Usman Khan

PESHAWAR: Traders of tribal districts are facing a lot of difficulties in getting financial assistance through the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Authority (SMEDA).

They complain that the application procedure, particularly the verification process, is cumbersome. TNN has conducted a panel discussion with senior journalist from Kurram Dildar Hussain, women’s rights activist Lubna Hayee and traders from Khyber district Abdul Ahmad and Daud Khan Afridi on impact of SMEDA’s financial assistance on business and routine life in merged districts and strategies to reduce difficulties of traders in getting financial grant.

Dildar Hussain said a survey was conducted in Central, Upper and Lower Kurram, but no considerable help was extended to traders. “Affected traders are still making efforts to get aid and they are hoping that the government will further expand the project and help more traders,” he said.

Dildar Hussain said insurance policy must also be included in the aid package in case of damages to any business.

“Fifty-two villages in Kurram district were damaged during militancy. In Central Kurram, money was taken from people during the survey. People used to come to houses of tribesmen and demand up to Rs.200,000 for conducting survey of damaged properties,” he said.

Lubna Hayee said while taking part in the discussion that the main problem with women in tribal districts is that they lack access to information.

“Only a well-informed woman can take advantage from a program. Procedure for obtaining SMEDA aid like getting the payment cheuqe, purchasing goods, showing receipts of purchased goods and opening of bank account is very difficult,” she said.

The women’s rights activist said many women in tribal detracts even don’t possess identity cards. She said some women had opened small shops inside their houses.

“It is strange to ask a woman to open a bank account for a small shop inside her home and how such women will purchase goods with bank cheques? There are some other women who are engaged in hand-made embroidery business and they often purchase items in small quantity. Procedure for getting SMEDA funds is very difficult, particularly for women,” she said.

Lubna said the local government elections will be held soon in tribal districts and elected councilors and nazims can also be entrusted with the powers to provide guarantee for traders to obtain financial assistance.

“Many tribal women were involved in agriculture as they used to work along with men in the fields. Women also looked after cattle and poultry businesses in their homes. Tribal women were also involved in embroidery and hand-made products business,” she said.

Lubna said it is not clear how a tribal woman looking after goats and sheep will buy raw material for her business under SMEDA conditions.

“It is understandable that a donor always wants some guarantees and assurances, but the conditions must make sense. At least, the criterion for businesswomen must be relaxed for obtaining assistance,” she added.

Daud Khan said affected traders submitted applications with SMEDA in April and May 02 was last date for submission of applications. He said SMEDA initiated work on the forms in Ramazan and they visited Bara Bazaar and conducted a survey. He said the names of 87 affected traders were shortlisted and 60 traders have received letters about getting cheques.

“SMEDA says affected traders will have to start 50 percent business on their own and they will get assistance for the remaining half portion of their trade. On this formula, SMEDA paid different amounts ranging from Rs.200,000 to Rs1.3 million to different traders,” he said.

Daud Khan said survey is continuing in Bara Bazaar and lists are also displayed from time to time, but no trader has received assistance yet. He said cheques were not given to affected traders.

“Some shopkeepers were just informed that their applications have been approved and it will be provided after opening of bank account, sending the account number to SMEDA, purchasing goods and bringing quotations,” he said.

He added, “If a trader has claim of Rs.1 million, then he will purchase goods of Rs.500,000 and SMEDA will pay Rs.500,000 after the trader provides it quotation of purchased goods. Grants have been approved in different percentages for affected shopkeepers. The affected traders must get their cheques without further delay.”

Abdul Ahmad said during the discussion that the SMEDA program to extend financial assistance to traders is a good step. However, he said, procedure to get assistance is very difficult.

“Guarantee by a government official is mandatory and one official can provide guarantee for only one person. Tribal maliks must also have the authority to provide guarantee for affected traders,” he said.

Abdul Ahmad said traders faced so many difficulties in the application process that some of them even regretted applying for the assistance. “The process with the administration consumed a full month and then a tough procedure was followed at SMEDA office. Even after submitting complete forms, traders don’t know when they will get financial assistance,” he said.