Government officials rallied greater support on behalf of local small businesses even as financial institutions at home and abroad assure that their approaches to lending have been more cautious than negative.
At the launch of the Micro and Small Enterprise (MSE) programme today, Minister of Tourism Industry and Commerce (ag) Irfaan Ali argued against perceptions of small entrepreneurs that determine whether or not they can access loans while Minister of Finance Dr Ashni Singh called on banks to “push the boundary” for new lending opportunities.
There was an acknowledgement by Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Guyana Bank for Trade and John Tracey that small entrepreneurs encounter numerous constraints, particularly access to credit but defended his bank’s policy regarding loans.
“It has been said that our financial institution has a negative attitude to lending… I presume this would come from the small business sector. If this is so, it may be a necessary protective measure, why? Because we in the banking sector… we know and measure risks much better than the individual borrower who sometimes come to us as the eternal optimist, positive that his business plan is bound to succeed,” Tracy explained.
But as Minister Ali shared his own experiences as a young aspiring entrepreneur who was seeking a loan, stakeholders in attendance saw the borrower’s side of the story.
He related occurrences as a teenager where he was denied access to a loan having a bicycle as his only mode of transportation and another period where he was given approval for the same request after proving that he was the owner of a motorcar.
“I qualified for the loan because there was a misconception and there was a culture in the environment that gave that loan that sought to make a differentiation whether falsely or rightfully,” Minister Ali said.
Access to finance is a challenge not limited to Guyana, but a worldwide issue, common in the Latin American and Caribbean Region Inter American Development Bank (IDB) Chief of Division, Capital Markets and Finance Juan Antonio Ketterer explained.
He said that although the IDB has been working with countries on improving access to loans, the task has been endless although many countries have made much progress.
Ketterer reported that Guyana has been ranked 167 out of 183 economies in the IDB’s Access to Credit department, but said the news may not be all bad.
“This is not reason to be discouraged, but a reason to be engaged and motivated to improve.”
The Guyana Government has however been hailed for its work, through legislation and other initiatives, to strengthen the financial sector and provide the leeway for it to take risks without violating any prudential norms, Minister Singh said.
“I do urge the banks to actively seek out good lending opportunities including working with entrepreneurs where some nurturing and mentorship is required,” Minister Singh said.
The IDB is a main partner with the Government in the MSE project and maintains the philosophy that access to financing is one of the key pillars of improving the business climate and promoting the economic activities of small and medium enterprises in particular.
It is on this premise that the IDB has been actively involved in the financial sector locally for several years and has supported a Guyana Government policy to enhance policies and improve access to credit.
The focus areas included improvements in financial sector oversight and strengthening regulations to maintain financial sustainability.
The MSE project has made access to financing through an interest subsidy and support for a portion of the collateral required for loans at GBTI, Republic Bank and the Institute for Private Enterprise Development (IPED).
It adds to numerous collaborative initiatives between the Government and commercial banks that have made the task of accessing loans easy and more affordable. Among them is the Women of Worth (WOW) credit scheme for single parent headed households launched in 2010.
The MSE project will be initiated with a US$10M funding through the Guyana/Norway forest carbon partnership agreement. An initial tranche of US$5M will be released during the first two years. It is expected that an approximate 2,200 jobs will be sustained.