Yet another “Strategic Plan” to promote SMEs! 

By Nobel P. Loser

It must be sometime in 2005, during his second term of office as Prime Minister. Dr Navin Ramgoolam, speaking at a function in Tombeau Bay, referred to an unsettled issue. It was about traffic jams and how they held the country to ransom, at a very heavy cost, on working days. If Dr Ramgoolam was a common man like you and me, he would have employed a different language; even going to the extent of dressing up his speech in a flowery Creole. His status constrained him therefore to resort to using words compatible with his position and public decency. He forcefully stated that he had instructed the hierarchy within the Prime Minister’s Office that there was no question of commissioning, and paying for, one more expert to report on the issue. But let it go on record that the country had lost nearly twenty-five years asking for reports, constituting committees, from technical to high powered, to study them all and to draft findings on the reports. In the process, lobbyists and conglomerates did their share of damage as well but independently of the report-churning process.

Ongoing projects should be able to tackle this national headache hopefully in the next two-three years. There are some positive signs of improvement. The northern region is witnessing visible salutary change to the great relief of road users as well as Corporate Mauritius involved in estate development and land speculation.

Once again, very early into his second term of office, Dr Ramgoolam drew the attention of his colleagues to the necessity to be careful in their dealings with bureaucrats, at the risk of finding themselves drawn into unwelcome controversy or scandals. The story goes that, on and off, when a situation so warrants, he keeps sending warning signals to whom it may concern.

The statements attributed to the Prime minister in the circumstances contain lots of wisdom. Wisdom acquired through experience, and, may be, painful experience at times. But in reality, not many heed what he says. There is a constant, daily flow of information and gossips, which enters and leaves the PMO. That’s why his suggestions on important issues cannot be dismissed lightly.

All of the above brings us back to our main contentious issue of the day. And we shall together see how a publicly funded institution is moving on an irrelevant path on a particular issue by going quite contrary to the PM’s suggestion to it.

Two weeks ago, on 27th March to be precise, that institution publicly called for bids from consultancy firms for the drafting of a “Strategic Plan” to promote SMEs among women entrepreneurs. The public communiqué to that effect, as drafted and published, opens the door for us to pay close attention to it and to give our comment upon it. It’s a fast track file. The deadline given for submission of bids looks quite short. The reference in it to “experience working with women entrepreneurs would be a distinct advantage” raises doubts. The invitation to tender never appeared on the website of the institution. And the “Terms of Reference” (ToR) for potential bidders were kept secret in the sense that they could be obtained only if a bidder showed interest in the bidding process. The ToR were obtainable on specific requests being submitted through emails to this effect.

As per an official document in our possession — it contains nine paragraphs plus a footnote — the public institution wants the bidder to appraise the “main constraints” to run a business enterprise and to submit a draft “strategic plan 2012-2015” on how to “enhance competitiveness” and “improve entrepreneurs’ contribution to the economy”. It is stated that “key areas to be covered” by the Plan should relate to training, marketing, financial and other support.

At our personal request, two independent experts worked on the subject and they concluded that this consultancy project would cost public funds amounting to anything between one million rupees and up to a maximum of 5.4 million if the whole list of women entrepreneurs is surveyed and all auxiliary costs are to be met. A coverage of one-third of the list would bring the cost to around two million rupees.

Now rewind and back to the PM concerning reports. The facts are that last year the Government of the Republic of Mauritius published an Industrial and SME Strategic Plan 2010-2013. The document contained two messages; one from the Minister of Industry and one from the Minister of SMEs. This project benefited from the assistance of the ‘Agence Francaise de Développement’ and the services of S. Jenders, an International Consultant.

Part 5 (C) of the Plan relates exclusively to SMEs under this heading – “Competitive SMEs: Forging an innovative, growth oriented and globally competitive SMEs”. The main issues tackled therein are: improving access to finance, expanding the entrepreneurial base, improving access to markets, strengthening the institutional framework, improving the technology base and developing new growth poles for SMEs. Many other related issues are also dealt under each of these key headings.

Our record also shows that in June 1999, two international experts drafted a complete report with particular emphasis on SMEs entitled “Looking Outward”.

In March 2003, another expert drafted a full report on SMEs entitled “Strategic Planning for SMEs” after a one-day workshop at Le Coco Beach Hotel.

All these reports have already thoroughly covered in depth all the key areas that the successful bidder is being called upon to put his views on in the present bidding exercise being launched by the public institution in question.

The only weakness, if it may be qualified as such, we noted in the reports submitted so far was that no specific mention was made in regard to the problems faced by SMEs according to gender; they were broad recommendations for SMEs whether run by men or women entrepreneurs.

The big question is this. Any reasonable person, or Nobel Prize laureate, would tend to think that business is business; entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs; whether thou art a man or a woman the risk taken is no different, the management system and accountancy system are no different. The administrative process to set up the business and to run it faces the same imbroglio, in terms of constraints and costs to overcome them. This basic fact appears to be wrong or flawed so that a woman-specific recommendation is being sought!

So the report being ordered now will address the difference between a man and a woman entrepreneur. If we were in the decision-making hierarchy of this public institution, we would have listened to the Prime minister instead of proceeding to pile up one more report in this matter. Unsettled issues do not necessarily require any additional expert report as a way of moving forward. More so when the all the fundamental facts are already well known.


* Published in print edition on 15 April 2011

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