Home / FT View Editorial/ Sustainable microfinance

Sustainable microfinance


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Monday, 22 July 2019 01:23


The Government has absorbed more than Rs. 1.25 billion worth of unpaid microfinance debt incurred by 45,139 women in the North, East and North Central Provinces last year, according to its Annual Report. Yet the challenge of microfinance debt remains.

Successive governments from time to time have resorted to these sort of measures, especially when elections are on the horizon, to boost their popularity and improve living standards. But such steps come at a cost to taxpayers and underline the need to have a comprehensive, reliable and competitive microfinance system to support sustainable development.

Microfinance in an important and indispensable component of poverty alleviation. When done right there are many causes around the world, including in neighbouring Bangladesh, where wide access to microfinance has resulted in stronger entrepreneurship, skills development, market access and financial growth. 

Microfinance is also critical for women because most women are employed in the informal sector and as such cannot be reached by the formal banking sector but as much as 80% of microfinance lending is done by women. Microfinance in Sri Lanka has had a strong State presence in recent years with programs like ‘Divi Neguma’ and Samurdhi taking microfinance to the masses. However, it recently emerged that the Samurdhi Bank needs better management with transparent and accountable systems to provide microfinance to villages so that the masses have the choice not to resort to unscrupulous lenders.  Microfinance has received a bad rep because it has been confused with hire purchase schemes, largely practised after the end of the war in the North and East, and because of shady companies which may charge compound interest and rarely provide knowledge and expertise that legitimate microfinance companies do. Nonetheless, the value of genuine microfinance companies should not be dismissed because of this. Writing off debt is just one aspect of what needs to be done to make the microfinance sector more transparent and accountable. The Central Bank has said it is taking action to draft necessary regulation to make it compulsory to report financial operations of licensed microfinance companies to the Credit Information Bureau or CRIB to maintain customer records of clients attached to microfinance companies, similar to the banks and finance companies.  The Central Bank expects this information to streamline the analysis of creditworthiness of borrowers and minimise indebtedness currently seen as a serious problem in some parts of the country. To safeguard depositors, a depositor insurance scheme, similar to banks and finance companies, is expected to be activated to cover microfinance companies in the future. The insurance scheme begun for banks and finance companies about a decade ago is now a Rs. 44 billion fund and grows by about Rs. 10 billion each year.  This allows the regulator to meet any shocks in the financial market and a similar arrangement will be introduced to microfinance companies. These proposals have been in the pipeline for more than two years and the Government should roll them out as soon as possible. Currently there is no State regulation for organisations that give loans without obtaining deposits, which leaves a loophole that can only be bridged through better awareness and education. Ultimately the public have to take responsibility as well. As sympathetic as many are to the plight of indebted people, specific sectors such as agriculture will also need long-term technology and other resource infusion to become export-oriented and commercially viable. As weather shocks become the norm, other systems will have to evolve to protect food security. Markets have to be created for microfinance ventures to be successful and is the true test of sustainable growth.


Share This Article

Facebook Twitter


DISCLAIMER:

1. All comments will be moderated by the Daily FT Web Editor.

2. Comments that are abusive, obscene, incendiary, defamatory or irrelevant will not be published.

3. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.

4. Kindly use a genuine email ID and provide your name.

5. Spamming the comments section under different user names may result in being blacklisted.

COMMENTS

Today's Columnists

Roots of the crisis

Saturday, 14 December 2019

The candidates who had genuinely contested the Presidential Election had elaborate and attractive election manifestos. But none of them had a pragmatic program to address the basic question of how to overcome the extensive crisis Sri Lanka is facing.


What price reforms now that progress rules?

Friday, 13 December 2019

It was a famous victory. A shadow of a doubt persists after an election commission member spoke up recently, after the event, about an alleged irregularity somewhere in the voting system works. But this would be churlish, buffoonish and academic to t


Assessment of fitness and propriety of directors and officers

Friday, 13 December 2019

In the early ’80s, a businessman turned financier from the hill capital started a public deposit canvassing drive by offering 20% interest per month. The depositors were offered on the spot payment of 20% as interest for the first month for their d


How to select top officials to public corporations

Friday, 13 December 2019

It is commendable that the President wants to select suitable decision-makers to public corporations without them being mere and ad hoc political appointments. However, the process thus far seems somewhat weak. Various people are complaining about th


Columnists More