It is now just over three years since then president Donald Ramotar launched the Small Enterprise Development and Building Alternative Livelihoods for Vulnerable Groups (MSED) project in October 2013, which is intended to support the goals of the Government of Guyana in the areas of poverty alleviation. Critically, the project was also underpinned by the pursuit of reduced carbon emissions, one of the objectives of the Millenium Development Goals.
There are two other points that should be made about the MSED project, first, that it is funded under the Guyana-Norway partnership to the tune of US$10 million with an initial tranche of US$5 million and secondly that more than half of that first tranche has already been expended on beneficiary-related initiatives.
The importance of the MSED project also reposes in the fact that it was the first significant undertaking by government within the framework of the 2004 Small Business Act. For that reason, if no other, this newspaper considered it more than worthwhile that the progress of the project be monitored.
Truth be told, the MSED project has had its challenges. There is, first, its failure to meet its initially set target of 2,000-odd jobs in two years.The actual figure would appear to be somewhere in the region of 800. Its other weakness, according to official reports, is that it simply lacks the capacity to effectively monitor the various projects across the country that have benefited from grants and loans. That is a critical weakness since there is no telling whether some or even most of the business undertakings under the MSED’s umbrella might not be meeting the expectations of the project.
As we are reporting in this issue of the Stabroek Business two of the country’s high profile commercial banks and a specialist small business lending institution are partnering with the Small Business Bureau. What makes this significant is the fact the public/private sector partnership to facilitate lending to small businesses is not common. The arrangement does as well, signal perhaps, the beginning of a drift away from what has long been an aversion on the part of the banking sector to lending for small business initiatives.
Of significance, too, is the fact that the advent of the Small Business Bureau has seemingly ‘lit a small fire’ under the agro-processing sector, opening up modest opportunities in what, for decades has been a severely retarded sector. If, with the assistance of the bureau, agro-processing can make a quantum leap, to a level where we can begin to make a more meaningful mark on the export market then that alone would have made the MSED initiative more than worth the while.
Job-creation is the key issue here. Now that the bureau is seemingly truly up and running with all the kinks and creases ironed out and with training and funding disbursements having seemingly kicked into a higher gear, we should expect, first, that the capacity limitations that seemingly afflict the bureau at this time will be addressed and the impact of its work will be felt over and even more sizeable area of Guyana than is the case at this time. Government, historically, has had no real track record in job-creation in the public sector outside of what is still a poorly compensated public service so that there is obviously something to be said for state-run initiatives that channel funds into areas that can build capacity in small and medium-sized privately run businesses across the spectrum of sectors. The Small Business Bureau has that potential.