The Micro and Small Enterprise Development Project must shift gears now

At various times over the past several months this newspaper has reported on the Micro and Small Enterprise (MSE) Development and Building Alternative Livelihood for Vulnerable Groups project which is being funded under the environmental partnership between Guyana and Norway and overseen jointly by the Inter-Ameri-can Development Bank and the Government of Guyana. We are now in the eighth month since President Donald Ramotar launched the project at the Liliendaal Conference Centre. We are, too, in the tenth year since the legislation to create the institutional framework for a project of this kind was passed in the National Assembly.

In the first instance, the Small Business Bureau (SBB) which is administering the project will have US$5 million at its disposal to facilitate collateral support for businesses seeking bank loans and making smaller grants available to entities that would have no chance of being considered for such loans. There is an expectation that the project will create 2,200 private sector jobs.

No opportunity even remotely resembling this one has ever materialized in the country’s small business sector and it is difficult not to visualize the impact that such a project could have on kick-starting small businesses that may have been standing still over many years waiting for a project of this nature to come along.

Among the noteworthy features of this project is its support for business owners and aspirants in dealing with what has long been the onerous collateral requirement associated with accessing commercial bank loans for small businesses. Built into the funding available to Bureau is a collateral support component from which potential borrowers from commercial banks can benefit. Then there is the grant component, under which those micro businesses thought to be poor candidates for commercial bank loans anyway can access more modest grants.

Even before the project was formally launched a great deal of public interest had been shown in what it had to offer. Indeed, and as far as we are told by the Bureau up to at least 2,000 people ‘signed up’ with the project. We are told too that two of the country’s commercial banks have agreed to work with the project and that one of the two may have already disbursed two or three loans under the project. The second commercial bank’s involvement, we understand, is being held up on account of procedural delays, the details of which are unclear.

The point should be made at this juncture that a project of this nature has long been touted as one of the solutions to the lack of small business access to capital for investment. More than that, enabling legislation was passed ten years ago in the National Assembly. Further, both before and after last year’s launch there was more than ample time to dot the i’s and cross the t’s – so to speak – so that by now the project ought to have been up and running in a serious way.

Of course, no one is suggesting that procedures be thrown out the window for the sake of expediency, though it would certainly have been hoped that a much greater sense of urgency would have attended the efforts to ensure that the primary objective of the exercise, that is, ensuring that small investors secure access to capital to get on with their investments, is realized.

The other point to be made of course is that the longer it takes to get on with the business of facilitating loans and grants the more the target dates for the job delivery component of the project will be pushed back.

It is perhaps worth mentioning too that media disclosure regarding the commercial bank loans that have already been approved and/or disbursed under the project would have at least provided a sense momentum. It is not too late to provide details of what, in effect, are the first lending initiatives under the project.

No doubt there are official explanations regarding the snail’s pace at which the project is moving. That having been said a great deal of time and, presumably, money, has already been allocated to setting up the Bureau and putting staff and other mechanisms in place whilst the people who expect to benefit from the project are still waiting, many impatiently, for the process to go forward. More than enough time has been allowed for this project to shift gears. The delays are no longer excusable.

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