In the section of his 2012 budget presentation that deals with small business, Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh has signaled what now appears to be government’s readiness to activate the provisions of the Small Business Act. The government has indicated that it intends to pump US$10 million into getting both the Small Business Council and the Small Business Bureau going and perhaps most significantly an amount of US$1.7 million of the total allocation has been assigned to the Small Business Fund.
Small and medium sized (SME) business owners and potential business owners will doubtless welcome the announcement by the Finance Minister though it is certainly worth mentioning that it took the government far too long – 12 years – to get the Small Business Act on the road. Not least among the impediments to the growth of the SME sector in Guyana have been the lack of access to lending for investment and the corresponding absence of any meaningful official support in that area. Considerations of training which have to do with various aspects of business development from the creation of a business plan to the marketing of goods and services are all linked to the availability of finances and now it seems that, finally, some funding is forthcoming from government to attend to those needs. What is also noteworthy is that grants will also be available to help the startup of micro businesses.
Over the lengthy wait for government to make this kind of gesture to the SMEs, business owners have not simply sat around and waited. Minister Singh himself pointed to the growth of the small business sector over the years, an eventuality that can be credited to the determination of small business people and the lending arrangements available through the non-commercial bank lending agencies. In some cases, lending has been attended by both training and mentoring.
The immediate reaction to the Finance Minister’s announcement by the admittedly small number of small business owners with which the Stabroek Business has spoken is that it is a welcome development though a concern exists that grounded as the Small Business Act is in official control, bureaucratic controls and complex conditionalities could undermine the intended effects of the initiative. The very last thing that we need is for government to make a grand announcement about its long-awaited support for small business development as spelt out by the Finance Minister only to have those who have been waiting for years to take their businesses to the next level confronted with frustrating red tape that blocks access to the support which they seek.
One expects, therefore, that now that financial allocations have actually been announced for small business development the institutions provided for in the Act, the Small Business Council and the Small Business Bureau will properly ready themselves to respond to the requirements of the sector. They must clearly outline the procedures associated with benefiting from the support which the government is offering. Equally important, they must ensure, first, that such support targets the most deserving and, second, that it is administered in a manner that gives no legitimate cause for charges of favouritism and discrimination.