Liberia’s First MSME Conference Opens; President Sirleaf Announces US$1 Million Fund to Improve Access to Finance, One-Time Tax Clearance Waiver

Wednesday, 24th April 2013
President Sirleaf making remarks at the MSME Conference.
President Sirleaf making remarks at the MSME Conference.
Photo Credit: James M. Garresen / Executive Mansion

Monrovia, Liberia - Liberia’s first Conference on Micro, small & Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) opened in Monrovia on Wednesday, April 24, bringing together hundreds of entrepreneurs, bankers, microfinance institutions, investors, development partners and civil society organizations to take stock of the MSME sector  and consider measures to support sustainable MSME development to promote growth and lead to jobs for Liberians.

 

  1. According to an Executive Mansion release, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in opening the MSME Conference and Trade Fair, spoke of her government’s commitment to MSME growth. [LINK TO FULL TEXT OF SPEECH] The President announced the establishment of the Liberia Innovation Fund for Entrepreneurship (LIFE), totaling US$1 million – US$500,000 from the government, matched equally by US$500,000 from the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) – to help improve MSME access to finance.

 

The Liberian President made other pledges to MSMEs: instructing the Ministry of Finance to grant, next fiscal year, a one-time waiver of tax clearance procedure to enable them to qualify to get their goods and services without showing the tax clearance – the President clarified that businesses would still have to pay their taxes; and requesting the Commerce Ministry to compile a directory of all qualified MSMEs, to be shared with all Cabinet members in exercising government’s commitment to the 25 percent procurement of goods and services from Liberian enterprises.

 

Also taking part in the opening session were: the Minister of Commerce & Industry, Mr. Axel M. Addy, who provided an overview of conference objectives and agenda for delivering results; Representative Adam Bill Corneh of Bong County, on behalf of the National Legislature; Mr. Peer Walter Beno Stein, Director of Access to Finance of the International Finance Corporation (IFC); and United States Ambassador to Liberia, Mrs. Deborah Malac.

 

The three-day conference is based on the four pillars of Liberia’s MSME Policy of 2011: legal and regulatory reforms; access to markets; access to finance; and building skills and knowledge. Hosts of the event are: the Ministry of Commerce & Industry, the International Finance Corporation, the U.S. Agency for International Development and its Food and Enterprise Development Program, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Building Markets, the Marketplace, the Business Start-up Center-Monrovia, the Liberia Better Business Forum and many Liberian businesses and their associations.

 

In her remarks, President Sirleaf urged MSMEs to seize the many opportunities at the conference to not only showcase their products, but also the exposure to experts in the field, multinational corporations, and members of the financial sector; and to learn from other business people who have confronted, tackled and overcome the same hurdles they will face.

 

Continued President Sirleaf: “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 youth.” In the Liberia of tomorrow, she continued, MSMEs will partner with existing large-scale industries to develop well-functioning supply-chains. The President noted that Liberia has countless concessionaires who import mostly from outside the country, and she called upon them to work with Liberian suppliers of such goods.

 

In announcing the US$1 million fund, the President said it would help MSMEs overcome the steep challenges they face: the lack of financial management skills, technical knowledge and managerial expertise; being unable to get their goods to the market because the necessary transport and international trade infrastructure are lacking; and the lack of access to long-term financial products which are necessary to build a competitive business.

 

President Sirleaf said the LIFE fund, to be managed through LBDI, 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, and including pehn pehn transport in peri-urban and rural settings, and car washing services.

 

The goal of the LIFE fund, she explained, 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, LIFE will provide Liberian micro and small businesses opportunity to grow into small and medium-sized firms that will supply goods and services to existing markets. In the long term, the fund could be used to develop home-grown domestic industries, such as furniture, agribusiness and wood processing.

 

In closing, President Sirleaf challenged the MSMEs in this manner: “Each of you came here with an idea. If your idea is to grow a business that will be viable and productive and will enrich the Liberian economy and support its partners, you will need to think big.  You will also need to plan extensively, work hard and be realistic in your goals. It is this combination of innovative thinking and sound business sense that will make Liberian MSMEs an industry whose continued success will inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs.”

 

Following her statement, the President visited booths at the Trade Fair, before setting off on her tour of Sinoe County.