Can the Government or other public entities impose restrictions on me (for example, limit freedom of circulation, restrict my establishment’s opening hours) based on the need to fight the COVID-19?

Yes. Please see the chapter on the State of Alarm.

 

Am I under an obligation to abide by guidelines and public health protection measures of the authorities?

Yes, even if said authorities declare that they are not binding or that they are mere recommendations. Even if not strictly binding, compliance will always be viewed as the performance of general care duties, which may in turn grant some protection and release from (inter alia) liability in tort. Therefore, it is recommended that mere instructions or guidelines be identified, analysed and implemented as appropriate.

 

Did the Government approve any measures that mitigate the impact of the restrictions imposed by the measures adopted during a State of Alarm?

Yes, Decree 43/2020 (that should be deemed in force at least since 31 March 2020) and of Ministerial Order 2/2020 (that should be deemed in force at least since 29 April 2020). Some of the measures approved include:

State Budget-related measures

  • A framework to set-off credits with the State is put in place but only applies to certain companies;
  • The Ministry of Finance will revise the General State Budget for 2020 in view of the current situation, namely by:
    • Allocating additional funds to the Ministries most affected by the current situation (in particular the Ministries of Health, Social Affairs, Civil Aviation and National Security); and
    • Revising the estimated Country’s year-end results;
  • A global assessment of the impact of the Pandemic will be presented by the Ministry of Finance to the Parliament when said Pandemic is over, which may lead to additional revisions of the State Budget, if appropriate; and
  • The Ministry of Finance will reach out to Country’s multilateral and bilateral partners, including the IMF and the African Development Bank (BAD), to seek financial assistance to cover revenue losses/additional expenses as a consequence of the fight against COVID-19.

Measures related to public-private partnerships and provision of services

  • The Ministry of Finance is charged with:
    • Setting up a Public Procurement Body;
    • Reviewing all public contracts (including supply, technical assistance, advertising and general services’ contracts) in force until de end of 2020, and of supressing, if appropriate, contracts automatically renewable;
    • Preparing a listing of the contracts in force in Strategic Sectors (including inter alia Defence, Security, Mines, Energy and Telecommunications) to assess (inter alia) the level of commitments that they entail; and
    • Empowering a special unit for the promotion of public-private partnerships in basic public services (including provision of water, sanitation, power and telecommunications).

State revenue-related measures

  • The Ministry of Finance will create a special filing mechanism to settle tax debts and offer special incentives to taxpayers that resort to said mechanism;
  • The Ministry of Finance will make the use of the SIDUNEA (i.e., the United Nations Automatic Customs System) mandatory in Malabo (having already enacted Ministerial Order 11/2020, of 30 April 2020, approving the Automatic Customs System (SIDUNEA WORLD) for the Processing of Procedures related with the Entry and Exit of Goods into/from the Republic of Equatorial Guinea or, in short, the SAGE, i.e., the Equatorial Guinea Customs System);
  • The Government will operate and manage parking at the Malabo and Bata Airports (instead of this service being carried out by private entities); and
  • The Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons must negotiate with companies carrying out activities in the oil sector the settlement of any tax debts assessed in connection with fiscal year 2019 before the end of the month of April 2020.

Public spending-related measures

  • The Ministry of Finance will make a plan to limit Public Administration spending with (inter alia) power, phone, fuel, purchases and ships and aircrafts’ maintenance; and
  • Taking into account the status of Public Finances, it is determined that, due to force majeure, the Government will reorganize its spending to avoid delays; accordingly, save for those projects that the Government declares that have maximum priority, a Certification Committee together with awarding companies will reschedule public spending obligations so that they are only due in the second semester of 2020.

Social protection measures

  • The Government will make a five billion (5,000,000,000) CFA francs (approximately US$ 8,500,000) contribution to the COVID-19 Fund, managed by the NCSTC;
  • The contributions gathered by the COVID-19 Fund, as well as those coming from the State Budget, will fund the Programme of Public Social Guarantees vis-à-vis COVID-19, which will guarantee:
    • Basic food and essential products at specific places;
    • Basic personal and home hygiene kits to specific communities; and
    • Regular social support in counselling and health orientation and care;
  • A Plan to Strengthen the National Health System presented by the Ministry of Health and Welfare will be funded from the State Budget; and
  • The needs of the Public Administration (particularly of the Ministries of National Security and of Civil Aviation) to acquire materials necessary to guarantee basic health conditions at all official sites will be funded from the State Budget as well.

Measures to support SMC

  • The following measures are adopted (but do not apply to companies that charge for the provision of services to any institution of the Public Sector):
    • The deadline to voluntarily pay minimum corporate income tax regarding 2020 is extended until June and the rate is reduced from 3% to 1.5% until 30 September 2020; and
    • The deadline to voluntarily pay corporate income tax regarding 2019 is extended until July 2020 (this measure may not apply entirely to the oil & gas sector; for more details please see our chapter on the impact of COVID-19 on the Oil & Gas Industry);
  • A new governance structure of a Partial Guarantee Fund will be put in place by the Ministry of Trade and SMC working with the Ministry of Finance, to guarantee the efficiency, transparency and objectivity of the allocation of its resources;
  • A strategy to reduce the costs with power of SMC will be put in place by the Ministry of Industry and Energy working with the Ministry of Finance and SEGESA;
  • A strategy to reduce the costs with internet services of SMC will be put in place by the Ministry of Transportation, Post-Offices and Telecommunications working with the Ministry of Finance and private operators;
  • A strategy to repay the financial credits of SMC will be put in place by the Ministry of Finance working with the Professional Association of Credit Institutions and micro finance representatives;
  • For the duration of the restrictions to fly over national airspace, companies that lease public trade shops at the Malabo and Bata International Airports are exempt from paying 50% of the monthly rent established in their contracts; and
  • The Ministry of Finance will attribute a 100% bonus applicable to social security quotas until 30 September 2020 to food distribution and marketing companies, as well as to those that hire new employees to comply with the measures adopted by the health authorities.

Measures to strengthen public finances and the banking sector

  • The Ministry of Finance will immediately repatriate all available State financial assets not at national financial institutions; and
  • The Ministry of Finance will continue working to settle all internal delays with construction companies.

Additionally, on 4 April 2020, the Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons has also adopted some temporary-yet-necessary measures to protect the jobs of national and foreign citizens in the hydrocarbons sector during the period of confinement due to COVID-19, including:

  • Protecting and supporting national employment in the hydrocarbons sector;
  • Providing support to service companies during the COVID-19 prevention period;
  • Recommending, in the absence of foreign citizens’ manpower, to foreign operator companies to work with national citizens (that are highly qualified to carry out activities in the sector);
  • Exempting service companies from paying the fees due for the registration/registration renewal at the Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons;
  • Instructing the National Content General Directorate and General Inspectorate to make an inventory of all national personnel providing services in the hydrocarbons sector affected by the confinement measures due to COVID-19;
  • Implementing, together with the Ministry of Health, measures to control the personnel carrying out activities at platforms; and
  • Providing support, together with the companies of the hydrocarbons sector, to the Ministry of Health to equip the Baney Epidemiologic Investigation Lab with (inter alia) equipment, reagents, additional testing, personal protection equipment and personnel reinforcement.

Also, under Ministerial Order 2/2020, the following additional measures were adopted during a thirty (30)-day-extendable period at least from 29 April 2020:

  • Bars, discos, casinos and those public businesses that were completely prevented from opening their doors due to the State of Alarm, as well as minor consumers - i.e., with monthly power invoices not exceeding fifty thousand (50,000) CFA francs (approximately US$ 83) -, will benefit from a fifty percent (50%) reduction on their power bill;
  • Hotels and restaurants must implement measures to diminish the use of power and will benefit from a twenty-five percent (25%) reduction on their power bill;
  • SMC and average consumers with monthly power invoices ranging between fifty thousand (50,000) CFA francs (approximately US$ 83) and one hundred and fifty thousand (150,000) CFA francs (approximately US$ 250) -, will benefit from a twenty-five percent (25%) reduction on their power bill; and
  • All hotels designated by the Government to shelter people undergoing quarantine in compliance with Decree 42/2020 will not bear costs with power.

SEGESA is yet again asked not to cut the power of its clients during the State of Alarm in Ministerial Order 2/2020.

We also understand that the Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons announced on 4 May 2020 that it has passed an Order enacting the following measures:

  • Oil&Gas exploration companies in Equatorial Guinea are granted a two (2)-year extension on their exploration programmes;
  • The Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons will ensure flexibility on the work programmes of producing companies to ensure growth and stability in the market; and
  • The Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons will continue working with oil companies benefitting from such incentives to make sure that the recovery of Equatorial Guinea’s oil sector is made through local content promotion, increased technology transfers and procurement of additional local goods and services (particular emphasis being put on educating, training and promoting local workforce to help further reduce operational costs for international companies while maximising the creation of local value and revenue).

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons has passed, on 13 April 2020, Order 1/2020, in line with Equatorial Guinea’s efforts to ensure that, when the Country recuperates from the impact of this outbreak, the creation of national employment and the strengthening of local content are favoured. Accordingly, Order 1/2020 was passed to foster the hiring of national employees in Equatorial Guinea’s oil and gas industry, by limiting to three (3) years the period during which companies may employ foreign citizens in said industry.

Finally, taking into account the current status of the oil and gas industry due to the COVID-19 outbreak, its diversification through the development of oil refining and distribution activities are (at least) rumoured to be seen by the Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons as the next step to boost the industry in the Country.

 

 

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This information is being updated on a regular basis.

All information contained herein and all opinions expressed are of a general nature and are not intended to substitute recourse to expert legal advice for the resolution of real cases.