Will 2013 be a breakthrough year for the small business sector?

Every year the government’s budget proposals never fail to trot out some high-sounding rhetoric intended to send political signals of a commitment to the growth of the small business sector. This year Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh has declared that small and medium-sized business enterprises “are pivotal to creating grass root economic opportunities, supporting income-generating ventures, improving livelihoods, enhancing productivity and stimulating competitiveness.”  The rhetoric is as impressive as it usually is though a careful examination of the reality up until now suggests that very little supporting infrastructure has actually been put in place to help the small business sector to grow. For the record, some small businesses in some sectors – agriculture is one of them – have secured modest loans and grants and some training under projects jointly undertaken by the Government of Guyana and external entities. Here, the Rural Enterprise Agriculture Development project being funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development comes to mind. In these cases the support is modest and the objective is to realize growth for the affected enterprises over a considerable period of time.

It would of course be unfair not to mention the eventual emergence after almost a decade of the Small Business Bureau and what we are told has been the allocation of US$5 million for the first phase of the project. As this newspaper has said before, however, it would be more than a little comforting to see the long-awaited launch of the small business support project assigned to the Bureau since its mandate has to do with a number of key small business issues apart from providing financing. Perhaps more importantly the Bureau is intended to better position small businesses to qualify themselves for commercial bank lending as well as to access the kinds of training and business advisory and marketing services that would help render their businesses sustainable.

This year’s budget presentation also makes reference to the Women of Worth collaborative project between the Government of Guyana and GBTI. We are told that GBTI has already disbursed $16.4 million to 83 women, again modest sums once you crunch the numbers. Still, it would be more than useful to know how these amounts have helped to grow or at least to sustain the business initiatives that they have targeted. That would help us, first, determine just how many families benefitted from the project and, secondly, to make a judgment as to the success levels accruing to such enterprises.

High unemployment and the inability of the government to create nearly sufficient jobs to respond adequately to that limitation is more than sufficient reason for the political administration to throw its weight behind the strengthening of the small business sector. This year, 2013, it does appear that more provision is being made for minding micro and small enterprises which is exactly what they need – at least in the short to medium term – if they are to grow. The problem is that sometimes seemingly worthwhile initiatives lose their way and the small business sector has been a victim of that circumstance in the past.

In some areas there is still a measure of uncertainty. For instance, we now know that those local small businesses that are targeting overseas markets will; now have to sharpen much more than their marketing skills. The continual raising  of safety and health standards in relation to the importation of food products into the US now means that small local businesses will find it more costly to meet manufacturing and cultivation standards. Here again it may well fall to the government to help meet those standards by financing (or attracting the finances) to create the requisite infrastructure for ensuring adherence to safety and health procedures and monitoring quality.

The steady expansion of small and micro enterprises and what, by the government’s own admission, is the incremental increase in their contribution to the country’s economy places at the door of the political administration the particular responsibility to ensure that the systems put in place to support the sector remain steady and reliable and that they target and benefit those who most need the support and who – on account of their own energy and drive – have positioned themselves to take advantage of what is on offer.

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