Members of Parliament have yesterday approved a $10million financing agreement (Sierra Leone agro-processing competitiveness project) between the government of Sierra Leone and the International Development Association.
Presenting the loan agreement to the House for discussion, Deputy Minister of Finance, Dr. Patricia Lavaley, said the agreement would help improve and increase agro business community.
She said the project comprised three components and that the first would focus on the promotion of an enabling environment that would cost $2million, adding that it would help reduce the burden and constraints faced by agro-business through the Small and Medium Enterprise (SMEs).
She also said the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) would be there to help reduce the cost of obtaining environmental license, whereas Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency (SLIEPA) will be there to develop a program for retention of agro-processing in the country.
She stated that Standard Bureau will help to improve standards of goods in the agro-business, while the Ministry of Trade would be the sole beneficiary that will be providing oversight function among the institutions and also enhance coordination and the proper setting up of agro-business.
The deputy minister of finance further stated that an amount of $6million would be meant for increase in productivity and strengthening the key value chain of agro-business and also undertakes investment to key innovators for secondary goods to be provided.
She added that an amount of $2million would also be meant for the implementation, monitoring and evaluation to help support the Coordinating Units to oversee the project preparation and contract management.
Dr. Lavaley explained that the project will enhance job creation and income generation, adding that it would also provide technical advancement to the SMEs and will strengthen productivity and also increase new investment in the market sector.
She disclosed that the loan would be paid in thirty two years' time.
Contributing to the debate, Hon. Bashiru Silikie of the ruling Sierra Leone Peoples Party, said many agreements have been ratified in the House of Parliament but that the coordination has been very poor, hence hope that the agreement would not be likewise.
He said SMEs across the country have been working with the local industries and that if they were empowered, it will be good as it will help the private sector to assist them grow.
"Make sure you coordinate properly as when you coordinate well, the project will be successful. We want you to give the monies to the right SMEs and you should know that these monies are not for your own SMEs. Don't go and create an SME because of this money. Don't go and give it to an SME that you know. Make sure you give the right people," he urged.
Hon. Saa Francis Bhendu of the Coalition for Change party observed that sometimes it can be difficult for SMEs to be given loans at local commercial banks, noting that the loan will help regain the confidence of SMEs.
Leader of the main opposition All People's Congress, Hon. Chernor R. M. Bah, commended the minister for a comprehensive report on the loan agreement; noting that the loan was relevant and the country needed it most.
He noted that SMEs were very relevant for the survival of the country's development agenda and urged that Sierra Leoneans benefit from the facility especially in the area of training.
"We hope that the beneficiaries must be Sierra Leoneans. We don't want to see expert been brought into this country to train people when we have qualified people to train locals. When trainings are done, make sure their jobs are retained," he urged.
On his part, Leader of Government Business, Hon. Sidie Mohamed Tunis, called on Members of Parliament to help in the implementation process as they all have a role to play.
"We have heard what the minister has said as she did give a comprehensive explanation. If you are not satisfied, we have the right to summon them here to explain thoroughly," he said.