Vol. 4 Num 258 Tue. February 17, 2004  
Front Page

Focus falls on bringing poorest under net
PM opens microcredit summit

The Asia Pacific Region Microcredit Summit began in Dhaka yesterday with calls for broadening the microcredit programme and making it more efficient to give the poorest of the poor access to microfinance.

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, who inaugurated the summit at the Sheraton Hotel, said microfinance initiatives all around the world including in Bangladesh need sustainability.

"I am glad to know that the Dhaka summit will look into these aspects and address the emerging concerns. You have to think whether the present interest rate can be brought down," she said. In order to address such issues and promote smooth microcredit operation, the Bangladesh government is trying to set up a facilitative regulatory framework, Khaleda added.

She said about 68 million poor families around the world today benefit from microcredit and the target is to reach 100 million by 2005.

The world today has a major task of reducing poverty. Of the world's six billion people, 2.8 billion live on less than $2 a day and 1.2 billion on less than $1 a day. Again, of the 1.2 billion people, 500 million live in South Asia and 300 million in Africa, Khaleda informed the summit.

Queen Sofia of Spain, South African First Lady Zanele Mbeki, Finance and Planning Minister M Saifur Rahman, Dr Muhammad Yunus, managing director of Grameen Bank that introduced microloans for the poor two decades ago, Prof Wahiduddin Mahmud, an economist and chairman of Palli Karma Shahayak Foundation, local organiser of the summit, Sam Daley Harris, Microcredit Campaign director, and Phrang Roy, assistant president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Rome also spoke at the inaugural ceremony.

Queen Sofia said nowadays, in many countries with remarkable levels of wellbeing and wealth, microcredits, turned into microfinances, are also an outstanding financial instrument to unite and integrate those people most in need, she observed.

"In Spain, it has caught on deeply and broadly. That is why my country's government has assigned US$280 million in the last five years to fight against poverty, especially in Latin America, by means of granting three hundred thousand micro credits to small business, mostly run by women," Queen Sofia added.

"Spain is using microcredit as an important strategic aim of its cooperation for development policy," she mentioned.

First Lady of South Africa Zanele Mbeki said microcredit programme has given hope to many not only in Bangladesh but also in other places around the world.

Professor Muhammad Yunus maintained that micrecredit and its institutions are sustainable. "You look at the microcredit programme. We are in this business to see the number of poor people reduce every day and we will be celebrating Microcredit Summit in 2005."

More than 50 million of the world's poorest people have taken part in the past seven years in micro-finance projects aimed at giving them a stepping stone out of poverty, he told the summit.

Figures are expected to confirm a further 20 million will have access to micro-credit by the end of 2004, he told delegates.

Yunus said the figures meant the micro-credit movement, which provides tiny loans to the poorest, was closer to achieving the goal it set itself seven years ago of reaching 100 million people by the end of 2005.

"Fifty million of the poorest families have been reached and I am sure we will have 70 million this year," he said.

"When we began in 1997 people laughed at us. Today we can tell them we have just one more step and we will make it happen."

Yunus termed the Dhaka summit a very special one, saying it is a regional summit but it turned into a global one. "Registration was stopped a few days back because there was no way to accommodate all the participants."

Finance and Planning Minister M Saifur Rahman said micrecredit finance was expensive and observed it is high time to reduce the interest rate as well as bring accountability among the people working in the microcredit programme.

Microcredit programme has to be integrated with macro-economic policies, he mentioned. "We want to develop small industries and enterprises because these have higher employment."

The government will continue financial support to PKSF and establish Bangladesh Small NGO Foundation that will supplement the PKSF activities, the finance minister added.

PKSF Managing Director Dr Salehuddin Ahmed read out a message sent by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the occasion of the summit.

"Eradicating poverty is perhaps the greatest global challenge facing us today," Annan said adding microcredit and microfinance programmes have proven to be effective in the fight against poverty, as they address the problems at the grassroots level.

"If we are to make serious progress towards the Millennium Development Goal of reducing the proportion of people living in poverty by half by 2015, as well as the other related targets and goals, concerted and concrete measures are urgently needed at all levels," the UN secretary-general pointed out.

Wahiduddin Mahmud said it is amazing how amid widespread culture of loan default in formal banking in Bangladesh, a near 100 percent rate of repayment on microcredit has now become part of the society's behavioural norm.

The impact of microcredit is mainly assessed in terms of the income gains for the borrowing households. Yet, there is growing evidence of the beneficial impact of microcredit in the areas such as healthcare, family planning and schooling behaviour, especially for female children, he added.

In all these areas, Bangladesh has made spectacular progress over the past one and a half decades or so, Mahmud observed.

Sam Daley Harris said over the last 30 years microcredit practitioners around the world have turned banking upside down.

"Your innovations have been transformational. The commitment to make sure that the very poor are not left out is not a challenge for microcredit only. It is a challenge for health, it is a challenge for education and it is a challenge for other areas of development," he felt.

Microcredit innovation has changed lives, and additional innovations will change millions of more lives for the better, Harris added.

Phrang Roy said it is exciting how microcredit and its institutions are continuing to grow.

From R to L, Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, Queen Sofia of Spain and Grameen Bank Managing Director Muhammad Yunus attend the launch of the Asia Pacific Region Microcredit Summit at Dhaka Sheraton Hotel yesterday. PHOTO: STAR