.S. government is not aware of cases in which Côte d’Ivoire’s domestic courts have shown preferential treatment for state-owned enterprises involved in investment disputes.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Côte d’Ivoire is ranked 85 out of 190 countries for ease of resolving insolvency, according to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report. As a member of OHADA, Côte d’Ivoire has both commercial and bankruptcy laws that address the liquidation of business liabilities. OHADA is a regional system of uniform laws on bankruptcy, debt collection, and rules governing business transactions. OHADA permits three different types of bankruptcy liquidation: an ordered suspension of payment to permit a negotiated settlement; an ordered suspension of payment to permit restructuring of the company, similar to Chapter 11; and the complete liquidation of assets, similar to Chapter 7. Creditors’ rights, irrespective of nationality, are protected equally by the Act. Bankruptcy is not criminalized. Court-ordered monetary settlements resulting from declarations of bankruptcy are usually paid out in local currency.

The joint venture Credit Info – Volo West Africa manages regional credit bureaus in WAEMU.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The 2018 Investment Code offers a mixture of fiscal incentives, combining tax exoneration and tax credits focusing on agriculture, agro-business, tourism, health, and education. These include a full exoneration of customs duties or suspended VAT, and tax exemptions to business operations in some remote areas, with incentives based on the type of investment, phase of operation, local content, and participation. There are also incentives to promote small businesses and entrepreneurship, low-cost housing construction, factories, and infrastructure development, which the government considers key to the country’s broad-scale economic development. The Investment Code, the Petroleum Code and the Mining Code delineate incentives available to new investors in Côte d’Ivoire.

The government occasionally guarantees loans or jointly finances foreign direct investment projects. This is not a common practice.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Created in 2008, the Ivoirian free trade zone (FTZ) for information technology and biotechnology (VITIB) is located in the town of Grand Bassam in the greater Abidjan area. In 2014, VITIB established the Mahatma Gandhi Technology Park at Grand Bassam. Bonded warehouses do exist, and bonded zones within factories are allowed. High port costs and maritime freight rates have inhibited the development of in-bond manufacturing or processing, and there are consequently no general foreign trade zones.

An FTZ also exists at the Port of Abidjan specifically for fish processing. In force since December 2005, this FTZ is reserved for companies that earn at least 90% of their turnover from exports. Eligible companies are exempt from all duties and taxes, including on imported and exported goods and services. They also enjoy preferential rates for water, electricity, telephone, and fuel supplied by public or semi-public establishments. A fee applies to FTZ companies, the amount of which is fixed by decree.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The government strongly encourages investors and firms to hire Ivoirian employees via incentives outlined in the Investment Code, but this is not a requirement. In January 2021, the Ministry of Petroleum, Energy and Renewable Energy announced plans to introduce a local content law for the oil and gas sector. A draft bill has since been endorsed by the Council of Ministers and is ready for submission to the legislature for deliberation. The text of the bill is not yet publicly available and specific measures have not been publicly reported.

The 2018 Investment Code guarantees the freedom to designate senior management and board members.

Citizens of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) countries can legally work in Côte d’Ivoire without additional permissions and do not need a residency permit. For other nationalities, visas and permits for work and residency are required. The investment promotion agency CEPICI facilitates the visa and permit process. The process is not onerous and does not inhibit the ability of foreign investors and their employees to enter and exit the country.

There are no government-imposed conditions on permission to invest, including tariff and non-tariff barriers.

The government does occasionally place conditions on location, local content, equity ownership, import substitution, export requirements, host country employment, and technology. For example, the Ivoirian government required that one U.S. fast food franchise use locally sourced key ingredients, which it is able to do. The government also makes use of a number of tax exemptions and customs exonerations to incentivize companies to do more value-added processing in Côte d’Ivoire.

There are no performance requirements for investments.

Cellular telephone companies must meet technology performance requirements to maintain their licenses. The U.S. government does not know of any requirements that Côte d’Ivoire imposes on foreign information technology firms to give the government source code or provide access to encryption.

There are no requirements that prevent or unduly impede companies from freely transmitting customer or other business-related data. Data transmission or transfer is subject to prior authorization of the telecom regulatory board Autorité de Régulation des Télécommunications (Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Côte d’Ivoire; ART-CI).

Côte d’Ivoire’s law on data protection requests prior declaration or authorization by ART-CI for any data processing. ART-CI is responsible for the oversight of local data storage.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Ivoirian civil code provides for the enforcement of private property rights, and the government has undertaken reform efforts to secure property rights. Mortgages and liens exist. Secured interests in property are enforced by the Land Registry Office of the Ministry of Economy and Finance. In the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report, Côte d’Ivoire is ranked 112 out of 190 countries for registering property.

Foreign and/or nonresident investors who wish to lease land must obtain a permit for the development of the site, as well as a prefectural or sub-prefectural order recognizing occupation of the site.

The Audace Institute, an independent Ivoirian think tank, estimates that 96 percent of land does not have a clear title. The World Bank estimates that only 30 percent of property owners have clear title. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development requires that all land to be titled be professionally surveyed. The surveying, which must be performed by one of the few companies authorized by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to execute land surveys in Côte d’Ivoire, can cost more than the value of the land. A lack of title and a conflict between modern land tenure law and traditional practice hinders resolution of land tenure disputes.

It is not necessary to occupy legally purchased property in order to retain title.

Intellectual Property Rights

The Ivoirian Civil Code includes measures to protect intellectual property rights (IPR), but the government has limited capacity to enforce them. The government’s Office of Intellectual Property (Office ivoirien de la propriété intellectuelle; OIPI) is charged with ensuring the protection of patents, trademarks, industrial designs, and commercial names. Patents are valid for 10 years, with the possibility of two extensions of five years each. Trademarks are valid for 10 years and are renewable indefinitely. Copyrights are valid for 50 years. The Ivoirian Copyright Office (Bureau ivoirien du droit d’auteur; BURIDA) has a labeling system in place to prevent counterfeiting and to protect audio, video, literary, and artistic property rights in music and computer programs. While Ivoirian IPR law is in conformity with standards established by the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), the country lacks customs checks at its porous borders, limiting the law’s impact.

The government has not adopted any IPR-related laws or regulations in the past year. In 2020, the Ministry of Culture, Art, and Entertainment Business put committees in place to study and make recommendations for the reform and restructuring of BURIDA. BURIDA and the Ministry plan to implement the recommendations – which are not yet public – throughout 2021.

The National Committee to Combat Counterfeiting (Comité national de la lutte contre la contrefaçon; CNLC) coordinates national efforts against counterfeit and pirated goods. By law, the government must protect intellectual property on both exported and imported goods. Customs has the power to seize imported products that violate IPR laws even if installed with other equipment, including equipment detained, marketed, or illegally supplied. Such seizures, generally of counterfeit consumer goods (increasingly medicines), are routinely publicized on government websites and media outlets, although statistics on seizures are unavailable. IPR violations are prosecuted, and penalties vary from imprisonment of three months to two years and fines from 100,000 to 5,000,000 CFA (USD 166 to 8,333 based on an average exchange rate of 600 CFA to one U.S. dollar).

Côte d’Ivoire is not listed in the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List.

For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ 

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Government policies generally encourage foreign portfolio investment.

The Regional Stock Exchange (BRVM) is located in Abidjan and the BRVM lists companies from the eight countries of the WAEMU. The existing regulatory system effectively facilitates portfolio investment through the West African Central Bank (BCEAO) and the Regional Council for Savings Investments (CREPMF). There is sufficient liquidity in the markets to enter and exit sizeable positions.

Government policies allow the free flow of financial resources into the product and factor markets.

The BCEAO respects IMF Article VIII on payment and transfers for current international transactions.

Credit allocation is based on market terms and has increased to support the private sector and economic growth, specifically for large businesses. Foreign investors can acquire credit on the local market.

Money and Banking System

As of December 2020, there were 29 commercial banks and two credit institutions in Côte d’Ivoire. Banks are expanding their national networks, especially in the secondary cities outside Abidjan, as domestic investment has increased up-country. The total number of bank branches has more than doubled from 324 in 2010 to 725 branches in 2019 (latest data available). According to the World Bank, in 2017 (latest data available) 41 percent of the population over the age of 15 have a bank account. Alternative financial services available include mobile money and microfinance for bill payments and transfers. Many Ivoirians prefer mobile money over banking, but mobile money does not yet offer the same breadth of financial services as banks.

Most Ivoirian banks are compliant with the BCEAO’s minimum capital requirements. Some public banks have large numbers of nonperforming loans. The government has been restructuring and privatizing the commercial banking sector over the past decade in order to remove low performers from government accounts.

The estimated total assets of the five largest banks are around USD 14 billion and account for more than half of total bank assets in the country.

The BCEAO is common to the eight member states of the WAEMU and manages banking regulations.

Foreign banks are allowed to operate in Côte d’Ivoire; at least one has been in Côte d’Ivoire for decades. They are subject to the WAEMU Banking Commission’s prudential measures and regulations. There have been no reports of Côte d’Ivoire losing any correspondent banking relationships in the past three years. No correspondent banking relationships are known to be in jeopardy.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

There are no restrictions on the transfer or repatriation of capital and income earned, or on investments financed with convertible foreign currency. Once an investment is established and documented, the government regularly approves the remittances of dividends and/or repatriation of capital. The same holds true for requests for other sorts of transactions (e.g. imports, licenses, and royalty fees).

Funds associated with investments funded with convertible currency are freely convertible into any world currency.

Côte d’Ivoire is a member of WAEMU, which uses the West African CFA Franc (XOF). The French Treasury holds the foreign exchange reserves of WAEMU member states and supports the fixed exchange rate of 655.956 CFA to the Euro. In December 2019, the Ivoirian President, concurrently serving as chairman of WAEMU, announced in the presence of the French President the forthcoming transition from the CFA to a new common regional currency to be called the Eco; details about the timeline or modalities of the change have not yet been published.

Remittance Policies

There are no recent changes or plans to change investment remittance policies.

There are no time limitations on remittances. Total personal remittances received by Ivoirians were about USD 338 million in 2019 or 0.6 percent of GDP.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Côte d’Ivoire does not have a sovereign wealth fund, although there are reports as of late 2020 that the government is in the process of creating one.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Companies owned or controlled by the state are subject to national laws and the tax code. The Ivoirian government still holds substantial interests in many firms, including the refinery SIR (49 percent), the public transport firm (60 percent), the national television station RTI (98 percent), the national lottery (80 percent), the national airline Air Côte d’Ivoire (58 percent), and the land management agency Agence de Gestion Foncière AGEF (35 percent). Total assets of State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) were USD 796 million and total net income of SOEs was USD 116 million in 2018 (latest figures). Of the 82 SOEs, 28 are wholly government-owned, 12 are majority government-owned, in seven the government has a blocking minority, and in 35 the government has a minority of shares. Each SOE has an independent board. The government has begun the process of divestiture for some SOEs (see next section). There are active SOEs in the banking, agri-business, mining, and telecom industries.

The published list of SOEs is available at https://dgpe.gouv.ci/ind ex.php?p=portefeuille_etat 

SOEs competing in the domestic market do not receive non-market-based advantages from the government. They are subject to the same tax burdens and policies as private companies.

Côte d’Ivoire does not adhere to OECD guidelines for SOE corporate governance (it is not a member of OECD).

Privatization Program

The government has been pursuing SOE privatization for decades. Most recently, in 2017, the government sold 90 percent of its shareholdings in the Ivoirian Textile Development Company (Compagnie Ivoirienne du Développement du Textile; CIDT) as well as in the Ity Mining Company (Société des mines d’Ity; SMI). In 2018, the government sold 51 percent of the Housing Bank of Côte d’Ivoire (Banque d’Habitat de Côte d’Ivoire; BHCI).

Contracts for participation in SOE privatization are competed through a French-language public tendering process, for which foreign investors are encouraged to submit bids. The Privatization Committee, which reports to the Prime Minister, maintains a website at: http://privatisation.gouv.ci .

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The private sector, the government, NGOs, and local communities are becoming progressively aware of the importance of Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) with regard to environmental, social, and governance issues in Côte d’Ivoire.

Investors seeking to implement projects in energy, infrastructure, agriculture, forestry, waste management, and extractive industries are required by decree to provide an environmental impact study prior to approval. Foreign businesses, particularly in mining, energy, and agriculture, often provide social infrastructure, including schools and health care clinics, to communities close to their sites of operation. Companies are not required under Ivoirian law to disclose information relating to RBC, although many companies, especially in the cocoa sector, publicize their work. Cocoa companies publicize efforts to improve sustainability and combat the worst forms of child labor. As a part of public-procurement reform, the Ministry of Budget plans to include social needs in public-procurement contracts to support job creation, fair trade, decent working conditions, social inclusion and compliance with social standards. On the environment, suggested reforms include the selection of goods and services that have a smaller impact on the environment.

There are reports of children subjected to forced labor in agricultural work, particularly on cocoa farms. In February 2021, several individuals from Mali sued major international chocolate manufacturers in U.S. courts for supporting child labor and child trafficking in Côte d’Ivoire.

The government, through the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection, sets workplace health and safety standards and is responsible for enforcing labor laws.

The OHADA outlines corporate governance standards that protect shareholders.

There are government-funded agencies in charge of monitoring business conduct. Human rights, environmental protection, and civil society NGOs report misconduct and violations of good governance practices.

While international firms are aware of OECD guidelines and international best practices in RBC, most local firms have limited familiarity with international standards.

Côte d’Ivoire participates in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and discloses revenues and payments in the oil, gas, and mineral sectors. More information can be found at: www.cnitie.ci/ .

Côte d’Ivoire is not a signatory of the Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies. Some private security companies operating in the country are participants of the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers’ Association (ICoCA).

Additional Resources 

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Corruption is a concern for businesses. In 2013, the Ivoirian government issued Executive Order number 2013-660 related to preventing and fighting against corruption. The High Authority for Good Governance serves as the government’s anti-corruption authority. Its mandate includes raising awareness about corruption, investigating corruption in the public and private sectors, and collecting mandated asset disclosures from certain public officials (e.g., the president, ministers, and mayors) upon their entry and exit from office. The High Authority, however, does not have a mandate to prosecute; it must refer cases to the Attorney General who decides whether or not to take up those cases. The country’s financial intelligence office, CENTIF, has broad authority to investigate suspicious financial transactions, including those of government officials. Despite the establishment of these bodies and credible allegations of widespread corruption, there have been few charges filed, and few prosecutions and judgments against prominent people for corruption. The domestic business community generally assesses that these watchdog agencies lack the power and/or will to combat corruption effectively. In April 2021, the government formally added Good Governance and Anti-Corruption to the title and portfolio of the Ministry of Capacity Building.

Anti-corruption laws extend to family members of officials and to political parties.

The country’s Code of Public Procurement No. 259 and the associated WAEMU directives cover conflicts-of-interest in awarding contracts or government procurement.

Under the Ivoirian Penal Code, a bribe by a local company to a foreign official is a criminal act.

Some private companies use compliance programs or measures to prevent bribery of government officials. U.S. firms underscore to their Ivoirian counterparts that they are subject to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

Côte d’Ivoire ratified the UN Anti-Corruption Convention, but the country is not a signatory to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention (which is open to non-OECD members). In 2016, Côte d’Ivoire joined the Partnership on Illicit Finance, which obliges it to develop an action plan to combat corruption.

There are no special protections for NGOs involved in investigating corruption.

Corruption in many forms is deeply ingrained in public- and private-sector practices and remains a serious impediment to investment and economic growth in Côte d’Ivoire. Many companies cite corruption as the most significant obstacle to investment in Côte d’Ivoire. It has the greatest impact on judicial proceedings, contract awards, customs, and tax issues. Lack of transparency and failure to follow the government’s own tendering procedures in the awarding of contracts lead businesses to conclude bribery was involved. Businesses have reported encountering corruption at every level of the civil service, with some judges appearing to base their decisions on bribes. Clearance of goods at the ports often requires substantial “commissions,” and the Embassy has heard anecdotal accounts of customs agents rescinding valuations that were declared by other customs colleagues in an effort to extract bribes from customers. The demand for bribes can mean that containers stay at the Port of Abidjan for months, incurring substantial demurrage charges, despite companies having the proper paperwork in order.

No local industry or non-profit groups offer services for vetting potential local investment partners.

Resources to Report Corruption

Inspector General of Finance
(Brigade de Lutte Contre la Corruption)
Lassina Sylla
Inspector General
TELEPHONE: +225 20212000/2252 9797
FAX: +225 20211082/2252 9798
HOTLINE: +225 8000 0380
http://www.igf.finances.gouv.ci/ 
info@igf.finances.gouv.ci 

High Authority for Good Governance

(Haute Autorité pour la Bonne Gouvernance)
N’Golo Coulibaly
President
TELEPHONE: +225 272 2479 5000
FAX: +225 2247 8261

Police Anti-Racketeering Unit
(Unité de Lutte Contre le Racket –ULCR)
Alain Oura
Unit Commander
TELEPHONE: +225 272 244 9256
info@ulcr.ci 

Social Justice
(Initiative pour la Justice Sociale, la Transparence et la Bonne Gouvernance en Côte d’Ivoire)
Ananeraie face pharmacie Mamie Adjoua
Abidjan
TELEPHONE: +225 272 177 6373
socialjustice.ci@gmail.com 

10. Political and Security Environment

In 2016, the country adopted a new constitution, creating the position of Vice-President (currently vacant), and a Senate, which first convened in April 2018. In the period around elections in 2018 and 2020, demonstrations and protests by political parties and their supporters were common and occasionally led to vandalism, destruction of public and private property, and violent clashes with security forces and with other civilians. Unions also engage in protests that sometimes become violent. President Alassane Ouattara was elected to a third term in October 2020. In the run up to the 2020 presidential election, the lack of political party-consensus on the composition of the country’s Independent Electoral Commission, the contentious reform of the Electoral Code, the constitutional validation of the incumbent president’s eligibility for a third term, and the exclusion of significant opposition figures from the race, aggravated political divides within the country. National Assembly elections in March 2021, however, passed largely peacefully, and the opposition won a substantial number of seats.

Côte d’Ivoire’s security situation has significantly improved since its 2010-2011 post-electoral violence. In early 2017, some Ivoirian soldiers mutinied, demanding payment of bonuses. The government responded by largely acceding to their demands and pledging to improve living and working conditions for armed and security forces, which it has steadily done over the ensuing years. Côte d’Ivoire suffered a terrorist attack in March 2016 in the popular tourist town of Grand Bassam in which attackers killed 22 people. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the attack. In June 2020 and March 2021, the country experienced other attacks in the Ivoirian-Burkinabe border town of Kafolo, which the government attributed to unidentified terrorists. Al-Qaeda and other extremist organizations continue to pose a major terrorism risk to the region. Côte d’Ivoire continues to cooperate with international partners to combat the increasing terrorism/extremist threat emanating from the Sahel to its immediate North.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The official unemployment rate is 3.5 percent, however, unemployment is difficult to measure in the informal sector, which comprises 60-80% of the Ivoirian economy. The official unemployment rate among those aged 15-24 is 5.5 percent. Forty-seven percent of the non-agricultural workforce is employed in the informal economy. Official statistics fail to fully account for the large informal economy throughout the country, and do not accurately portray the general dearth of well-paying employment opportunities. Despite the government’s efforts, child labor remained a widespread problem in rural and urban areas, particularly on cocoa and coffee plantations, as well as in artisanal gold mining areas and in domestic work.

There are significant shortages of skilled labor in higher education fields, including information technology, engineering, finance, management, health, and science. The Ivoirian government is working with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to build and develop four technical and vocational training centers as part of a five-year Compact valued at nearly USD 525 million.

Labor laws favor the employment of Ivoirians in private enterprises. Any vacant position must be advertised for two months. If after two months no qualified Ivoirian is found, the employer may recruit a foreigner provided it plans to recruit an Ivoirian to fill the position within the next two years.

There are no restrictions on employers adjusting employment in response to fluctuating market conditions. Employees terminated for reasons other than theft or flagrant neglect of duty have the right to termination benefits. Unemployment insurance and other social-safety programs exist for employees laid off for economic reasons. For the roughly 60-80% percent of workers employed in the informal sector, unemployment insurance is not an option. However, there are other social-safety-net programs that apply to informal economy workers, including monthly stipends and waiving of universal health care fees.

Labor laws are not waived to attract or retain investment.

Collective bargaining agreements are in effect in many major business enterprises and sectors of the civil service. A prolonged teachers’ strike in 2019 was submitted for arbitration but due to the fractured nature of the teachers’ unions, not all parties agreed to the decision.

Labor disputes are submitted to the labor inspector for amicable settlement before engaging in any legal proceedings. If this attempt to settle the dispute fails, then the labor court can be engaged to resolve the dispute.

No strike has posed an investment risk during the last year.

There are no gaps between Ivoirian and international labor standards in law or practice that pose a reputational risk to investors.

The government did not adopt any new labor-related laws or regulations in 2020. In 2017, the government passed a law forbidding most forms of child labor for children under 12 and restricting it for minors aged 13 to 17. The law’s passage put Ivoirian law on par with ILO standards for child labor.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 N/A 2019 $58,500 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 -$495 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/ 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A N/A N/A BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2019 2.3% UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/
EconomicTrends/Fdi.html
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward Amount 100% Total Outward Amount 100%
France 2,134 21% Burkina Faso 370 16%
Canada 1,269 13% Mali 233 10%
United Kingdom 816 8% Liberia 204 9%
Morocco 727 7% Senegal 164 7%
Cayman Islands 480 5% Cayman Islands 162 7%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

14. Contact for More Information

U.S. Embassy Abidjan
Political/Economic Section
Cocody Riviera Golf
BP 730 Abidjan Cidex 03
Republic of Cote d’Ivoire
Phone: (+225) 22-49-40-00

Ghana

Executive Summary

Ghana’s economy had expanded at an average of seven percent per year since 2017 until the coronavirus pandemic reduced growth to 0.9 percent in 2020, according to the Ministry of Finance. Between 2017 and 2019, the fiscal deficit narrowed, inflation came down, and GDP growth rebounded, driven primarily by increases in oil production. The economy remains highly dependent on the export of primary commodities such as gold, cocoa, and oil, and consequently is vulnerable to slowdowns in the global economy and commodity price shocks. Growth is expected to rebound to 4.6 percent in 2021 from the shocks of COVID-19, according to the IMF, as a result of improved port activity, construction, imports, manufacturing, and credit to the private sector. In general, Ghana’s investment prospects remain favorable, as the Government of Ghana seeks to diversify and industrialize through agro-processing, mining, and manufacturing. It has made attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) a priority to support its industrialization plans and to overcome an annual infrastructure funding gap.

Remaining challenges to Ghana’s economy include high government debt, particularly energy sector debt, low internally generated revenue, and inefficient state-owned enterprises. Ghana has a population of 31 million, with over six million potential taxpayers, only 3.7 million of whom are actually registered to pay taxes. As Ghana seeks to move beyond dependence on foreign aid, it must develop a solid domestic revenue base. On the energy front, Ghana has enough installed power capacity to meet current demand, but it needs to make the cost of electricity more affordable through more effective management of its state-owned power distribution system.

Among the challenges hindering foreign direct investment are: costly and difficult financial services, lack of government transparency, corruption, under-developed infrastructure, a complex property market, costly and intermittent power and water supply, the high costs of cross-border trade, a burdensome bureaucracy, and an unskilled labor force. Enforcement of laws and policies is weak, even where good laws exist on the books. Public procurements are sometimes opaque, and there are often issues with delayed payments. In addition, there have been troubling trends in investment policy over the last six years, with the passage of local content regulations in the petroleum, power, and mining sectors that may discourage needed future investments.

Despite these challenges, Ghana’s abundant raw materials (gold, cocoa, and oil/gas), relative security, and political stability, as well as its hosting of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat make it stand out as one of the better locations for investment in sub-Saharan Africa. There is no discrimination against foreign-owned businesses. Investment laws protect investors against expropriation and nationalization and guarantee that investors can transfer profits out of the country, although international companies have reported high levels of corruption in dealing with Ghanaian government institutions. Among the most promising sectors are agribusiness and food processing; textiles and apparel; downstream oil, gas, and minerals processing; construction; and mining-related services subsectors.

The government has acknowledged the need to strengthen its enabling environment to attract FDI, and is taking steps to overhaul the regulatory system, improve the ease of doing business, and restore fiscal discipline.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 75 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 118 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 108 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $1,602 https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $2,220 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The Government of Ghana has made increasing FDI a priority and acknowledges the importance of having an enabling environment for the private sector to thrive. Officials are implementing some regulatory and other reforms to improve the ease of doing business and make investing in Ghana more attractive.

The 2013 Ghana Investment Promotion Center (GIPC) Act requires the GIPC to register, monitor, and keep records of all business enterprises in Ghana. Sector-specific laws further regulate investments in minerals and mining, oil and gas, industries within Free Zones, banking, non-bank financial institutions, insurance, fishing, securities, telecommunications, energy, and real estate. Some sector-specific laws, such as in the oil and gas sector and the power sector, include local content requirements that could discourage international investment. Foreign investors are required to satisfy the provisions of the GIPC Act as well as the provisions of sector-specific laws. GIPC leadership has pledged to collaborate more closely with the private sector to address investor concerns, but there have been no significant changes to the laws. More information on investing in Ghana can be obtained from GIPC’s website, www.gipcghana.com .

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Most of Ghana’s major sectors are fully open to foreign capital participation.

U.S. investors in Ghana are treated the same as other foreign investors. All foreign investment projects must register with the GIPC. Foreign investments are subject to the following minimum capital requirements: USD 200,000 for joint ventures with a Ghanaian partner, who should have at least 10 percent of the equity; USD 500,000 for enterprises wholly owned by a non-Ghanaian; and USD 1 million for trading companies (firms that buy or sell imported goods or services) wholly owned by non-Ghanaian entities. The minimum capital requirement may be met in cash or capital goods relevant to the investment. Trading companies are also required to employ at least 20 skilled Ghanaian nationals.

Ghana’s investment code excludes foreign investors from participating in eight economic sectors: petty trading; the operation of taxi and car rental services with fleets of fewer than 25 vehicles; lotteries (excluding soccer pools); the operation of beauty salons and barber shops; printing of recharge scratch cards for subscribers to telecommunications services; production of exercise books and stationery; retail of finished pharmaceutical products; and the production, supply, and retail of drinking water in sealed pouches. Sectors where foreign investors are allowed limited market access include: telecommunications, banking, fishing, mining, petroleum, and real estate.

Real Estate

The 1992 Constitution recognized existing private and traditional titles to land. Given this mix of private and traditional land titles, land rights to any specific area of land can be opaque. Freehold acquisition of land is not permitted. There is an exception, however, for transfer of freehold title between family members for land held under the traditional system. Foreigners are allowed to enter into long-term leases of up to 50 years and the lease may be bought, sold, or renewed for consecutive terms. Ghanaian nationals are allowed to enter into 99-year leases. The Ghanaian government has been working since 2017 on developing a digital property address and land registration system to reduce land disputes and improve efficiency. (See “Protection of Property Rights p. 14)

Oil and Gas

The oil and gas sector is subject to a variety of state ownership and local content requirements. The Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Act, 2016 (Act 919) mandates local participation. All entities seeking petroleum exploration licenses in Ghana must create a consortium in which the state-owned Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC) holds a minimum 15 percent carried interest, and a local equity partner holds a minimum interest of five percent. The Petroleum Commission issues all licenses. Exploration licenses must also be approved by Parliament. Further, local content regulations specify in-country sourcing requirements with respect to the full range of goods, services, hiring, and training associated with petroleum operations. The regulations also require local equity participation for all suppliers and contractors. The Minister of Energy must approve all contracts, sub-contracts, and purchase orders above USD 100,000. Non-compliance with these regulations may result in a criminal penalty, including imprisonment for up to five years.

The Petroleum Commission applies registration fees and annual renewal fees on foreign oil and gas service providers, which, depending on a company’s annual revenues, range from USD 70,000 to USD 150,000, compared to fees of between USD 5,000 and USD 30,000 for local companies.

Mining

Per the Minerals and Mining Act, 2006 (Act 703), foreign investors are restricted from obtaining a small-scale mining license for mining operations less than or equal to an area of 25 acres (10 hectares). In 2019, the criminal penalty for non-compliance with these regulations was increased to a minimum prison sentence of 15 years and maximum of 25 years, from a maximum of five years, to discourage illegal small-scale mining. The Act mandates local participation, whereby the government acquires 10 percent equity in ventures at no cost in all mineral rights. In order to qualify for any mineral license, a non-Ghanaian company must be registered in Ghana, either as a branch office or a subsidiary that is incorporated under the Ghana Companies Act or Incorporated Private Partnership Act. Non-Ghanaians may apply for industrial mineral rights only if the proposed investment is USD 10 million or above.

The Minerals and Mining Act provides for a stability agreement, which protects the holder of a mining lease for a period of 15 years from future changes in law that may impose a financial burden on the license holder. When an investment exceeds USD 500 million, lease holders can negotiate a development agreement that contains elements of a stability agreement and more favorable fiscal terms. The Minerals and Mining (Amendment) Act (Act 900) of 2015 requires the mining lease-holder to, “…pay royalty to the Republic at the rate and in the manner that may be prescribed.” The previous Act 703 capped the royalty rate at six percent. The Minerals Commission implements the law. In December 2020, Ghana passed the Minerals and Mining (Local Content and Local Participation) Regulations, 2020 (L.I. 2431) to expand the specific provisions under the mining regulations that require mining entities to procure goods and services from local sources. The Minerals Commission publishes a Local Procurement List, which identifies items that must be sourced from Ghanaian-owned companies, whose directors must all be Ghanaians.

Power Sector

In December 2017, Ghana introduced regulations requiring local content and local participation in the power sector. The Energy Commission (Local Content and Local Participation) (Electricity Supply Industry) Regulations, 2017 (L.I. 2354) specify minimum initial levels of local participation/ownership and 10-year targets:

Electricity Supply Activity Initial Level of Local Participation Target Level in 10 Years
Wholesale Power Supply 15 51
Renewable Energy Sector 15 51
Electricity Distribution 30 51
Electricity Transmission 15 49
Electricity Sales Service 80 100
Electricity Brokerage Service 80 100

The regulations also specify minimum and target levels of local content in engineering and procurement, construction, post-construction, services, management, operations, and staff. All persons engaged in or planning to engage in the supply of electricity are required to register with the ‘Electricity Supply Local Content and Local Participation Committee’ and satisfy the minimum local content and participation requirements within five years. Failure to comply with the requirements could result in a fine or imprisonment.

Insurance

The National Insurance Commission (NIC) imposes nationality requirements with respect to the board and senior management of locally incorporated insurance and reinsurance companies. At least two board members must be Ghanaians, and either the Chairman of the board or Chief Executive Officer (CEO) must be Ghanaian. In situations where the CEO is not Ghanaian, the NIC requires that the Chief Financial Officer be Ghanaian. Minimum initial capital investment in the insurance sector is 50 million Ghana cedis (approximately USD 9 million).

Telecommunications

Per the Electronic Communications Act of 2008, the National Communications Authority (NCA) regulates and manages the nation’s telecommunications and broadcast sectors. For 800 MHz spectrum licenses for mobile telecommunications services, Ghana restricts foreign participation to a joint venture or consortium that includes a minimum of 25 percent Ghanaian ownership. Applicants have two years to meet the requirement, and can list the 25 percent on the Ghana Stock Exchange. The first option to purchase stock is given to Ghanaians, but there are no restrictions on secondary trading.

Banking and Electronic Payment Service Providers

The Payment Systems and Services Act, 2019 (Act 987), establishes requirements for the licensing and authorization of electronic payment services. Act 987 ( https://www.bog.gov.gh/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Payment-Systems-and-Services-Act-2019-Act-987-.pdf ) imposes limitations on foreign investment and establishes residency requirements for company senior officials or members of the board of directors. Specifically, Act 987 mandates electronic payment services companies to have at least 30 percent Ghanaian ownership (either from a Ghanaian corporate or individual shareholder) and requires at least two of its three board directors, including its chief executive officer, be resident in Ghana.

There are no significant limits on foreign investment or differences in the treatment of foreign and national investors in other sectors of the economy.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Ghana has not conducted an investment policy review (IPR) through the OECD recently. UNCTAD last conducted an IPR in 2003.

The WTO last conducted a Trade Policy Review (TPR) in May 2014. The TPR concluded that the 2013 amendment to the investment law raised the minimum capital that foreigners must invest to levels above those specified in Ghana’s 1994 GATS horizontal commitments, and excluded new activities from foreign competition. However, it was determined that overall this would have minimal impact on dissuading future foreign investment due to the size of the companies traditionally seeking to do business within the country. An executive summary of the findings can be found at: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp398_e.htm .

Business Facilitation

Although registering a business is a relatively easy procedure and can be done online through the Registrar General’s Department (RGD) at https://egovonline.gegov.gov.gh/RGDPortalWeb/portal/RGDHome/eghana.portal  (this would be controlled by the new Office of the Registrar of Companies in 2021), businesses have noted that the process involved in establishing a business is lengthy and complex, and requires compliance with regulations and procedures of at least four other government agencies, including GIPC, Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA), Ghana Immigration Service, and the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT).

According to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 , it takes eight procedures and 13 days to establish a foreign-owned limited liability company (LLC) to engage in international trade in Ghana. In 2019, Ghana passed a new Companies Act, 2019 (Act 992), which among other things created a new independent office called the Office of the Registrar of Companies, responsible for the registration and regulation of all businesses. The new office is expected to be in place in 2021, and would separate the registration process for companies from the Registrar General’s Department; the latter would continue to serve as the government’s registrar for non-business transactions such as marriages. The new law also simplifies some registration processes by scrapping the issuance of a certificate to commence business and the requirement for a company to state business objectives, which limited the activities in which a company could engage. The law also expands the role of the company secretary, which now requires educational qualifications with some background in company law practice and administration or having been trained under a company secretary for at least three years. Foreign investors must obtain a certificate of capital importation, which can take 14 days. The local authorized bank must confirm the import of capital with the Bank of Ghana, which confirms the transaction to GIPC for investment registration purposes.

Per the GIPC Act, all foreign companies are required to register with GIPC after incorporation with the RGD. Registration can be completed online at http://www.gipcghana.com/ . While the registration process is designed to be completed within five business days, but there are often bureaucratic delays.

The Ghanaian business environment is unique, and guidance can be extremely helpful. In some cases, a foreign investment may enjoy certain tax benefits under the law or additional incentives if the project is deemed critical to the country’s development. Most companies or individuals considering investing in Ghana or trading with Ghanaian counterparts find it useful to consult with a local attorney or business facilitation company. The United States Embassy in Accra maintains a list of local attorneys, which is available through the U.S. Foreign Commercial Service ( https://2016.export.gov/ghana/contactus/index.asp ) or U.S. Citizen Services (https://gh.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/attorneys/). Specific information about setting up a business is available at the GIPC website: http://www.gipcghana.com/invest-in-ghana/doing-business-in-ghana.html .

Ghana Investment Promotion Centre
Post: P. O. Box M193, Accra-Ghana
Note: Omit the (0) after the country code when dialing from abroad.
Telephone: +233 (0) 302 665 125, +233 (0) 302 665 126, +233 (0) 302 665 127, +233 (0) 302 665 128, +233 (0) 302 665 129, +233 (0) 244 318 254/ +233 (0) 244 318 252
Email: info@gipc.gov.gh
Website: www.gipcghana.com 

Note that mining or oil/gas sector companies are required to obtain licensing/approval from the following relevant bodies:

Petroleum Commission Head Office
Plot No. 4A, George Bush Highway, Accra, Ghana
P.O. Box CT 228 Cantonments, Accra, Ghana
Telephone: +233 (0) 302 953 392 | +233 (0) 302 953 393
Website: http://www.petrocom.gov.gh/ 

Minerals Commission
Minerals House, No. 12 Switchback Road, Cantonments, Accra
P. O. Box M 248
Telephone: +233 (0) 302 772 783 /+233 (0) 302 772 786 /+233 (0) 302 773 053
Website: http://www.mincom.gov.gh/ 

Outward Investment

Ghana has no specific outward investment policy. It has entered into bilateral treaties, however, with a number of countries to promote and protect foreign investment on a reciprocal basis. Some Ghanaian companies have established operations in other West African countries.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Government of Ghana’s policies on trade liberalization and investment promotion are guiding its efforts to create a clear and transparent regulatory system.

Ghana does not have a standardized consultation process, but ministries and Parliament generally share the text or summary of proposed regulations and solicit comments directly from stakeholders or via public meetings and hearings. All laws that are currently in effect are printed by the Ghana Publishing Company, while the notice of publication of the law, bills or regulations are made in the Ghana Gazette (equivalent of the U.S. Federal Register). The non-profit Ghana Legal Information Institute ( HYPERLINK “https://ghalii.org/gh/gazette/GHGaz” https://ghalii.org/gh/gazette/GHGaz) re-publishes hard copies of the Ghana Gazette. The Government of Ghana does not publish draft regulations online, and the Parliament only publishes some draft bills ( https://www.parliament.gh/docs?type=Bills&OT ), which inhibits transparency in the approval of laws and regulations.

The Government of Ghana has established regulatory bodies such as the National Communications Authority, the National Petroleum Authority, the Petroleum Commission, the Energy Commission, and the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission to oversee activities in the telecommunications, downstream and upstream petroleum, electricity and natural gas, and water sectors. The creation of these bodies was a positive step, but the lack of resources and the bodies’ susceptibility to political influence undermine their ability to deliver the intended level of oversight.

The government launched a Business Regulatory Reform program in 2017, but implementation has been slow. The program aims to improve the ease of doing business, review all rules and regulations to identify and reduce unnecessary costs and requirements, establish an e-registry of all laws, establish a centralized public consultation web portal, provide regulatory relief for entrepreneurs, and eventually implement a regulatory impact analysis system. The government continues to work towards achieving these goals and in 2020 established the centralized public consultation web portal ( www.bcp.gov.gh ), the Ghana Business Regulatory Reforms platform. It is an interactive platform to allow policymakers to consult businesses and individuals in a transparent, inclusive, and timely manner on policy issues. Ghana adopted International Financial Reporting Standards in 2007 for all listed companies, government business enterprises, banks, insurance companies, security brokers, pension funds, and public utilities.

Ghana continues to improve on making information on debt obligations, including contingent and state-owned enterprise debt, publicly available. Information on the overall debt stock (including domestic and external) is presented in the Annual Debt Management Report, which is available on the Ministry of Finance website at https://www.mofep.gov.gh/investor-relations/annual-public-debt-report . However, information on contingent liabilities from state-owned enterprises is not explicit and is not consolidated in one report.

International Regulatory Considerations

Ghana has been a World Trade Organization (WTO) member since January 1995. Ghana issues its own standards for many products under the auspices of the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA). The GSA has promulgated more than 500 Ghanaian standards and adopted more than 2,000 international standards for certification purposes. The Ghanaian Food and Drugs Authority is responsible for enforcing standards for food, drugs, cosmetics, and health items. Ghana notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Ghana’s legal system is based on British common law and local customary law. Investors should note that the acquisition of real property is governed by both statutory and customary law. The judiciary comprises both lower courts and superior courts. The superior courts are the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, and the High Court and Regional Tribunals. Lawsuits are permitted and usually begin in the High Court. The High Court has jurisdiction in all matters, civil and criminal, other than those involving treason and some cases that involve the highest levels of the government – which go to the Supreme Court. There is a history of government intervention in the court system, although somewhat less so in commercial matters. The courts have entered judgments against the government. However, the courts have been slow in disposing of cases and at times face challenges in having their decisions enforced, largely due to resource constraints and institutional inefficiencies.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The GIPC Act codified the government’s desire to present foreign investors with a transparent foreign investment regulatory regime. GIPC regulates foreign investment in acquisitions, mergers, takeovers and new investments, as well as portfolio investment in stocks, bonds, and other securities traded on the Ghana Stock Exchange. The GIPC Act also specifies areas of investment reserved for Ghanaian citizens, and further delineates incentives and guarantees that relate to taxation, transfer of capital, profits and dividends, and guarantees against expropriation.

GIPC helps to facilitate the business registration process and provides economic, commercial, and investment information for companies and businesspeople interested in starting a business or investing in Ghana. GIPC provides assistance to enable investors to take advantage of relevant incentives. Registration can be completed online at www.gipcghana.com .

As detailed in the previous section on “Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment,” sector-specific laws regulate foreign participation/investment in telecommunications, banking, fishing, mining, petroleum, and real estate.

Ghana regulates the transfer of technologies not freely available in Ghana. According to the 1992 Technology Transfer Regulations, total management and technical fee levels higher than eight percent of net sales must be approved by GIPC. The regulations do not allow agreements that impose obligations to procure personnel, inputs, and equipment from the transferor or specific source. The duration of related contracts cannot exceed ten years and cannot be renewed for more than five years. Any provisions in the agreement inconsistent with Ghanaian regulations are unenforceable in Ghana.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Ghana is reportedly working on a new competition law to replace the existing legislation, the Protection Against Unfair Competition Act, 2000 (Act 589); however, the new bill is still under review.

Expropriation and Compensation

The Constitution sets out some exceptions and a clear procedure for the payment of compensation in allowable cases of expropriation or nationalization. Additionally, Ghana’s investment laws generally protect investors against expropriation and nationalization. The Government of Ghana may, however, expropriate property if it is required to protect national defense, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, town and county planning, or to ensure the development or utilization of property in a manner to promote public benefit. In such cases, the GOG must provide prompt payment of fair and adequate compensation to the property owner, but the process for determining adequate compensation and making payments can be complicated and lengthy in practice. The Government of Ghana guarantees due process by allowing access to the High Court by any person who has an interest or right over the property.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Ghana is a member state of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention). Ghana is a signatory to the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention).

There is a caveat for investment disputes arising from within the energy sector. The Government of Ghana has expressed a preference for handling disputes under the ad hoc arbitration rules of the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL Model Law).

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The United States has signed three bilateral agreements on trade and investment with Ghana: a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), OPIC Investment Incentive Agreement, and the Open Skies Agreement. These agreements contain provisions for investment as well as trade dispute mechanisms.

The Commercial Conciliation Center of the American Chamber of Commerce (Ghana) provides arbitration services on trade and investment issues for disputes regarding contracts with arbitration clauses.

There is interest in alternative dispute resolution, especially as it applies to commercial cases. Several lawyers provide arbitration and/or conciliation services. Arbitration decisions are enforceable provided they are registered in the courts.

In March 2005, the government established a commercial court with exclusive jurisdiction over all commercial matters. This court also handles disputes involving commercial arbitration and the enforcement of awards; intellectual property rights, including patents, copyrights and trademarks; commercial fraud; applications under the Companies Act; tax matters; and insurance and re-insurance cases. A distinctive feature of the commercial court is the use of mediation or other alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, which are mandatory in the pre-trial settlement conference stage. Ghana also has a Financial and Economic Crimes Court, which is a specialized division of the High Court that handles high-profile corruption and economic crime cases.

Enforcement of foreign judgments in Ghana is based on the doctrine of reciprocity. On this basis, judgments from Brazil, France, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Senegal, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom are enforceable. Judgments from American courts are not currently enforceable in Ghana.

The GIPC, Free Zones, Labor, and Minerals and Mining Laws outline dispute settlement procedures and provide for arbitration when disputes cannot be settled by other means. They also provide for referral of disputes to arbitration in accordance with the rules of procedure of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), or within the framework of a bilateral agreement between Ghana and the investor’s country. The Alternative Dispute Resolution Act, 2010 (Act 798) provides for the settlement of disputes by mediation and customary arbitration, in addition to regular arbitration processes.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Ghana does not have a bankruptcy statute. A new insolvency law, the Corporate Restructuring and Insolvency Act, 2020 (Act 1015), was passed to replace the Bodies Corporate (Official Liquidations) Act, 1963 (Act 180). The new law, unlike the previous one, provides for reorganization of a company before liquidation when it is unable to pay its debts, as well as cross-border insolvency rules. The new law does not have a U.S. Chapter 11-style bankruptcy provision, but allows for a process that puts the company under administration for restructuring. The new law complements the law for private liquidations under the Companies Act, 2019 (Act 992), but does not apply to businesses that are under specialized regulations such as banks and insurance companies.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Investment incentives differ slightly depending upon the law under which an investor operates. For example, while all investors operating under the Free Zone Act are entitled to a ten-year corporate tax holiday, investors operating under the GIPC law are not. Tax incentives vary depending upon the sector in which the investor is operating.

All investment-specific laws contain some incentives. The GIPC law allows for import and tax exemptions for plant inputs, machinery, and parts imported for the purpose of the investment. Chapters 82, 84, 85, and 89 of the Customs Harmonized Commodity and Tariff Code zero-rate these production items. In 2015, the Government of Ghana imposed a new five percent import duty on some items that were previously zero-rated to conform to the new Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) common external tariff.

The Ghanaian tax system is replete with tax concessions that considerably reduce the effective tax rate. The minimum incentives are specified in the GIPC law and are not applied in an ad hoc or arbitrary manner. Once an investor has been registered under the GIPC law, the investor is entitled to the incentives provided by law. The government has discretion to grant an investor additional customs duty exemptions and tax incentives beyond the minimum stated in the law. The GIPC website ( http://www.gipcghana.com/ ) provides a thorough description of available incentive programs. The law also guarantees an investor all the tax incentives provided for under Ghanaian law. For example, rental income from commercial and residential property is exempt from tax for the first five years after construction. Similarly, income from a company selling or leasing out premises is income tax exempt for the first five years of operation. Rural banks and cattle ranching are exempt from income tax for ten years and pay eight percent thereafter.

The corporate tax rate is 25 percent, and this applies to all sectors, except income from non-traditional exports (eight percent tax rate), companies principally engaged in the hotel industry (22 percent rate), and oil and gas exploration companies (35 percent tax rate). For some sectors there are temporary tax holidays. These sectors include Free Zone enterprises and developers (0 percent for the first ten years and 15 percent thereafter); real estate development and rental (0 percent for the first five years and 25 percent thereafter); agro-processing companies (0 percent for the first five years, after which the tax rate ranges from 0 percent to 25 percent depending on the location of the company in Ghana), and waste processing companies (0 percent for seven years and 25 percent thereafter). In December 2019, to attract investments under the Ghana Automotive Development Policy, corporate tax holidays among other import duty and value-added tax exemptions were granted to manufacturers or assemblers of semi-knocked-down vehicles (0 percent for three years) and complete-knocked down vehicles (0 percent for ten years). Tax rebates are also offered in the form of incentives based on location. A capital allowance in the form of accelerated depreciation is applicable in all sectors except banking, finance, commerce, insurance, mining, and petroleum. Under the Income Tax Act, 2015 (Act 896), all businesses can carry forward tax losses for at least three years.

Ghana has no discriminatory or excessively burdensome visa requirements. While ECOWAS nationals do not require a visa to enter Ghana, they need a work and residence permit to live and work in Ghana. The current fees for work and residence permit for ECOWAS nationals is USD 500 while that for non-ECOWAS nationals is USD 1,000. A foreign investor who invests under the GIPC Act is automatically entitled to a specific number of visas/work permits based on the size of the investment. When an investment of USD 50,000 but not more than USD 250,000 or its equivalent is made in convertible currency or machinery and equipment, the enterprise can obtain a visa/work permit for one expatriate employee. An investment of USD 250,000, but not more than USD 500,000, entitles the enterprise to two visas/work permits. An investment of USD 500,000, but not more than USD 700,000, allows the enterprise to bring in three expatriate employees. An investment of more than USD 700,000 allows an enterprise to bring in four expatriate employees. An enterprise may apply for extra visas or work permits, but the investor must justify why a foreigner must be employed rather than a Ghanaian. There are no restrictions on the issuance of work and residence permits to Free Zone investors and employees. Overall, the process of issuing work permits is not very transparent.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Free Trade Zones (called Free Zones in Ghana) were first established in May 1996, with one near Tema Steelworks, Ltd., in the Greater Accra Region, and two other sites located at Mpintsin and Ashiem near Takoradi in the Western Region. The seaports of Tema and Takoradi, as well as the Kotoka International Airport in Accra and all the lands related to these areas, are part of the Free Zone. The law also permits the establishment of single factory zones outside or within the areas mentioned above. Under the law, a company qualifies to be a Free Zone company if it exports more than 70 percent of its products. Among the incentives for Free Zone companies are a ten-year corporate tax holiday and zero import duty.

To make it easier for Free Zone developers to acquire the various licenses and permits to operate, the Ghana Free Zones Authority ( www.gfzb.gov.gh ) provides a “one-stop approval service” to assist in the completion of all formalities. A lack of resources has limited the effectiveness of the Authority. Foreign employees of Free Zone businesses require work and residence permits.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

In most sectors, Ghana does not have performance requirements for establishing, maintaining, and expanding a business. Investors are not required to purchase from local sources or employ prescribed levels of local content, except in the mining sector, the upstream petroleum sector, and the power sector, which are subject to substantial local content requirements. Similar legislation is being drafted for the downstream petroleum sector, and a National Local Content Policy is being debated by Cabinet that may extend to a broad array of sectors of the economy, but there is no clear timeline for its approval.

Generally, investors are not required to export a specified percentage of their output, except for Free Zone enterprises which, in accordance with the Free Zone Act, must export at least 70 percent of their products. Government officials have intimated that local content requirements should be applied to sectors other than petroleum, power, and mining, but no local content regulations have been promulgated for other sectors.

As detailed earlier in this report, there are a few areas where the GOG does impose performance requirements, including the mining, oil and gas, insurance, and telecommunications sectors.

Data Storage and Access

The Government of Ghana does not follow a forced localization policy in which foreign investors must use domestic content in goods or technology. In addition, there are no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to surveillance (backdoors into hardware and software or turn over keys for encryption). Section 50 of the Payment Systems and Services Act, 2019 (Act 987), however, requires electronic payment systems service providers to allow the Bank of Ghana to inspect the “premises, equipment, computer hardware, software, any communication system, books of accounts, and any other document or electronic information which the Bank of Ghana may require in relation to the system.” During the coronavirus outbreak, to achieve its goal of contact tracing, the government issued Executive Instrument E.I. 63 that requires all telecommunication network operators to make available to the National Communications Authority (NCA) Common Platform mobile users location log and roaming files, caller or called numbers, Merchant Codes (of mobile money vendors), Mobile Station International Subscriber Directory Number Codes, International Mobile Equipment Identity Codes and site location. Executive Instrument 63 is being challenged in court.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The legal system recognizes and enforces secured interest in property. The process to get clear title over land is difficult, complicated, and lengthy. It is important to conduct a thorough search at the Lands Commission to ascertain the identity of the true owner of any land being offered for sale. Investors should be aware that land records can be incomplete or non-existent and, therefore, clear title may be impossible to establish. Ghana passed a new land law, Land Act, 2020 (Act 1036), which revised, harmonized, and consolidated laws on land to ensure sustainable land administration and management. The new law makes it possible to transfer and create or register interests in land by electronic means to speed up conveyancing, supports decentralized land service delivery, and includes provisions relating to property rights of spouses by ensuring that spouses are deemed to be party to the interest in land that is jointly acquired during the marriage. These changes are expected to improve accessibility and secured tenure.

Mortgages exist, although there are only a few thousand due to factors such as land ownership issues and scarcity of long-term finance. Mortgages are regulated by the Home Mortgages Finance Act, 2008 (Act 770), which has enhanced the process of foreclosure. A mortgage must be registered under the Land Act, 2020 (Act 1036), a requirement that is mandatory for it to take effect. Registration with the Land Title Registry is a reliable system of recording the transaction.

Intellectual Property Rights

The protection of intellectual property rights (IPR) is an evolving area of law in Ghana. There has been progress in recent years to afford protection under both local and international law. Ghana is a party to the Universal Copyright Convention, the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PTC), the Singapore Trademark Law Treaty (STLT), and the Madrid Protocol Concerning the International Registration of Marks. Ghana is also a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the English-speaking African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO), and the World Trade Organization (WTO). In 2004, Ghana’s Parliament ratified the WIPO internet treaties, namely the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performance and Phonograms Treaty. Ghana also amended six IPR laws to comply with the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), including: copyrights, trademarks, patents, layout-designs (topographies) of integrated circuits, geographical indications, and industrial designs. Except for the copyright law, implementing regulations necessary for fully effective promulgation have not been passed.

The Government of Ghana launched a National Intellectual Property Policy and Strategy in January 2016, which aimed to strengthen the legal framework for protection, administration, and enforcement of IPR and promote innovation and awareness, although progress on implementation stalled. Enforcement remains weak, and piracy of intellectual property continues. Although precise statistics are not available for many sectors, counterfeit computer software is regularly available at street markets, and counterfeit pharmaceuticals have found their way into public hospitals. Counterfeit products have also been discovered in such disparate sectors as industrial epoxy, cosmetics, drinking spirits, and household cleaning products. Based on cases where it has been possible to trace the origin of counterfeit goods, most have been found to have been produced outside the region, usually in Asia. IPR holders have access to local courts for redress of grievances, although the few trademark, patent, and copyright infringement cases that U.S. companies have filed in Ghana have reportedly moved through the legal system slowly.

Ghana is not included in the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List.

Resources for Rights Holders

Please contact the following at Mission Accra if you have further questions regarding IPR issues:

Shona Carter
Economic Officer
U.S. Embassy, Economic Section
No. 24 Fourth Circular Road, Cantonments, Accra, Ghana
Tel: +233(0) 302 741 000 (Omit the (0) after the area code when dialing from abroad)
Email: AccraICS@state.gov

The United States Embassy in Accra maintains a list of local attorneys, which is available through the U.S. Foreign Commercial Service ( https://2016.export.gov/ghana/contactus/index.asp ) or U.S. Citizen Services (https://gh.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/attorneys/).

American Chamber of Commerce Ghana
5th Crescent Street, Asylum Down
P.O. Box CT2869, Cantonments-Accra, Ghana
Tel: +233 (0) 302 247 562/ +233 (0) 307 011 862 (Omit the (0) after the area code when dialing from abroad)
Email: info@amchamghana.org
Website: http://www.amchamghana.org/. 

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ 

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Private sector growth in Ghana is constrained by financing challenges. Businesses continue to face difficulty raising capital on the local market. While credit to the private sector has increased in nominal terms, levels as percentage of GDP have remained stagnant over the last decade, and high government borrowing has driven interest rates above 21 percent and crowded out private investment.

Capital markets and portfolio investment are gradually evolving. The longest-term domestic bonds are 15 years, with Eurobonds ranging up to 41-year maturities. Foreign investors are permitted to participate in auctions of bonds only with maturities of two years or longer. In November 2020, foreign investors held about 17.9 percent (valued at USD 4.6 billion) of the total outstanding domestic securities. In 2015, the Ghana Stock Exchange (GSE) added the Ghana Fixed-Income Market (GFIM), a specialized platform for secondary trading in debt instruments to improve liquidity.

The rapid accumulation of debt over the last decade, and particularly the past three years, has raised debt sustainability concerns. Ghana received debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) initiative in 2004, and began issuing Eurobonds in 2007. In February 2020, Ghana sold sub-Saharan Africa’s longest-ever Eurobond as part of a $3 billion deal with a tenor of 41 years. In 2020, total public debt, roughly evenly split between external and domestic, stood at approximately 76 percent of GDP, partly as a result of the economic shock of COVID-19 as revenue declined and expenditures spiked.

The Ghana Stock Exchange (GSE) has 31 listed companies, four government bonds, and one corporate bond. Both foreign and local companies are allowed to list on the GSE. The Securities and Exchange Commission regulates activities on the Exchange. There is an eight percent tax on dividend income. Foreigners are permitted to trade stocks listed on the GSE without restriction. There are no capital controls on the flow of retained earnings, capital gains, dividends, or interest payments. The GSE composite index (GGSECI) has exhibited mixed performance.

Money and Banking System

Banks in Ghana are relatively small, with the largest in the country in terms of operating assets, Ecobank Ghana Ltd., holding assets of about USD 2.1 billion in 2019. The Central Bank increased the minimum capital requirement for commercial banks from 120 million Ghana cedis (USD 22 million) to 400 million (USD 70 million), effective December 2018, as part of a broader effort to strengthen the banking industry. As a result of the reforms and subsequent closures and mergers of some banks, the number of commercial banks dropped from 36 to 23. Eight are domestically controlled, and the remaining 15 are foreign controlled. In total, there are nearly 1,500 branches distributed across the sixteen regions of the country.

Overall, the banking industry in Ghana is well capitalized with a capital adequacy ratio of 19.8 percent as of December 2020, above the 11.5 percent prudential and statutory requirement. The non-performing loans ratio increased from 14.3 percent in December 2019 to 14.5 percent as of December 2020. Lending in foreign currencies to unhedged borrowers poses a risk, and widely varying standards in loan classification and provisioning may be masking weaknesses in bank balance sheets. The BoG has almost completed actions to address weaknesses in the non-bank deposit-taking institutions sector (e.g., microfinance, savings and loan, and rural banks) and has also issued new guidelines to strengthen corporate governance regulations in the banks.

Recent developments in the non-banking financial sector indicate increased diversification, including new rules and regulations governing the trading of Exchange Traded Funds. Non-banking financial institutions such as leasing companies, building societies, and village savings and loan associations have increased access to finance for underserved populations, as have rural and mobile banking. Currently, Ghana has no “cross-shareholding” or “stable shareholder” arrangements used by private firms to restrict foreign investment through mergers and acquisitions, although, as noted above, the Payments Systems and Services Act, 2019 (Act 987), does require a 30 percent Ghanaian company or Ghanaian holding by any electronic payments service provider, including banks or special deposit-taking institutions.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Ghana operates a managed-float exchange rate regime. The Ghana cedi can be exchanged for dollars and major currencies. Investors may convert and transfer funds associated with investments, provided there is documentation of how the funds were acquired. Ghana’s investment laws guarantee that investors can transfer the following transactions in convertible currency out of Ghana: dividends or net profits attributable to an investment; loan service payments where a foreign loan has been obtained; fees and charges with respect to technology transfer agreements registered under the GIPC Act; and the remittance of proceeds from the sale or liquidation of an enterprise or any interest attributable to the investment. Companies have not reported challenges or delays in remitting investment returns. For details, please consult the GIPC Act ( http://www.gipcghana.com ) and the Foreign Exchange Act guidelines ( http://www.sec.gov.gh ). Persons arriving in or departing from Ghana are permitted to carry up to USD 10,000.00 without declaration; any greater amount must be declared.

Ghana’s foreign exchange reserve needs are largely met through cocoa, gold, and oil exports; government securities; foreign assistance; and private remittances.

Remittance Policies

There is a single formal system for transferring currency out of the country through the banking system. The Foreign Exchange Act, 2006 (Act 723) provides the legal framework for the management of foreign exchange transactions in Ghana. It fully liberalized capital account transactions, including allowing foreigners to buy certain securities in Ghana. It also removed the requirement for the Bank of Ghana (the central bank) to approve offshore loans. Payments or transfer of foreign currency can be made only through banks or institutions licensed to do money transfers. There is no limit on capital transfers as long as the transferee can identify the source of capital.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Ghana’s only sovereign wealth fund is the Ghana Petroleum Fund (GPF), which is funded by oil profits and flows to the Ghana Heritage Fund and Ghana Stabilization Fund. The Petroleum Revenue Management Act (PRMA), 2011 (Act 815), spells out how revenues from oil and gas should be spent and includes transparency provisions for reporting by government agencies, as well as an independent oversight group, the Public Interest and Accountability Committee (PIAC). Section 48 of the PRMA requires the Fund to publish an audited annual report by the Ghana Audit Service. The Fund’s management meets the legal obligations. Management of the Ghana Petroleum Fund is a joint responsibility between the Ministry of Finance and the Bank of Ghana. The minister develops the investment policy for the GPF, and is responsible for the overall management of GPF funds, consults regularly with the Investment Advisory Committee and Bank of Ghana Governor before making any decisions related to investment strategy or management of GPF funds. The minister is also in charge of establishing a management agreement with the Bank of Ghana for the oversight of the funds. The Bank of Ghana is responsible for the day-to-day operational management of the Petroleum Reserve Accounts (PRAs) under the terms of Operation Management Agreement.

For additional information regarding Ghana Petroleum Fund, please visit the 2019 Petroleum Annual Report at: https://www.mofep.gov.gh/publications/petroleum-reports .

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Ghana has 86 State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), 45 of which are wholly owned, while 41 are partially owned. Thirty-six of the wholly owned SOEs are commercial and operate more independently from government, while nine are public corporations or institutions, some providing regulatory functions. While the president appoints the CEO and full boards of most of the wholly owned SOEs, they are under the supervision of line ministries. Most of the partially owned investments are in the financial, mining, and oil and gas sectors. To improve the efficiency of SOEs and reduce fiscal risks they pose to the budget, in 2019 the government embarked on an exercise to tackle weak corporate governance in the SOEs as well as created the State Interests and Governance Authority (SIGA), a single institution, to monitor all SOEs, replacing both the State Enterprises Commission and the Divestiture Implementation Committee.

As of April 2021, only a handful of large SOEs remain, mainly in the transportation, power, and extractive sectors. The largest SOEs are Ghana Ports and Harbor Authority (GPHA), Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG), Volta River Authority (VRA), Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL), Tema Oil Refinery (TOR), Ghana Airport Company Limited (GACL), Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Ghana National Gas Company Limited, and Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC). Many of these receive subsidies and assistance from the government. The list of SOEs can be found at: https://siga.gov.gh/state-interest/ .

While the Government of Ghana does not actively promote adherence to the OECD Guidelines, SIGA oversees corporate governance of SOEs and encourages them to be managed like Limited Liability Companies so as to be profit-making. In addition, beginning in 2014, most SOEs were required to contract and service direct and government-guaranteed loans on their own balance sheet. The government’s goal is to stop adding these loans to “pure public” debt, paid by taxpayers directly through the budget.

Privatization Program

Ghana has no formal privatization program. The government has announced its intention, however, to prioritize the creation of public-private partnerships (PPPs) to restructure and privatize non-performing SOEs, although progress to implement this goal has been slow. Procuring PPPs is allowed under the National Policy on Public Private Partnerships in Ghana, which was adopted in June 2011. A PPP law is being drafted.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is no specific responsible business conduct (RBC) law in Ghana, and the government has no action plan regarding OECD RBC guidelines.

Ghana has been a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative since 2010. The government also enrolled in the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights in 2014.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is gaining more attention among Ghanaian companies. The Ghana Club 100 is a ranking of the top performing companies, as determined by GIPC. It is based on several criteria, with a 10 percent weight assigned to corporate social responsibility, including philanthropy. Companies have noted that Ghanaian consumers are not generally interested in the CSR activities of private companies, with the exception of the extractive industries (whose CSR efforts seem to attract consumer, government, and media attention). In particular, there is a widespread expectation that extractive sector companies will involve themselves in substantial philanthropic activities in the communities in which they have operations.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Corruption in Ghana is comparatively less prevalent than in most other countries in the region, according to Transparency International’s Perception of Corruption Index, but remains a serious problem, scoring 45 on a scale of 100 and ranking 75 out of 180 countries in 2020. The government has a relatively strong anti-corruption legal framework in place, but enforcement of existing laws is rare and inconsistent. Corruption in government institutions is pervasive. The Government of Ghana has vowed to combat corruption and has taken some steps to promote better transparency and accountability. These include establishing an Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) in 2017 to investigate and prosecute corruption cases and passing a Right to Information Act, 2019 (Act 989) (similar to the U.S. Freedom of Information Act) to increase transparency. The OSP has been without a Special Prosecutor since late 2020 and has still not prosecuted a significant anti-corruption case. In addition, the Auditor-General was placed on accrued annual leave in mid-2020 and then removed from office in March 2021 after a controversy related to his date of birth and mandatory retirement age.

Businesses have noted that bribery is most pervasive in the judicial system and across public services. Companies report that bribes are often exchanged in return for favorable judicial decisions. Large corruption cases are prosecuted, but proceedings are lengthy and convictions are slow. A 2015 exposé captured video of judges and other judicial officials extorting bribes from litigants to manipulate the justice system. Thirty-four judges were implicated, and 25 were dismissed following the revelations, though none have been criminally prosecuted.

The Public Procurement (Amendment) Act, 2016 (Act 914) was passed to address the shortcomings identified over a decade of implementation of the original 2003 law aimed at harmonizing the many public procurement guidelines used in the country and to bring public procurement into conformity with WTO standards. Nevertheless, complete transparency is lacking in locally funded contracts. There continue to be allegations of corruption in the tender process, and the government has in the past set aside international tender awards in the name of alleged national interest. The Public Financial Management Act, 2016 (Act 921) provided for stiffer sanctions and penalties for breaches, but its effectiveness in stemming corruption has yet to be demonstrated. In 2016, Ghana amended the company registration law (which has been retained in the new Companies Act, 2019 (Act 992)) to include the disclosure of beneficial owners. In September 2020, Ghana deployed a Central Beneficial Ownership Register to collect and maintain a national database on beneficial owners for all companies operating in Ghana. The law requires each person who creates a company in Ghana to report the identities of the company’s beneficial owners on the Beneficial Ownership Declaration form at the Registrar-General’s Department (RGD). Existing companies are also required to provide this information by the end of June 2021. There are different types of thresholds for reporting beneficial owners, depending on the sector the company belongs to and the type of person the beneficial owner is. For the general threshold, a person who has direct or indirect interest of 10 percent or more in a company must be registered as a beneficial owner. A Politically Exposed Person (PEP) in Ghana who has any shares or any form of control over a company in any sector must be registered as a beneficial owner, while for a foreign PEP, shares must be five percent or more. For companies in the extractive industry, financial institutions, and businesses operating in sectors listed as high risk by the RGD, the threshold for reporting beneficial owners is five percent. Failure to comply with the requirements may attract a fine of up to 6,000 cedis (USD 1,050) or two years in prison, or both.

The 1992 Constitution established the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ). Among other things, the Commission is charged with investigating alleged and suspected corruption and the misappropriation of public funds by officials. The Commission is also authorized to take appropriate steps, including providing reports to the Attorney General and the Auditor-General in response to such investigations. The effectiveness of the Commission, however, is hampered by a lack of resources, as it conducts few investigations leading to prosecutions. CHRAJ issued guidelines on conflict of interest to public sector workers in 2006, and issued a new Code of Conduct for Public Officers in Ghana with guidelines on conflicts of interest in 2009. CHRAJ also developed a National Anti-Corruption Action Plan that Parliament approved in July 2014, but many of its provisions have not been implemented due to lack of resources. In November 2015, then-President John Mahama fired the CHRAJ Commissioner after she was investigated for misappropriating public funds.

In 1998, the Government of Ghana also established an anti-corruption institution, called the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), to investigate corrupt practices involving both private and public institutions. The SFO’s name was changed to the Economic and Organized Crime Office (EOCO) in 2010, and its functions were expanded to include crimes such as money laundering and other organized crimes. EOCO is empowered to initiate prosecutions and to recover proceeds from criminal activities. The government passed a “Whistle Blower” law in July 2006, intended to encourage Ghanaian citizens to volunteer information on corrupt practices to appropriate government agencies.

Like most other African countries, Ghana is not a signatory to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery.

The most common commercial fraud scams are procurement offers tied to alleged Ghanaian government or, more frequently, ECOWAS programs. U.S. companies frequently report being contacted by an unknown Ghanaian firm claiming to be an authorized agent of an official government procurement agency. Foreign firms that express an interest in being included in potential procurements are lured into paying a series of fees to have their companies registered or products qualified for sale in Ghana or the West Africa region. U.S. companies receiving offers from West Africa from unknown sources should contact the U.S. Commercial Service in Ghana ( https://www.trade.gov/ghana ), use extreme caution, and conduct significant due diligence prior to pursuing these offers. American firms can request background checks on companies with whom they wish to do business by purchasing the U.S. Commercial Service’s International Company Profile (ICP). Requests for ICPs should be made through the nearest United States Export Assistance Center (USEAC), which can be found at https://www.trade.gov. For more information about the U. S. Commercial Service office at the U.S. Embassy in Ghana, visit www.export.gov/ghana .

Resources to Report Corruption

Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ)
Old Parliament House, High Street, Accra
Postal Address: Box AC 489, Accra
Omit the (0) after the area code when dialing from abroad: Phone: +233 (0) 242 211 534
Email: info@chraj.gov.gh
Website: http://www.chraj.gov.gh 

Economic and Organized Crime Office (EOCO)
Behind Old Parliament House, Accra
Omit the (0) after the area code when dialing from abroad:
Tel +233 (0) 302 665559, +233 (0) 302 634 363
Email: eoco@eoco.org.gh
Website: www.eoco.org.gh

10. Political and Security Environment

Ghana offers a relatively stable and predictable political environment for American investors, and has a solid democratic tradition. In December 2020, Ghana completed its eighth consecutive peaceful presidential and parliamentary elections and transfer of power since 1992, with power transferred between the two main political parties three times during that period. On December 7, 2020 New Patriotic Party (NPP) candidate (and incumbent) Nana Akufo-Addo was re-elected over the National Democratic Congress (NDC) candidate, former President John Mahama. The NDC disputed the 2020 presidential election result. The Supreme Court heard the case and ruled that Akufo-Addo had, indeed, won the election. There were isolated cases of violence during the election but no widespread civil disturbances. The next general elections are scheduled for December 7, 2024.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Ghana has a large pool of unskilled labor. English is widely spoken, especially in urban areas. However, according to the United Nations, nationwide illiteracy remains high at 33 percent. Labor regulations and policies are generally favorable to business. Although labor-management relationships are generally positive, occasional labor disagreements stem from wage policies in Ghana’s inflationary environment. Many employers find it advantageous to maintain open lines of communication on wage calculations and incentive packages. A revised Labor Act of 2003 (Act 651) unified and modified the old labor laws to bring them into conformity with the core principles of the International Labor Convention, to which Ghana is a signatory.

Under the Labor Act, the Chief Labor Officer both registers trade unions and approves applications by unions for a collective bargaining certificate. A collective bargaining certificate entitles the union to negotiate on behalf of a class of workers. The Labor Act also created a National Labor Commission to resolve labor and industrial disputes, and a National Tripartite Committee to set the national daily minimum wage and provide policy guidance on employment and labor market issues. The National Tripartite Committee includes representatives from government, employers’ organizations, and organized labor. The Labor Act sets the maximum hours of work at eight hours per day or 40 hours per week, but makes provision for overtime and rest periods. Some categories of workers, including trades workers and domestic workers, are excluded from the eight hours per day or 40 hours per week maximum.

The Labor Act prohibits the “unfair termination” of workers for specific reasons outlined in the law, including participation in union activities; pregnancy; or based on a protected class, such as gender, race, color, ethnicity, origin, religion, creed, social, political or economic status, or disability. The Labor Act also provides procedures companies are required to follow when laying off staff, including under certain situations providing severance pay, known locally as “redundancy pay.” Disputes over redundancy pay can be referred to the National Labor Commission. The Act’s provisions regarding fair and unfair termination of employment do not apply to some classes of contract, probationary, and casual workers.

There is no legal requirement for labor participation in management. However, many businesses utilize joint consultative committees in which management and employees meet to discuss issues affecting business productivity and labor issues.

There are no statutory requirements for profit sharing, but fringe benefits in the form of year-end bonuses and retirement benefits are generally included in collective bargaining agreements. Child labor remains a problem. Child labor is particularly severe in agriculture, including in cocoa and fishing. In general, worker protection provisions in the Labor Act, including health and safety provisions, are weakly enforced. Post recommends consulting a local attorney for detailed advice regarding labor issues. The U.S. Embassy in Accra maintains a list of local attorneys, which is available through the U.S. Foreign Commercial Service ( https://2016.export.gov/ghana/contactus/index.asp ) or U.S. Citizen Services (https://gh.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/attorneys/).

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) N/A N/A 2019 $66,984 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 $1,602 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 -$1 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2019 59% UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions), 2018
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 18,299 % Total Outward Data not available %
United Kingdom 6,675 36% N/A
Belgium 2,585 14%
France 1,629 9%
Cayman Islands 1,208 7%
Isle of Man 984 5%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

14. Contact for More Information

Shona Carter
Economic Officer
U.S. Embassy, Economic Section
No. 24 Fourth Circular Road, Cantonments, Accra, Ghana
Tel: +233 (0) 302 741 000 (Omit the (0) after the area code when dialing from abroad)
Email: AccraICS@state.gov 

Sierra Leone

Executive Summary

Sierra Leone, with an estimated population of over 7.9 million people (World Population Review), is located on the coast of West Africa between the Republic of Guinea in the north and northeast, the Republic of Liberia in the south and southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean on the west, with a land area of 71,740 square kilometers. Since the civil war ended in 2002, the country has been politically stable with extraordinary religious tolerance among its people. Sierra Leone presents potential opportunities for investment and engagement. The March 2018 democratic transition in the presidency concluded with a runoff that recorded 81 percent registered voter participation. President Julius Maada Bio, who ruled briefly as head of a military regime in 1996, replaced President Ernest Bai Koroma on May 12, 2018. His “New Direction” doctrine promised a comprehensive reform agenda to revamp the economy and overturn the persistent imbalances on the current account, currency depreciation, high inflationary pressure, untenable debt distress, and high unemployment.

Sierra Leone’s economy remains heavily dependent on mineral resources, including significant deposits of iron ore, rutile, bauxite, and diamonds. Real gross domestic product (GDP) growth hit 20.1 percent in 2013, but the economy came to an abrupt halt in 2014, with the largest Ebola outbreak in history. This outbreak coincided with a slump in global commodities prices, which contracted the economy by 21.1 percent in 2015. The end of the outbreak allowed a modest recovery of 6.3 percent in 2016 with massive budgetary disparity caused by high public expenditure over revenue. This deficit compelled the government to implement austerity measures that slashed spending across the board and temporarily froze disbursements on most government projects. However, the measures failed to increase revenue collections or accumulate the expected savings, as economic growth slowed to 3.5 percent and inflation up at 18.3 percent in 2017. As the country continued to seek significant budget support from foreign donors, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in June 2017, approved a three-year Extended Credit Facility (ECF) to help address the macroeconomic weaknesses but was suspended in December 2017. Consequently, development partners withheld their budgetary support to the government.

The economic landscape was challenging when the new administration took up governance in March 2018. Nonetheless, to achieve fiscal sustainability and medium-term growth objectives, the new government took up the challenges of revenue mobilization and expenditure control and initiated a re-activation of the suspended ECF with the IMF, to overcome emerging challenges and improve the prospects for growth projected to rebound to 4.8 percent in 2019. In February 2019, the government launched a medium-term National Development Plan (MTNDP) to span 2019 – 2023. The government hopes the plan, built on human capital development, economic diversification, and increased competitiveness in agriculture, fisheries, and tourism, will facilitate the transformation of the country from a fragile state to a stable and prosperous democracy that achieves middle-income status by 2039.

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) plummeted in 2014/15 following the Ebola outbreak and the fall in commodity prices. After the outbreak, the flows sprouted to reach USD 599 million from its lowest level of USD 129 million in 2017 and with volatile inflows attributable to mining multinationals. According to UNCTAD’s 2020 World Investment Report, the stock increased to USD 2 billion by end of 2018 as the country was seeking to attract investment in agriculture, fisheries, tourism, natural resources, and through public-private partnerships for projects in energy, water, telecommunications, and other infrastructures. Sierra Leone, endowed with substantial natural resources, had long relied on its mineral industry, dominated by countless miners, as minerals account for more than 80 percent of exports and contribute 2.7 percent to GDP. The current President is reviewing mining contracts and considering changes to the law that would ensure the country benefits from its natural resources, a promise he made during his campaign. In 2019, the government canceled the mining licenses of the two major iron ore companies – the Chinese’s Shandong Iron & Steel Company and the U.S.-owned Gerald Group’s Sierra Leone Mining Company. The GoSL claimed that the companies were not paying all royalties. In 2020, Gerald Group subsequently brought a lawsuit against the government in an international tribunal. The government refused to recognize international arbitral rulings against it and was not complying with legal determinations, until in May 2021, when Gerald Group reached a settlement with the government. Mining operations are expected to resume in mid-2021.

While these issues do not necessarily reflect any discriminatory treatment of U.S. interests, they do underscore the challenges of all foreign businesses operating in Sierra Leone. Despite these issues, Sierra Leone offers great investment opportunities, and the government is looking for investment in all sectors of the economy and hopes for economic growth and development to be led by the private sector. To achieve this, the government continues to focus on improving the business environment to attract new foreign direct investments. Opportunities exist for investors as the country benefits from duty-free access to the Mano River Union market of more than 30 million, the African Continental Free Trade Agreement of about fifty-four African countries with a combined population of more than one billion, the European Union’s Everything But Arms initiative and the United States’ African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) treaty. Achieving sustained economic growth will depend on Sierra Leone’s ability to diversify its economy, tap into under-utilized sectors like agriculture, tourism, and fisheries, and exploiting the country’s considerable natural resources in a manner to improve the lives of all citizens.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 119 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 163 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index N/A N/A https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country (stock positions) 2018 $13 million USD https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $490 USD http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies toward Foreign Direct Investment

Sierra Leone presents a favorable attitude toward FDI, which is critical to spurring the country’s economic growth and development. The Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency (SLIEPA), supervised by the Ministry of Trade and Industry, is the government’s lead agency established to oversee trade policies, improve the investment climate, and stimulate investments. SLIEPA also provides information on business registration and assists investors in securing the relevant incentives and licenses.

In the World Bank ease of doing business report, Sierra Leone ranked 163 among 190 countries in 2020 and 2019, down from 160 in 2018, though the overall score (48.74) increased by +0.15 . For 2020, the World Bank highlighted challenges in access to credit, resolving insolvency, access to electricity, and construction permits but noted improved performance in payment of taxes and cross-border trade, with significantly improved performance in starting a business. The business registration process has been simplified into a one-stop-shop, the customs clearance procedure has been further simplified to improve on the country’s trade facilitation infrastructure, and the major seaport extended to accommodate more vessels.

The shortage in skilled labor, the lack of infrastructure, the slow legal system, the high level of corruption, political violence, and serious social disorder due to socio-economic disparities are major obstacles to FDI. Although the legal system is just and fair with foreign investors, the judiciary is often subject to financial and political influences as the enforcement of the law is a challenge. The government is constructing major roads leading to district headquarter towns and rehabilitating feeder roads linking agricultural suppliers to urban markets. In tackling corruption, the country progressed 10 places up in the Transparency International Corruption ranking from 129 out of 180 in 2018 to 119 out of 180 in 2019 and further up 2 places (117out of 180) in 2020. The country passed the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s indicator on the control of corruption scoring 71 percent in 2019, 79 percent in 2020, and 81 percent in 2021, though it failed in 2018 (49 percent).

The current administration continues to assure investors that the country is open to foreign investment and is make some efforts to address corrupt practices in procurements, land rights, customs, law enforcement, judicial proceedings, and other governance and economic sectors. Sierra Leone now focuses on investments through public-private partnerships to undertake major infrastructural projects in power, water, roads, ports, and telecommunications. The government launched the Medium-Term National Development Plan (2019-2023) in which it sets out a growth agenda and is developing a national Trade and Investment Strategy to support economic diversification, competitiveness, and continental integration geared towards promoting and developing a competitive private sector to increase participation in global trade.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private entities have the right to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activities. Foreigners are free to establish, acquire, and dispose of interests in business enterprises. However, foreign investors cannot invest in arms and ammunition, cement block manufacturing, granite and sandstone excavation, manufacturing of certain consumer durable goods, and military, police, and prison guards’ apparel and accouterments. Furthermore, there are limits to land ownership by foreign entities and individuals; the limitations vary depending on the location of the land being used and are discussed below in the “Real Property” section.

Sierra Leone has few specific restrictions, controls, fees, or taxes on foreign ownership of companies that can outrightly own Sierra Leonean companies subject to certain registration formalities. However, investment in mining of less than $500,000 is an exception as this requires a 25 percent Sierra Leonean holding. Foreign technical and unskilled labor can be used but approval must be sought from the Corporate Affairs Commission for the transfer of shares.

Business Facilitation

Sierra Leone has made progress in recent years in simplifying its business registration process. The Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) now manages the registration of limited liability companies and provides a “one-stop-shop” including an online business registration system. The entire process involves five steps and takes on average ten days. Additional information is available from the CAC’s website at http://www.cac.gov.sl/.   SLIEPA also provides useful guidance on starting a business, sector-specific business licenses, mining licensing and certification fees, and marine resources and fisheries at http://sliepa.org/starting-a-business/ .

Outward Investment

Sierra Leone has no program to promote or incentivize outward investment but also places no restrictions on such activity.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Sierra Leone has three bilateral investment treaties with Germany, in force since 1966, the United Kingdom in 1981 and revised in 2001, and with China, signed in 2001 but not yet entered into force. These treaties are meant to protect investors with guarantees of fair and equitable treatment with protection against unlawful expropriation. This was however being violated by the GoSL when they did not comply with the rulings of the International Chamber of Commerce in a mining dispute with a U.S./UK registered firm. However, in May 2021 this matter was resolved. Though not yet in force since signing in 2001, China and Sierra Leone reaffirmed their commitment to deepening the relationship by a memorandum of understanding signed when President Bio visited China in 2018.

Sierra Leone also benefits from its membership of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement with the United States, signed in 2014 with no bilateral taxation treaty. Double bilateral taxation treaties exist with Norway, South Africa, and the UK, which is extended to Canada, Denmark, Ghana, New Zealand, Nigeria, and The Gambia. The Ministry of Finance is however reviewing all existing treaties and working on requested treaties from Kenya and Qatar.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Parliament is the country’s supreme legislative authority. Laws are enacted by Parliament and signed by the President. The Judiciary interprets and applies the laws to ensure impartial justice and provides a mechanism for dispute resolution. However, the regulatory system is not fully consistent with international norms. Laws and regulations are developed at the national level, and the Constitution requires publication of proposed laws and regulations in a government journal, the Gazette, for 21 days.

Series of legislative reforms have been carried out since the first trade policy review in 2005 to enhance a conducive business environment and attract FDI. These include the Business Registration Act, the Investment and Export Promotion Agency Act, which established the Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency (SLIEPA), the Anti-Corruption Act, the Bankruptcy Act, the Companies Act, the Goods and Services Tax Act, the Customs Administration Act, the Payment Systems Act, the Debt Management Act and several Finance Acts, to name a few. To strengthen the legal, regulatory, and institutional frameworks, Sierra Leone established the fast-track commercial court, the Credit Reference Bureau, the Corporate Affairs Commission, revised the legislation of company activities and developed the Local Content Policy.

Also, Sierra Leone has taken steps to promote and improve regulatory transparency. The Right to Access Information Commission was established in 2014 to make government records information available to the public and imposes a penalty for failure to make information available. Sierra Leone joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in 2014, an initiative that empowers citizens to fight corruption, and promotes transparent and accountable governance. The Audit Service Sierra Leone, headed by an Auditor General, was established by the Audit Service Act of 1998 and further strengthened by the Audit Service Act of 2014, to carry out audits of public accounts of all public offices, including statutory corporations and organizations set up partly or wholly out of public funds. Sierra Leone joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in 2008, became compliant with EITI rules in 2014, made progress in implementing EITI Standards, and was required to undertake corrective actions before the second validation due in December 2020. The Public Financial Management Act of 2016 reformed the budget process and improved transparency in the expenditure of public funds, while the Fiscal Management and Control Act of 2017 directed government ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs) to transfer all revenues into the Treasury Single Account, domestically referred to the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF), which was fully complied within 2018 on the executive order of President Maada Bio.

International Regulatory Considerations

Sierra Leone joined the General Agreement of Tariff and Trade (GATT) in 1961 and the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995. Sierra Leone is committed to the multilateral trading system and has not notified the WTO of any measures that are inconsistent with the WTO’s Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMs) obligations. It acceded to the Kyoto Protocol in 2006 and the International Convention on the Simplification and Harmonization of Customs Procedures otherwise referred to as the Revised Kyoto Convention in 2015. It became a contracting party to the International Convention on the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (HS Convention) in 2015. It replaced its pre-shipment inspection with a destination inspection in 2009 and notified the WTO of the Agreement on Trade facilitation in May 2017. The Customs Act of 2011 upholds the WTO Customs Valuation Agreement which prohibits the use of arbitrary, or fictitious values, but continues, in practice, to use these values. It has however not notified the WTO of its sanitary and phytosanitary legislation required for the international movement of any plant materials or products or any state-trading activity.

Sierra Leone is neither a signatory nor an observer to any of the plurilateral agreements concluded under the WTO, but being firmly committed to its obligations, it established a mission to the WTO in 2011. It had ratified six multilateral investment agreements, including the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) Convention and the Convention establishing the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) so that foreign investments in Sierra Leone are covered against non-commercial risks such as currency transfer risks, expropriation risks, risks of war and civil disturbance, and repudiation risk.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The legal system is derived from the English common law system, but outside of the capital, Freetown, local courts apply customary law to many disputes. The courts provide a venue to enforce property and contract rights. The country does not have a consolidated written commercial or contractual law, and disparate pieces of legislation sometimes lead to the uneven treatment of commercial disputes.

The Superior Court of Judicature consists of the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, and the High Court while the lower courts consist of the magistrate court and the local courts. In 2010, Sierra Leone created a Fast-Track Commercial Court to reduce the duration of commercial cases to a minimum of about six months. In 2017, Sierra Leone hosted a commercial law summit to address gaps in the justice system, resulting in concrete recommendations in key areas, including arbitration, anti-corruption and bribery, public-private partnerships, and reform of the court process. There is now a draft Arbitration Bill which when passed into law will bring arbitration proceedings in Sierra Leone up to international standards.

Foreign investors have equal access to the judicial system, which in practice, is slow and often subject to financial and political influence. However, Sierra Leonean courts may acknowledge foreign judgment from specific jurisdictions with reciprocal enforcement arrangements with Ghana, Nigeria, Guinea, and the Gambia. Generally, Sierra Leonean courts do not apply foreign law, but foreign judgment can be enforced when registered with the high court, though the registration may be refused when enforcement is contrary to public policy.

On depositing its instrument for accession to the United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention), Sierra Leone became the 166th state party to the convention which will come into force in January 2021. Recommended during the inaugural Commercial Law Summit of May 2017, the accession will promote FDI by resolving disputes by arbitration without interference from local courts and will enforce arbitral awards consistently and predictably.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The Companies Act of 2009, the Registration of Business Act of 2007, and their subsequent amendments are the main laws governing the registration of all businesses before commencing operations. The Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) deals with the incorporation of companies, while the Office of the Administrator and Registrar General (OARG) deals with sole proprietorships and partnerships with the process streamlined into a stop-shop.

Sierra Leonean law generally ensures that foreign investors may compete on the same terms as domestic firms. The Investment Promotion Act 2004 protects foreign entities from discriminatory treatment. The law creates incentives, customs exemptions, provides for investors to freely repatriate proceeds and remittances, and protects against expropriation without prompt and adequate compensation. The law establishes a dispute settlement framework that allows investors to submit disputes to arbitration under the rules of procedure of the UN Commission on International Trade Laws (UNCITRAL).

Sierra Leonean authorities do not screen, review, or approve foreign direct investments. Companies must register to do business in Sierra Leone, and there are no reports that the registration process has blocked investments or discriminated against investors. In the case of investment guarantees, the government established certain procedures with the U.S. government in agreements signed on December 28, 1962, and November 13, 1963, whereby Sierra Leone authorities approve external investment guarantees in Sierra Leone. Additional information about the laws and regulations applicable to foreign investments is available on the website of SLIEPA at http://sliepa.org/ .

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Sierra Leone does not have competition law. The European Union (EU) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) have supported the Ministry of Trade and Industry’s attempt to develop a competition policy, as this ministry oversees the regulation of anti-competitive practices. A competition policy and a consumer protection policy have been approved by the cabinet, but parliament is yet adopted the relevant legislation.

Expropriation and Compensation

There is no history of expropriation in Sierra Leone, though the government has threatened such action against a foreign investor following a commercial dispute under arbitration in an international tribunal. The Constitution authorizes the government to expropriate property only when it is necessary in the interests of national defense, public safety, order, morality, town and country planning, or the public benefit or welfare. In such cases, the Constitution guarantees the prompt payment of adequate compensation, with a right of access to a court or another independent authority to consider legality, determine the amount of compensation, and ensure prompt payment.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID and New York Convention

Sierra Leone became a party to the International Convention on the Settlement of Investment Dispute (ICSID) in 1966 to arbitrate investment disputes and enforce ICSID awards. In November 2018, Parliament approved a motion authorizing Sierra Leone to accede to the convention and to domesticate the provisions in its legal system. While it has been ratified in parliament, domestication is still pending. Sierra Leone deposited its instrument of accession to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the New York Convention) to become the 166th state party to the 62-year-old Convention in January 2021. Also, Section 13 of the Arbitration Act 1960 allows foreign arbitral awards to be registered in Sierra Leonean courts and enforced in the same manner as a domestic judgment or court order. However, registration of foreign arbitral awards is not automatic but instead left to the discretion of the presiding judge.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Investment disputes in Sierra Leone can take a long time to resolve, given the slow pace of bureaucracy, and substantial court backlogs. In 2016, the Embassy received multiple reports of cases where U.S. companies experienced challenges in asserting their investment interests. One company reported that the previous government denied regulatory approval for the firm’s acquisition of a Sierra Leonean entity in part because preference should be given to Sierra Leonean buyers. However, in 2018, the new administration overturned the decision and granted regulatory approval for the U.S. company to take over. The cancellation of two iron ore mining company licenses over disputed royalty payments and non-compliance with mining laws has resulted in the referral of the government to international arbitration. However, the government had continuously failed to comply with arbitral rulings.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The Arbitration Act 1960 allows investors to arbitrate disputes, but the procedures outlined in the law are outdated and not in compliance with international standards. The country does not have a central arbitral institution, and instead, arbitration is conducted on an ad hoc basis, including through pre-trial settlement conferences and alternative dispute resolution mechanisms before the Commercial and Admiralty Division of the High Court. The Investment Promotion Act 2004 allows investment disputes to be referred to arbitration following UNCITRAL procedures or the framework of any applicable bilateral or multilateral investment agreement. Judgments of foreign courts can be enforced under the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act 1960, provided the country has a bilateral or reciprocal enforcement treaty with Sierra Leone. The Public-Private Partnership Act, 2014 also provides for international arbitration in Sierra Leone.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Bankruptcy Act 2009 establishes a process of bankruptcy for individuals and companies. Bankruptcy is a civil matter, but it may disqualify an individual from holding certain elected and public offices and from practicing certain professions. The Bankruptcy Act 2009 also encourages and facilitates reorganization as an alternative to liquidation. The World Bank ranked Sierra Leone 162, with a score of 24.7, in the ease of resolving insolvency in 2020.

Following the passing of a Credit Reference Act in 2011, Sierra Leone established a Credit Reference Bureau within the Bank of Sierra Leone, mandating all financial institutions to pass all information regarding loan applications for credit history checks. The credit history checks will detail all outstanding loans, when and where a loan was taken, and the repayment history guiding financial institutions in their loan decision. The Bureau now operates a digital identification system to control credit information and ensure citizens have secure and complete ownership of their data and information thereby transforming the financial inclusion landscape.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Investment Promotion Act 2004 creates various incentives for foreign and domestic investors, and SLIEPA compiles information about the benefits and incentives available in various sectors. In particular, these are investment and employment, research and development, value-added manufacturing and training expenses incentives; incentives provided for businesses engaged in agriculture, airlines, fish farming, infrastructure, liquefied petroleum gas and cookers, mineral and petroleum, petroleum refinery, pharmaceuticals, photovoltaic systems, poultry, tourism; and income tax deductions for disabled persons, women and youth employment and skills development, and social services like schools and hospitals, etc. SLIEPA provides details of these investment incentives at http://sliepa.org/investment/why-sierra-leone/investment-incentives/. In May 2019, the National Revenue Authority provided details on tax incentives at https://www.nra.gov.sl/sites/default/files/Final%20Magazine%20MRP%2029-5-19.pdf.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

In conjunction with First Step, a subsidiary of U.S.-based development organization, World Hope International, the government established a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in 2011 on 50 acres near Freetown. The SEZ policy accords businesses operating in the zone tax holidays import duty exemptions and expedited government services including customs, immigration, and registration.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The Sierra Leone Local Content Agency Act 2016 promotes foreign investors’ utilization of the domestic private sector. The act applies in the mining, petroleum, manufacturing, agriculture, transportation, maritime, aviation, tourism, public works, fisheries, health, and energy sectors.

The local content policy is meant to boost the economy by leveraging the power of local industries and citizens through their participation in the economy. It targets several issues including:

  • Employment of nationals: All foreign businesses must employ Sierra Leoneans, at least 20 percent of the managerial and 50 percent of intermediate positions, and this ratio must increase over time to stand at 60 percent for managerial and 80 percent for intermediate positions after 5 years.
  • Preferential Treatment: Preference will be granted to a foreign business that partners with Sierra Leonean businesses over foreign businesses with no equity share own by Sierra Leonean entities.
  • First Consideration: Foreign businesses must give Sierra Leoneans first consideration for employment and training.
  • Use of local goods and services: Firms should give preference to Sierra Leonean goods when they are of equal or comparable value. Companies must use certain amounts of local materials in key sectors but if there is inadequate local capacity to meet the law’s target, the Ministry of Trade and Industry may issue a waiver.
  • National preferences in contracts: The policy gives first consideration to Sierra Leonean companies for mining and petroleum awards and licenses, as well as public works contracts. The policy also gives domestic firms a preferential margin in government and private procurements.

The local content policy is enforced by the Local Content Agency. Companies are required to submit local content plans to demonstrate compliance, and violations are subject to fines, the loss of investment incentives, and civil forfeiture.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

There are two systems of land tenure in Sierra Leone. The Western Area, the former British colony of Sierra Leone which includes Freetown, operates under a freehold system. Outside the Western Area, in the provincial areas, the land is governed under a leasehold system where local communities retain ultimate control. Foreigners cannot own land under either system but can lease land for terms of up to 99 years. In leasehold areas, local Paramount Chiefs control the land and may enter joint ventures with investors to develop or use the land in ways that serve the interests of the local communities.

The Constitution protects property rights, but the rule of law is fragile and uneven across the country. In the absence of an effectively functioning legal framework, property rights and contracts are not adequately secure. Mortgages and liens are possible but rare, and generally involve high-interest rates and short loan periods. There is no land titling system, and traditional tribal justice systems still serve as a supplement to the national government’s judiciary, especially in rural areas. In 2020, the World Bank Doing Business Report ranked Sierra Leone 169 in the world for ease of registering property, as the process takes approximately 56 days with seven procedures and costs about 11 percent of the property’s value.

The Land Administration system currently inhibits successful problem resolution. The survey system is manual and land survey technologies are outdated and inaccurate. Property management procedures are long, unreliable, expensive, and do not guarantee the protection of the rights of the property user and/or owner. In 2017, the cabinet approved a comprehensive national land policy meant to improve and strengthen land laws and administration within the land tenure systems in the Western Area and the provinces. The policy, which awaits parliamentary action, is intended to enhance the abilities of institutions to be able to acquire land for responsible investment and promote sustainable socio-economic development. While the new policy seeks to gradually formalize land transactions while respecting the customary systems, the 2019–23 Medium-term National Development Plan recognizes that land ownership rights and obligations are necessary to attract foreign investment.

Intellectual Property Rights

Sierra Leone has been a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) since 1986 and a member of the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO), the common intellectual property body for English-speaking African countries, since 1980. As a member of the WTO, Sierra Leone is bound by the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). Sierra Leone has not ratified the WIPO Copyright Treaty or the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Rights.

Despite its recognition of international standards, Sierra Leone’s protection of the intellectual property is limited. Because of laws pre-dating the colonial era, patents and trademarks registered in the United Kingdom can be extended to Sierra Leone. Efforts to update the country’s legal framework have thus far included the Copyright Act 2011, the Patents and Industrial Design Act 2012, and the Trademark Act 2014. Nonetheless, legal protections remain outdated and incomplete, and government enforcement is minimal due to resource and capacity limitations.

For companies who may wish to seek advice from local attorneys who are experts in Sierra Leonean law, go to https://sl.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/local-resources-of-u-s-citizens/attorneys/ for a list of local lawyers.

Sierra Leone has not been listed in the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List. For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Limited capital market and portfolio investment opportunities exist in Sierra Leone. The country established stock exchange in 2009 to provide a place for enterprise formation and a market for the trading of stocks and bonds. The exchange initially listed only one stock, a state-controlled bank but in early 2017, it had three listings that expressed willingness to trade their shares at the exchange.

Sierra Leone acceded to the IMF Article VIII in January 1996, which removed all restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions. The regulatory system does not interfere with the free flow of financial resources. Nonetheless, foreign, and domestic businesses alike have difficulty obtaining commercial credit. Foreign interests may access credit under the same market conditions as Sierra Leoneans, but banks loan small amounts at high-interest rates. Foreign investors typically bring capital in from outside the country.

Money and Banking System

Sierra Leone’s banking sector, supervised by the central bank of Sierra Leone, consists of 13 commercial banks, 69 foreign exchange bureau, 17 community banks, 32 credit-only microfinance, 5 deposit-taking microfinance including Apex Bank, 2 discount houses, a home mortgage finance company, a leasing company, three mobile financial services providers, and a stock exchange. More than 100 bank branches exist throughout the country, with activity concentrated in Freetown. The banking system currently has seven correspondent banks. While the commercial banking sector is characterized by poor performance with significant financial vulnerability, the central bank of Sierra Leone in 2018 approved the take over a commercial bank acquired in 2016 by a foreign investor.

Foreign individuals and companies are permitted to establish bank accounts. The use of mobile money is taking a central place in money transfers. Other electronic payments and ATM usage are available in urban areas but limited in rural settings, while the Bank of Sierra Leone is set to roll out a “national payment switch” to facilitate connectivity among different banks’ electronic systems. Telecommunications companies are upgrading to specifically enhance mobile money services and e-commerce.

As part of structural reforms in the banking sector under the Extended Credit Facility of the International Monetary Fund, the Bank of Sierra Leone pledged to establish a special resolution framework for troubled financial institutions, establish a deposit insurance system, strengthen its capacity to supervise, oversee the non-bank financial institution sector, and facilitate the adoption of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) both internally and across the financial sector.

Inadequate supervisory oversight of financial institutions, weak regulations, and corruption have made Sierra Leone vulnerable to money laundering. While the country’s anti-money laundering (AML) controls remain underdeveloped and underfunded, the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) completed a national risk assessment in 2017 and is currently working with the Economic Crime Team of the Office of Technical Assistance, U.S. Department of the Treasury to enhance its capacity with a series of technical visits in 2018 and 2019, and others scheduled for 2020 with the FIU. The GIABA (a French acronym for Groupe Intergouvernemental d’Action Contre la Blanchiment d’Argent en Afrique de l’Ouest, which in English is, ‘The Inter-Government Action against Money Laundering in West Africa’) and the EU also funded a workshop on designated non-financial business and professions on Anti-Money Laundering and Combating Financing Terrorism (AML/CFT) preventive measures.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Sierra Leone has a floating exchange rate regime and the currency, the Leone, has depreciated slowly over the years mainly due to the increasing demand to finance current consumption and a decreasing inflow of foreign currency resulting from decreased exports and remittances.

Foreign Exchange

In August 2019, the government-mandated the exclusive use of the Leones for all contracts and payments, prohibited individuals and other entities from holding more than USD 10,000 or its equivalent in any foreign currency, and travelers must declare foreign currencies of more than USD 10,000 or its equivalent. Contravention of these directives is punishable by law as stipulated in the 2019 Bank of Sierra Leone Act. In late 2020 however, an acute shortage of domestic currency hit the market, compelling the central bank to order sufficient domestic currency to meet the market demand and lifted the restriction on foreign currency holdings to mitigate the effects of the scarcity.

The Investment Promotion Act 2004 guarantees foreign investors and expatriate employees the right to repatriate earnings and the proceeds of the sale of assets. There are no restrictions placed on converting or transferring funds associated with investments, including remittances, earnings, loan repayments, or lease payments for as long as these transactions are done through the banking system.

With the approval of the Bank of Sierra Leone, investors can withdraw any amount from commercial banks and transfer the funds into any freely convertible currency at market rates. The exchange rate is market-determined, and the Bank of Sierra Leone sometimes conducts weekly foreign exchange auctions of U.S. dollars, but only commercial banks registered in Sierra Leone may participate. Sierra Leone is a party to the ECOWAS Common Currency, the ECO, and efforts to introduce this common currency are being given serious consideration, though it has repeatedly been delayed.

Remittance Policies

The law provides that investors may freely repatriate proceeds and remittances. The Embassy is not aware of any recent complaints from investors regarding the remittance of investment returns, or any planned policy changes on this issue.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Sierra Leone has not established a sovereign wealth fund which was legislated under the 2018 Extractive Industries Revenue Act and the 2016 Public Financial Management Act. The implementation has been delayed because of the collapse of the international iron ore prices as well as other minerals in 2014-16, which also coincided with the Ebola outbreak, both of which deteriorated the fundamentals of the economy, especially in the extractive sector.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Sierra Leone has more than 20 state-owned enterprises (SOEs). These entities are active in the utilities, transport, and financial sectors. There is no official or comprehensive government-maintained list of SOEs. However, notable examples include the Guma Valley Water Company, the Sierra Leone Telecommunication Company, the Electricity Distribution and Supply Authority, the Electricity Generation and Transmission Company, the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation, the Rokel Commercial Bank, the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank, the Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Company, to name but a few.

Sierra Leone is not a party to the Government Procurement Agreement within the WTO Framework. SOEs may engage in commerce with the private sector, but they do not compete on the same terms as private enterprises, and they often have access to government subsidies and other benefits. SOEs in Sierra Leone do not play a significant role in funding or sponsoring research and development.

Privatization Program

The National Commission for Privatization was established in 2002 to facilitate the privatization of various SOEs. With support from the World Bank, the commission has focused on the privatization of the country’s port operations, and currently seeks investments in public-private partnerships (PPPs) for port security, telecommunications, and other infrastructure projects. Privatization processes are open to foreign investors and could be integrated into plans for better capitalizing the stock exchange in Freetown via new equity listings.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The government encourages companies to engage in responsible business conduct, and SLIEPA seeks investors who will undertake corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects. Sierra Leone does not have a set of standards or policies for CSR, but the law provides various incentives. Community leaders generally expect businesses operating in areas outside of Freetown and the Western Area, where local Paramount Chiefs control the land, to engage in projects to support the communities’ social and economic well-being, human capital development, and physical infrastructure. Throughout the country, there is limited awareness of the impacts that corporate activities might have on human rights and environmental protection.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Corruption poses a major challenge in Sierra Leone and is particularly endemic in government procurement, the award of licenses and concessions, regulatory enforcement, customs clearance, and dispute resolution. Sierra Leone signed the UN Convention against Corruption in 2003 and ratified it in 2004. The country is not a party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), established in 2000, has the authority to investigate and prosecute acts of corruption by individuals and companies. The Anti-Corruption Act of 2008 makes it criminal to offer, solicit, or receive a bribe, and this law applies to all appointed and elected officials, close family members, and all companies whether foreign or domestic. The Commission launched a “Pay No Bribe” campaign in 2016, which encouraged citizens to report corruption in the public sector.

In its efforts at tackling corruption, the country progressed 10 places up in its Transparency International Corruption ranking from 129/180 in 2018 to 119/180 in 2019, and further up 2 places (117/180) in 2020. Sierra Leone passed the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s indicator on the control of corruption scoring 71 percent in 2019, 79 percent in 2020, and 81 percent in 2021, though it failed in 2018 (49 percent). Sierra Leone ranked third out of 35 African countries surveyed on government’s effectiveness in the fight against corruption. Corruption declined from 70 percent in 2015 to 40 percent in 2020 according to the Afro Barometer report, and 92 percent of respondents say the fight is on the right course according to a national perception survey conducted by the Center for Accountability and Rule of Law in 2020.

In April 2018, President Bio established a 12-member Governance Transition Team to conduct a stocktaking of the government of former President Ernest Koroma. The report documented a high level of fiscal indiscipline and alleged corruption and recommended a commission of inquiry of all MDAs, and for the supreme audit authority to carry out forensic audits of specific sectors. These sectors included agencies relating to energy, telecommunications, the National Social Security and Insurance Trust, and roads. A white paper to implement the recommendations of the reports of the Commission of Inquiry is currently being implemented by the Ministry of Justice. It is hoped that the outcome of the implementation will make corrupt practices very unattractive for would-be perpetrators.

In 2019, the GoSL passed an Anti-Corruption Amendment Act which increased the powers of the ACC in the fight against graft. It protects witnesses and whistleblowers, provides sanctions for failing to submit asset declaration on time or with falsified, inaccurate, or misleading information. It empowers the Commissioner to prevent contracts that are not of national interest and increased penalties for offenses under the Act. Since then, the ACC has steadily pursued arrests, repayments, and convictions in both the private and public sectors. As of April 2020, the ACC had recovered millions of dollars in misappropriated funds, and prosecuted corruption cases leading to convictions of present and former public officials and private citizens. The Chief Justice established a Special Court to adjudicate corruption cases while the ACC has signed several information-sharing agreements with key government institutions, including the Audit Service Sierra Leone and the FIU.

Resources to Report Corruption:

Francis Ben Kelfala, Commissioner
Anti-Corruption Commission
Cathedral House
3 Gloucester Street, Freetown
+232 78 321 321
info@anticorruption.gov.sl
http://anticorruption.gov.sl/ 

Lavina Banduah (lbanduah@tisierraleone.org)
Executive Director
Transparency International Sierra Leone
20 Dundas Street, Freetown
+232 79 060 985 & +232 76 618 348
http://www.tisierraleone.org/  

10. Political and Security Environment

Sierra Leone is a constitutional republic with a directly elected president and a unicameral legislature. In March 2018, the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) presidential candidate, Julius Maada Bio, won the fourth cycle of presidential elections since the civil war ended in 2002 and it was deemed “free and fair” by international observers. The Sierra Leone Police (SLP), supervised by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, is responsible for law enforcement and maintaining security within the country, but it is poorly equipped and lacked sufficient investigative and forensic capabilities. The Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities to assist police upon request in extraordinary circumstances. The RSLAF reports to the Ministry of Defense and the Office of National Security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There is tension between social, political, and cultural institutions over power and resources. Policies and positions are sometimes sought for control over public finances. The government launched three Commissions of Inquiry (COI) to probe into the governance activities of the immediate past administration which created further tensions. The COI was concluded in March 2020 and the government came up with a White Paper in September 2020 assuring citizens of the full implementation of the recommendations, which included recovery of all monies and confiscation of all assets as detailed in the COI reports. At the outbreak of Covid-19, the government implement nationwide restrictions and curtailed movement to reduce the risk of the infection. Enforcement provoked sporadic violent clashes around the country, leaving some people dead, many hospitalized, and property destroyed. Though the President blamed it on the opposition as trying to make the country ungovernable, concerns about peace and national cohesion were raised as reverting to the dark days of the war will only make things very difficult for Sierra Leoneans.

Sierra Leone’s relations with the neighboring countries of Guinea and Liberia are peaceful. However, Guinea laid claim over the border village of Yenga, in the Kailahun District of Sierra Leone despite the several meetings between the Presidents of the two countries. There have been isolated incidents of politically motivated violence during and after the 2018 national and local elections.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Sierra Leone’s labor force is informal, unregulated, and lacking in specialized skills. Approximately 90 percent of laborers work in the informal sector, predominantly in subsistence or other small-scale agriculture. Sierra Leone’s labor force was devastated by the country’s civil war of 1991-2002, and the formal employment sector has yet to recover to pre-war levels. The war led to significant migration out of the country and destroyed the nation’s education system. In a country where educational institutions once earned the moniker “the Athens of Africa,” adult literacy was estimated at 43 percent in 2018 (data.worldbank.org) and businesses identify significant shortfalls in skilled professionals due to limited vocational training. While the government is developing Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programs, foreign investors find it difficult to recruit and train enough workers. Youth unemployment is persistently high and will continue to grow due to high birth rates and changing demography.

The national minimum wage was reviewed upward by the Minister of Finance in November 2019 from Le500,000 to Le600,000 Leones (approximately USD 60) per month and applies to all workers, including those in the informal sector. The law requires paid leave and overtime wages, but enforcement is ineffective and there is no prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime. Employers can dismiss workers with limited notice and severance. Foreign employees must obtain work permits from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, and most countries’ nationals must have visas. Additional information is available from the Embassy of Sierra Leone in the United States and at http://travel.state.gov. Government policies regarding the hiring of Sierra Leonean nationals are described above in the “Performance and Data Localization Requirements” section.

The law allows workers to join independent unions of their choice without prior authorization, to conduct legal strikes, and to bargain collectively. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security estimates that approximately 35-40 percent of workers in the formal economy are unionized, including agricultural workers, mineworkers, and health workers. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference, and the government generally respects this right. However, in some private industries, employers have reportedly intimidated workers to prevent them from joining a union, and there is no legal protection against employers’ discriminating against union members. Unions have the right to strike, although the government requires 21-day prior notice. Collective bargaining is widespread in the formal sector and most enterprises are covered by collective bargaining agreements on wages and working conditions.

Labor issues are governed by the Employers and Employees Act 1960, the Regulation of Wages and Industrial Relations Act 1971, and regulations adopted by the Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Health and Sanitation. Legal requirements are outdated and poorly enforced while child labor remains a widespread problem. The law limits child labor, allowing light work at age 13, full-time nonhazardous work at age 15, and all work at age 18. Child labor is more prevalent in agriculture, artisanal gold and diamond mining, granite quarrying, sand mining and construction, domestic service, street hawking, and begging, charcoal burning, and fishing, and the laws against child labor are not effectively enforced. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security attributes the ineffective enforcement to a lack of funding and the inherent difficulties of monitoring child labor in the informal sector. Also, the International Labor Organization has identified discrepancies between provisions in the Child Rights Act 2007 and provisions of the Employers and Employer Act 1960.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

 

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (USD) N/A N/A 2019 $4.12 billion www.worldbank.org/en/country or https://www.theglobaleconomy.com/Sierra-Leone/
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2019 $12 million https://ustr.gov/countries-regions/africa/west-africa/sierra-leone
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A N/A N/A https://ustr.gov/countries-regions/africa/west-africa/sierra-leone
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A 2017 14.83% https://www.theglobaleconomy.com/Sierra-Leone/  

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Data not available.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

14. Contact for More Information

Economic and Commercial Section
U.S. Mission Sierra Leone
Southridge, Hill Station
Freetown, Sierra Leone +232 99 105 500 +232 99 105 500
freetown-econ@state.gov

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