There are currently fewer insolvency reforms across Africa than in any other region of the world. In many African countries the insolvency laws are antiquated and restructuring law does not exist. Doing Business 2011 data demonstrates that recovery in Sub-Saharan Africa averages 23.2 cents on the dollar, compared to 69.1 cents on the dollar in OECD countries. Clearly, there are many different issues facing countries in the region and the solutions are complex. There are inadequate mechanisms to prevent the stripping of assets of companies in financial difficulty heading towards insolvency, which means that a business rescue culture is minimal. Many directors lack accountability. The insolvency profession is neither institutionalised nor regulated. Delays in finalising cases by courts negatively affect the efficiency of the system. Non-court based methods are underdeveloped and out-of-court restructuring is not prevalent. The skills of stakeholders including the judiciary and insolvency practitioners need to be developed, and countries need to focus on both institutional and infrastructural reforms that will seek to preserve value in financially distressed businesses.
It is important that countries recognise that with there being a direct correlation between insolvency and the business environment, a sound insolvency system has a direct impact on economic performance. Consequently, insolvency reform should be seen as being part of a wider reform programme to include the little touched credit environment where the system is, in many countries, under-developed. Across Africa, access to credit can be low and the cost high with, in the main, commercial banks being the principal source of credit. There may be a lack of effective competition in the credit system and, in many instances the personal guarantee of promoters being required to obtain credit. Therefore, reforms of personal insolvency law also assume importance.
INSOL International has a significant membership base in Africa. INSOL members, insolvency practitioners, judges and other stakeholders from the region participating in INSOL activities have demonstrated keen interest in learning from the experience of other countries. INSOL and other international bodies have received requests for assistance to work towards the improvement of the insolvency systems in the various countries in the region.
Africa is a vast region with diverse legal systems and practices. Some multilateral bodies are already engaged in insolvency reforms in some countries and others carry a keen interest in working for the benefit of the insolvency industry in the region. The knowledge, experience and resources available within these global institutions and bodies can be optimised by way of a coordinated regional effort, aimed at addressing the needs of the insolvency industry. The Forum for Asian Insolvency Reforms and the Forum for Insolvency Reforms in MENA are two inspiring models of cooperation by international and regional organisations. It was for these reasons that INSOL established the Africa Roundtable: to provide a platform for international bodies, regional institutions, policymakers and stakeholders from the continent, as well as experts in the field from other, and sometimes more mature jurisdictions, to come together and adopt a coordinated approach towards reforms and capacity building in the region.
The Africa Round Table initiative was established at a meeting organised by INSOL International in Dubai, February 2010. The objectives of the Africa Round Table were threefold:
- to have a high level dialogue with both private practitioners and public policymakers regarding insolvency reform in Africa, thereby encouraging reform experiences to be shared and challenges to be discussed in an open and frank forum;
- to elevate insolvency reform on the African policy agenda; and
- to encourage insolvency policymakers and professionals to establish an annual forum to stimulate discourse and learning across the region.
One of the take-aways from the round tables is to encourage the sharing of information between countries. This is achieved by a dedicated email address which enables easy communication and this library where papers can be uploaded and shared.
The roundtable has been organised in partnership with the World Bank Group, which is working closely with many governments in Africa to assist in strengthening their insolvency and restructuring regimes.
Participation in the INSOL Africa Round Table is by invitation only.