Africa Business Group Update on the Ebola Situation
- Impact currently confined to five countries, with major African economies unaffected
- Business is as usual amidst increased international attention
- Singapore company Pacific International Lines offering complimentary logistical services for relief supplies to affected areas
18 November 2014 [Singapore] - Singapore Business Federation’s Africa Business Group (AfBG) has been monitoring the Ebola situation in Africa closely since the outbreak earlier this year.
The AfBG Executive Committee (Exco) has been continuously requesting for feedback from Singapore businesses operating in Africa on the impact of the virus, noting that the situation on the ground may vary from country to country within the continent. The Exco is also heartened by the unity of the global community in coming together to tackle the issue, with specific commitments for financial contributions, medical gear, personnel, equipment, treatment and medicines by countries and international organisations at recently concluded international and regional meetings, such as the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting, East Asia Summit and G20 Leaders’ Summit. It is hoped that these coordinated efforts will help stem the Ebola virus at its source, and also put in place measures to help combat future pandemics that could be debilitating to the global economy.
Currently, five of the 48 countries in the West and Central Africa region of Sub-Saharan Africa, namely Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Liberia, Mali and Sierra Leone have been added to the list of countries with reported Ebola virus activity by Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH). As a precautionary measure, representatives of Singapore companies are urged to avoid non-essential travel to these five countries. These countries are not major business hubs for their respective regions and there are minimal Singapore business activities taking place there. With effect from 5 November 2014, visitors from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are also required to obtain a visa before entering Singapore.
AfBG would like to reiterate to the Singapore business community that aside from the five affected countries, the remaining 43 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are not on the MOH list.
Commenting on the situation, Ambassador Shabbir Hassanbhai, Chairman of the AfBG said: “The AfBG has members who have business and investments in the non-affected countries in Africa such as South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria amongst others, and have regularly kept SBF updated on the actual situation on the ground. These Singapore companies, their suppliers and partners, as well as their customers have taken to review crisis management and insurance programmes and testing their pandemic preparedness plans to be prepared to preserve operations and minimise the risk to staff. Their real-time situational updates have given comfort to families and friends back home and in the other countries they operate in, given that many are less familiar with the African continent due to its remoteness and diversity.”AfBG has compiled feedback from Singapore companies operating in Africa and some of the measures taken are:
- Ensuring crisis management and business resiliency plans are updated and tested;
- Identifying alternative suppliers, vendors, routes to market and contingency plans for the stockpiling of production, should transit restrictions be imposed;
- Identifying dependencies on international technical expertise and contingency planning for such a requirement, which may become increasingly difficult to source;
- Reviewing contingent financing arrangements in the event a partial or complete shutdown is required; and
- Maintaining normal sales and activities.
Commenting on the situation in Nigeria, Mr Haresh Aswani, Managing Director of Tolaram Group (Nigeria) said: “With the clearance from the World Health Organization (WHO), Nigeria has resumed normal life (with precaution). Care is still being taken in all our companies for the next few months to ensure that we are completely Ebola free. The crisis management style employed by Lagos State in particular, ensured that care and adequate systems were, and are in place to tackle the epidemic from spreading anywhere else in Nigeria. As a group, we have provided equipment and educational leaflets to as many people as we can reach and will continue to do so until end of this year, or as needed.”
Ms Christina Tan, CEO of GMT-Investcorp opined: “Since the recent Ebola outbreak on the continent, South Africa has been extremely vigilant to ensure its medical services are fully equipped to contain the deadly virus if detected. It was fortunate that South Africa has been declared Ebola free by WHO. Public awareness has been promoted throughout various media including TV and newspaper advertisements to educate the citizens on how to detect and handle this issue. Airports are also equipped with screening equipment and passengers from other parts of the African continent entering the country are required to declare their state of health. Being in the retail business, I see no changes in the lifestyle and shopping habits of the South African customers, unlike Asia during the SARS period. However, the tourist traffic is visibly lower, as tourists have the misconception that the entire African continent is infected. This is clearly not the case. I am of the view that more awareness and promotion has to be made to educate the world that only a few countries have been affected and not the whole continent.”
Mr Kuok Khoon Hong, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Wilmar International commented: “During the period when Nigeria, where Wilmar has operations in, was affected by the Ebola outbreak, our local management teams in West Africa took care of our staff and organised detailed briefing by medical professionals on the virus causes, symptoms, prevention and day-to-day care. Even after Nigeria was declared Ebola-free by the WHO on 20 October, we continued to educate the surrounding communities, especially those around our plantations, on the same and what it means to have good hygiene practices. We will continue to stay vigilant and provide a safe environment for our staff and the community so that business continues to be carried out in a confident manner.”
Mr Venkataramani Srivathsan, Managing Director (Africa & Middle East) of Olam International said: “There has been no adverse impact from the Ebola outbreak on Olam’s operations in Africa so far and we are continuing with business as usual. We do not have a direct presence in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, where the situation has been most pronounced. We have been monitoring the situation very closely. We continue to take robust precautions and adhere strictly to WHO guidelines to safeguard our more than 9,000 employees across the continent. As part of our commitment to the fight against Ebola, we recently donated US$250,000 to Médecins Sans Frontières, as well as the Red Cross and Caritas via the World Cocoa Foundation. We have also launched an internal fundraising drive among our 23,000 worldwide staff.”
Mr S. S. Teo, Managing Director of Pacific International Lines (PIL) and Chairman of the Singapore Business Federation said: "PIL is offering complimentary logistical services for medical supplies and other relief items at no cost to these Ebola affected countries. It will be good that the Singapore business community demonstrate our corporate social responsibility by making contributions either in medical supplies, or in cash, to the affected countries in Africa. PIL’s greater contribution to the three most affected countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea Conakry is to continue to operate our shipping services so that vital imports/exports will not cease, and the economy of these countries in particular, or of Africa in general, will not be adversely impacted by this global crisis. Despite great difficulty for our staff just to get to work, the PIL team there continue to operate normal shipping hours with no changes to our customer contact and services. For our vessels calling at Africa, our crew will take the necessary precautions as per WHO directives, including wearing of mask, gloves, googles, clothing, etc. No shore leave will be allowed. Communication and contact with stevedores will be restricted to a few designated persons on board our ship."