By Dr. Théophile NGUIMFACK VOUFO (Download pdf version)
Innovative Start-Up In Cameroon: From A Tax Incentive Regime to the Absence of an Ambitious Policy Vision
In the fiscal policy initiated by the Cameroon government through Law n°2013/004 of 18 April 2013 to determine incentives for private investment in Cameroon, tax benefits are granted to young enterprises, either at their creation, or in the first years of their operation, or by sector of activity. In addition to the tax benefits granted to young companies, innovative startups benefit from an even more attractive tax regime in the 2021 finance law.
According to the Robert’s Digital Dictionary, the word start-up or startup is an anglicism originating from the economy where it designates a young innovative company in the new technologies and internet sector. The word startup is closely linked to the field of new digital technologies, in which most of the innovation in contemporary societies is concentrated. If the challenge of insertion in the dynamics of digital technologies is a concern of Cameroon1 public authorities, what are the concrete actions to be undertaken to enable the Cameroon economy to benefit from the virtues of a true technological revolution?
In response, the Cameroon government has opted for the implementation of a tax incentive regime for innovative start-up (I). However, the impact of this measure remains limited by the absence of an ambitious political vision (II).
I- The reality of the tax benefits granted to innovative start-up
In the series of measures adopted by the Cameroon government to promote the recovery of the economy, which has been severely slowed down by the health crisis linked to Covid-19, the 2021 Finance Law devotes a subtitle entitled “Measures relating to the promotion of the digital economy »2. The finance law determined the scope of the tax benefits granted to startups, while making their application subject to certain minimum conditions.
In fact, the 2021 Finance Law grants an exemption from all taxes, duties, fees and levies except social contributions to innovative start-up in the field of information and communication technologies in the incubation phase for a period of (05) years.3.
After the incubation phase, the transfer of the start-up is subject to a reduced rate of 10% on the
capital gain realised4. During a period of 05 years, in the exploitation phase, it benefits from the exemption:
– of the patent ;
– registration fees in the event of an extension or increase in capital;
– fiscal and employer’s charges on salaries, except those due to the CNPS.
In addition, it benefits from a reduced corporate tax rate of 15%, a 50% deduction on the basis for calculating the advance payment and the minimum corporate tax collection and an income tax credit of 30% of research and innovation expenditure, with a ceiling of one hundred (100)millions5. The shareholders of these start-up benefit from a reduced rate of 5% of the tax on income from movable capital.6.
It follows that these tax benefits are favourable to the promotion of the digital economy, as the tax regime instituted by the legislator is largely incentive-based. However, the application of the advantages granted to start-up is conditional on their affiliation to an approved management centre (CGA).
In sum, it appears that the State grants significant tax exemptions to innovative start-up. However, are tax incentive policies sufficient for the promotion of technological innovation?
II- The ambiguity of the State’s political vision towards innovative start-up
The development potential of innovation is so immense in Cameroon that a more proactive and pragmatic political vision is all that is needed. This policy can be based on three axes: financing, structuring and valorisation of innovative start-up.
The issue of financing is one of the stumbling blocks to entrepreneurship in Cameroon Beyond the classic solutions regularly proposed such as financing by credit institutions, equity and participatory financing whose effectiveness remains low in the Cameroon economy, the government can activate other levers of financing for the benefit of innovative start-up.
In this sense, a special telecommunications fund has been created with a budget of twenty-five (25) billion CFA francs for the year 2021.7. This first fund is complemented by another called the special fund for electronic security activities, whose resource ceiling is set at CFA francs one billion five hundred million 8. One can legitimately expect that a share of these funds will be allocated to the reconfiguration of the national digital ecosystem, with the resolution to create, as envisaged in the NDS30, “digital parks and technopoles”9.
As for the structuring of innovative startups, the delay observed by Cameroon in the commissioning of structuring projects such as those relating to energy and broadband internet connection are not conducive to the development of innovation. It would be desirable, while waiting for national coverage of state-of-the-art facilities, that “digital bubbles” supplied by supplementary means, such as electrical generators and relay antennas, be set up in strategic areas thanks to public subsidies in State Universities and decentralised territorial authorities.
With regard to valorisation, one of the obstacles to the emancipation of innovative start-up in Cameroon is the absence of a systematic “Made in Cameroon” consumption policy. The Cameroon government has remained timid in its desire to support young innovators. However, it was supposed to “promote the use of local products, particularly through public procurement and the “Made in Cameroon” label in the production and distribution of goods and services by granting specific facilities to local producers”.10.
Contemporary societies evolve in a world characterised by a strong dependence on technological innovation. The Cameroon authorities are opting for the multiplication of fiscal incentives in a sector where the need for financing and structuring is more decisive. Administered therapy does not yet suit the pathology. It is enough to take inspiration from successful foreign examples where the public authorities have carried out actions such as:
- the creation of several funds to finance innovation;
- the creation of innovation agencies or incubators;
- subsidies to laboratories, groups or research centres focused on innovation;
- the development of public-private partnerships for the promotion of innovation;
- the creation of a technological label intended to carry the banner of Cameroon in the field of innovation at the international level;
- the consumption of “Made in Cameroon” in terms of technological innovations, among others.