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Does it Really Matter?

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There are times when I sit and evaluate life, I reflect on some of the things I strongly feel passionate about, the things I think will make a positive difference in the lives of thousands, perhaps millions of disadvantaged people in our country, I then come to the realization that perhaps I am wasting my time and energy. Does it really matter at all? Will anyone pay attention?

Think of this, out of 6.1 million job-seekers, only about 440,000 will get jobs in the private and public sectors, while about 5.5 million have to “take care of themselves” by setting up micro and small businesses and employing each other (according to the Welfare Monitoring Survey of 2008).

With such statistics, you wish govt focused on practical programs designed to assist the 5.5 million people to successfully set up and manage vibrant micro and small enterprises, not just to create jobs for themselves, but also contribute to national economic development.

The Micro Small and Medium Enterprise (MSME) Policy drafted in 2011, covering the period 2012-2017, still remains in draft form. In part, the policy document states: “The MSME sector has the potential to promote indigenous entrepreneurship. In an ideal environment, it can absorb labor, transfer modern technological skills, foster innovation and enhance international competitiveness. Successful MSMEs have the potential to uplift women, the youth and marginalized groups from poverty.

This MSME policy seeks to support the development of a vibrant local entrepreneurial sector and improve MSME competitiveness. It aims to enhance the operations of individual MSMEs, assist priority industries, and improve the MSME operational and regulatory environment.”

If you critically analyze the 2014/15 national budget, you will see that there is nothing specific to address issues affecting this sector (except a waiver on minibus duty). The micro and small businesses continue to be neglected.

If we had allocated the K7bn to help the micro and small businesses to access growth soft loans, and not to subsidize iron sheets and cement, probably these people would afford the iron sheets and cement from their own profits. If we allocate just a quarter of what we spend on FISP (about K20bn) to establish purpose-built factory shells and office parks for micro and small businesses, these businesses might actually contribute more than K30bn in taxes to govt and afford to buy fertilizers for their relatives in the village.

Is it still worth it to try to communicate to the powers that be, that the only sector that can significantly contribute to job creation and poverty reduction, is the MSME sector? Having been a strong advocate of the MSME sector in Malawi for over ten years now, I see no light at the end of the tunnel and I am very frustrated. I feel I have been hitting a wall for far too long now. I guess probably certain things were never meant to change. Maybe it is time to focus on something else…

P/S: The picture depicts the deplorable tough conditions and environments from which MSMEs generally operate in Malawi. The irony is that officers from the beautiful structure behind, will come and collect taxes from the wooden makeshift structure in front.

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