By Alva M. Wolokolie
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has announced through the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the Liberia Innovation Fund for Entrepreneurship (LIFE), with a pledge of US$500,000 from the government, matched equally by the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) of another US$500,000, to enable Liberia’s first National Micro Small and Medium Enterprise (MSME) to have a long-term competitive investment in order to improve their access to finance.
The LIFE fund, the President said will be managed through LBDI; and will provide favorable term and interest loans to entrepreneurs who demonstrate the capacity to innovate, primarily in the 16 sectors designated by the Investment Code for Liberian businesses plus also pehn-pehn transport in urban and rural settings, and car washing services.
She explained that the goal of the LIFE fund is to contribute to the elimination of the financial constraints faced by Liberian entrepreneurs, thereby allowing them to make long-term investment decisions to grow their firms. In the short term, President Sirleaf added that this will provide Liberian micro and small businesses opportunities to grow into small and medium-sized firms that will supply goods and services to existing markets. In the long term, she expressed hope that the fund will be used to develop home-grown domestic industries, such as furniture, agribusiness and wood processing.
President Sirleaf then instructed the Minister of Finance in its support for the conference to grant, next fiscal year, a one-time waiver of tax clearance procedure so that it will enable the enterprise to qualify for being able to get goods and services without having to show a tax clearance. She stated that taxes still have to be paid.
The Liberian leader spoke yesterday, April 24, 2013, at the Executive Pavilion when she served as keynote speaker at the opening of the MSME conference 2013 which is supported by the International Finance Corporation (IFC). The conference is being organized by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. The theme of the conference is: From Vision to Implementation buying Liberian, building Liberia on “Government’s commitment to MSME growth.
Speaking at the conference, President Sirleaf commended the many MSMEs in attendance and said that their presence was a demonstration of commitment not only to the business but also to the overall growth of the MSME sector. She applauded the MSMEs who responded to the Trade Fair challenge and have succeeded in becoming one of the top 50’s. To them, the Liberian leader said, “You have demonstrated your capabilities to grow and improve and should be proud of this achievement. Your performance sets an example that all MSMEs in Liberia should aspire to emulate. You have certainly earned your place in this exhibition”.
President Sirleaf thanked the Ministry of Commerce & Industry and all of its partners, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and its Food and Enterprise Development Program, the Business Start-up Center-Monrovia, and the Liberia Better Business Forum (LBBF). She then expressed the optimism that the conference will create a platform for new beginnings for medium and small-sized enterprises.
“I urge all of you to seize the many opportunities being made available to you at this conference. You should see this, not only as an opportunity to showcase your products, but also to take advantage of the exposure to experts in the field, multinational corporations, and members of the financial sector. You should also use this occasion to learn from other business people who have confronted, tackled and overcome the same hurdles that you will face”.
“As Liberia moves forward, on its path towards sustained economic growth, MSMEs will become the backbone of our transformation; the ones who will add value to our raw materials; the ones who will run our service sector; the ones who will provide jobs for our nation’s youths,” President Sirleaf told the audience.
In the Liberia of tomorrow, President Sirleaf indicated that MSMEs will partner with existing large-scale industries to develop well-functioning supply-chains. She recalled that Liberia has countless concessionaires who import most of their inputs from outside the country and every time one of these companies has an opportunity to work with you so that you might be able to supply them these goods.
She pointed out that many of the concessionaires that are in the country should take heed, and many of them indeed have expressed interest in buying Liberian products.
“You, as MSMEs can step in and take advantage of this opportunity. Remember that oftentimes the owners of great multinational corporations start life as small- and medium-scale business owners much like yourselves,” she said.
By this time next year, when the second MSME conference would be held, President Sirleaf said she would be happy to hear that companies existing here today have improved products; found new customers, and grown their markets.
“I hope to see the number of new companies existing increase significantly, and hope that multiple companies will have access to the finance made available under the LIFE scheme, and use the opportunity to create jobs and incomes for our people,” President Sirleaf emphasized.