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Lusa - Business News - Sao Tome: Dispute over new free trade zone law is political - state investment agency

Lisbon,Aug.4,2022(Lusa)-The president of the São Tomé and Príncipe investment agency argued on Thursday that the controversy in the country over the new law on free trade zones is political, because the opposition considers that the ruling party will benefit from its approval.
In a telephone interview with Lusa, the head of the Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (APCI) and one of the promoters of the law said that "what is at issue are political aspects, which have nothing to do with the technicality of the law.
"We are in a pre-election campaign", he stressed and "the opposition thinks that it [the law] cannot be approved, because the situation [ruling party] can get financial benefits from it", so "they want at all costs to prevent it from being approved. That's all", Arzemiro Prazeres concluded.
The law, which has already been subject to two vetoes by the president of Sao Tome and Principe, Carlos Vila Nova, and led to the approval of a resolution by parliament, voted by a majority of 28 deputies, and to harsh criticism from the opposition, arose from a project presented by the APCI, but eventually became a legislative initiative of the MLSTP, the ruling party.
As for the opposition's criticism that the new law could turn the country into an open door to money laundering, the head of the investment agency said: "There is no chance of such laundering. In fact, if there was any money laundering it was under the previous regime.
In the opinion of Arzemiro Prazeres, all of this is nothing more than "political games", because "the citizens that challenge the Law have their own agenda".
As for the two presidential vetoes, the leader stressed that the "president did not veto the Law", but only "sent back" the diploma. Because, he said, the presidential veto in Sao Tome and Principe is either political or constitutional, and in his opinion, Carlos Vila Nova "did neither one nor the other" thing.
"What the president said in his first letter [sent to parliament] is that he will not promulgate it because he finds it inopportune. Now, what the parties of the situation [in government] contest is that the president cannot assess the timeliness of laws, because the president does not govern (...) Only the government can decide whether a particular law is opportune or not.
What has happened is that the parliament "has seen fit to think that the president has politically vetoed the law", he said. But "the resolution approved by 28 deputies says that if the president does not promulgate the law within eight days, it is tacitly understood as promulgation", he stressed, referring to the document approved on 28 July.
APCI's aims were to review an already "obsolete" legal regime, to move forward with the Malanza Free Trade Zone project, which has been promised for several years and is already the subject of a contract between the state and private entities, and to create conditions to attract investors to a country that is "98 percent dependent" on foreign aid.
He noted three aspects of the new law, the first of which is that there will be special zones under the supervision of a joint commission.
"What we are creating now are much more attractive zones, which we call prosperity zones. We are making it possible for investors to have control of a certain area," he said. That zone, "is delimited, we grant it a certain statute, which means that the concessionaire has the freedom to create an internal legal and judicial structure, so that the people who work there, live there, have their own regime that is different from that which exists in the customs structure," he added.
But the zone will now be controlled and supervised by a joint commission, he said, which "will have representatives from all sovereign bodies, except the courts.
The new legislative package also requires investors to "firstly prove their financial capacity, and only after that do we create a whole contractual structure, called a concession agreement," he also noted.
As well as this, "no one else can create a single company," he said. Free zone companies "have to have at least two shareholders, and the shares have to be nominative, so that it is known exactly to whom they belong," he added.
Under the current regime, "there was the possibility of an entrepreneur creating a company with just one individual and it being bearer. This created many possibilities, including money laundering and capital laundering. We seek in this law to prevent this from happening", he stressed.
The other great novelty of the law, according to the president of APCI, is that it creates conditions for attracting investment funds and others to free trade zones.
"There are many investment funds (...)spread around the world, which, depending on where they are based, suffer a sometimes high tax burden. What we are proposing in this law is a more appropriate tax rate so that they can be transferred to these free activities in our country," he said. The rate, "is negotiable," he said, "between 1 and 5 percent," he specified.
In the interview, the head of the Investment Agency also admitted that the idea to review current legislation for free zones came about following weaknesses and flaws detected in the Malanza free zone, whose concession contract - signed in 2021 with investor Shehab Shanti, presented at the time as being of Ukrainian origin, and which involved an investment estimated at US$1.3 billion (1.1 billion euros).
Now, "once the law is approved, the Malanza Free Zone will become a zone of prosperity. This will make it much more attractive, on the one hand, and, on the other, it will ensure that the concession holder has the financial capacity to move ahead with the project," he noted.
Malanza is also a project that can "leverage the national business sector, which, obviously, will have room to join together in joint ventures with international partners that really have the financial capacity," he added.
Recalling that the current law on free trade zones "provides for sanctions, including revocation [of the contract]," if the parties do not comply, the head of the investment agency said that the Malanza concessionaire "still has another month to carry out some steps that it should have carried out".

Agency : LUSA

Date : 2022-08-05 09:49:00


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