President Ernest Bai Koroma has said that the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) Development Agency would provide loans at a single digit interest rate to promote a strong and viable SME sector.
He made this pronouncement during the official launch today at Miatta Conference Center of the SME and Local Content Agency Acts to serve as the principal government institutions to formalize, regulate and support the operations of SMEs in Sierra Leone. The president described the ceremony as a giant leap in a long and challenging journey in fulfillment of a long-cherished aspiration of government to develop a vibrant private sector.
President Koroma also disclosed that the SME Development Agency would not require any collateral for the provision of loans, and added that “Low interest rates and the removal of collateral will promote a strong SME sector, with the twin objectives of fostering the development of indigenous entrepreneurship and the creation of employment.”
The Local Content Agency Act, according to the president, seeks to strengthen the linkages between foreign companies or enterprises and the local economy as well as require investors to meet a set of performance targets in their operations regarding skills transfer and improved technology.
“It will also ensure that Sierra Leoneans have a fair and transparent opportunity to compete for the delivery of local materials and other goods and services under a preferential price sensitive procurement system without compromising timeliness, quality, safety and other standards,” he emphasized.
President Koroma however noted that even though SMEs provide livelihood for about 70% of the population, yet they are to some large extent informal and fragmented.
He said that being fully aware of the miasma of challenges (limited access to markets, reliable business linkages, skills, technology, water and road networks) facing SMEs, government as part of the Ebola Recovery Programme, provided access to finance for more than 29, 000 petty traders across the country, provided seeds and fertilizers to thousands of farming households, identified fifty (50) Agricultural Business Centres (ABCs) for transformation into legal persons whose managers and operators are being trained on business management and machine operations.
Chairperson of the ceremony, Madam Mabinty Daramy said studies have proved that countries that have SMEs are fast-moving in terms of development than countries without. She described the initiative of SMEs as welcoming and said that President Koroma is not only a president of infrastructure, but also a champion of private sector development.
In commending the president, head of the Chamber of Commerce Mrs. Gladys Strasser-King said her institution is always advocating for the implementation of the Local Content Policy.
Khadidia Diabi, Officer in Charge, African Development Bank, recommended that government establish technical and vocational institutes (Tech-Vocs) to provide skills training for its citizens.
The event, which was organized by the Ministry of Trade and Industry, was attended by the Vice President Ambassador Victor Bockarie Foh, cabinet ministers, development partners, senior government officials and representatives of SMEs and the private sector.