Gabon - Politics, government, and taxation

Formerly part of French West Africa, Gabon was granted internal autonomy in 1958 and became fully independent on 17 August 1960. Leon M'Ba, president of the new republic, established Gabon as a one-party state by inviting the opposition to join the government. There was a coup in 1964, but M'Ba was restored by French troops. Following his death in November 1967, M'Ba was succeeded by his vice-president, Albert Bernard (later Omar) Bongo. Bongo organized a new ruling party, the Parti Democratique Gabonais (PDG), which became the sole legal party in 1968. Gabon enjoyed relative stability in the 1970s and joined the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) after the discovery of oil deposits. But in the early 1980s, social and political strains began to emerge led by the Mouvement pour le Redressement National (MORENA), a moderate opposition group. This group accused Bongo of corruption and personal extravagance and demanded restoration of political pluralism. But Bongo resisted and maintained the single-party system.

A series of strikes and demonstrations by students and workers in the early 1990s culminated in a constitutional amendment that led to the creation of a multiparty system and formation of an interim government. Bongo was elected president in 1990 and reelected in 1993 and 1998. Elections for the National Assembly were held in December 1996, and the PDG gained 89 of the 120 seats. At the Senate elections in early 1997, the PDG won 53 of the 91 seats.

The 1991 constitution provides for an executive president directly elected for a 5-year term (renewable only once). The head of government is the prime minister, who appoints the Council of Ministers. The bicameral legislature consists of the 120-member National Assembly and the 91-member Senate. Both houses are directly elected for 5-year terms. Local governments exist in each of Gabon's 9 provinces, and are administered by a governor appointed by the president. There are also 37 smaller divisions, or departments, each administered under a prefect.

Total government revenue in 1997 was US$1.565 billion. Of this, US$301 million was from international trade, with import duties contributing US$254 million. In addition, the government gains substantial royalties from the oil sector. Corporate and capital gains taxes are levied at 40 percent, but if companies make small profits or suffer losses, they are taxed at 1.1 percent of turnover . There is a withholding tax of 20 percent on dividends remitted overseas.

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