By Arret Jatta and Yusef Taylor
The Women’s Enterprise Fund (WEF) is a loan scheme established by the WEF Act approved by Parliament on 24th September 2020 for Women’s Associations and Organisations across the country to access loans. The loan scheme is implemented by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare and has seen millions of Dalasis given out as loans to multiple women’s organisations.
Reviewing the implementation of the WEF, Parliament’s Committee on Gender, Children and Social Welfare conducted a Social Audit to “gather first-hand information on the disbursement, recoveries, impact and challenges of the fund” in an attempt “to prepare a comprehensive report and proffer recommendations to the Executive/ Ministry for implementation”.
On Tuesday 7th November 2023, Parliament’s Gender Committee met leaders of women’s organisations at the Kanifing Municipal Council headquarters to discuss the challenges they faced during the implementation of the WEF Loan Scheme and to address late payments.
The objective of the WEF is; to create, promote and grow women’s enterprises and to create self-employment for women amongst other objectives. The loan was given to women to boost their business investment to yield profit, however, women leaders highlighted that they did not make a profit in their businesses while some women leaders claimed that they shared the money among themselves.
The Draft Social Audit highlights that the Aja Makamba Jammeh Kafo, Team Rohey Malick Lowe Kafo, West Africa Women Association, Hamza Barracks Women Association, Bundung Jegg Society Kafo, Boka Yakarr Kafo and Bolo Anda Japaleh Jegen Yi Kafo were all awarded a D100,000 loan each with an interest rate of 5% payable within one year with a grace period of six months.
Meanwhile, Mighty Diamond Kafo was awarded a D150,000 loan and ECOWAS Federation Gambia was awarded a D200,000 loan both with a 5% interest, a six-month grace period and a one-year repayment period.
Out of the above-named organisations, Aja Makamba Jammeh Kafo, Hamza Barrack Women Association and Bundung Jegg Society Kafo have successfully repaid their loans while the rest have defaulted on their payments. Some of the common challenges highlighted that “the grace period and repayment term is too short” and that the “amount given to the [women’s organisations] Kafo is too low and could not cater for all the members”. To address this, women’s organisations have recommended for the amount to be increased to 1 million Dalasis and the grace period to be increased from six months to one year and payable within two years.
Madam Fatou Ceesay, one of the women leaders explained that she discussed with her fellow women the outstanding payments of D25,000 and they “agreed to meet on Wednesday to complete the payment by taking the money from the association’s account because not everyone has paid yet”. According to Madam Fatou Ceesay, her organisation has agreed not to take future loans from the Ministry and will only take government grants because they experienced challenges when owing the government.
In reaction to this, the Chairperson of Parliament’s Gender Committee, Hon Fatoumatta Njai of Banjul South suggested an alternative where the government could provide women groups with goods and materials which they could sell to avoid the conflict associated with disbursing money. Women groups could in turn sell the goods and pay for the cost of the goods sold while keeping the profits.
One Mr Alpha Humma from the Ministry of Gender who manages the fund took note of the suggestion and revealed that some women groups are no longer willing to take loans from the government making the alternative suggested by Hon Njai a viable option.
One complaint by Madam Aji Fatou Camara opined that the loans are given based on “whom you know” because a lot of women groups people applied for the loan but few were chosen.
In response to this query, Mr Humma explained that there are criteria to access the loans which some women’s organisations could not satisfy. According to Mr Humma to qualify for the loan “the women organization (Kafo) must be registered, the Kafo must be in existence for 3 months or more and the Kafo must have a minimum of 50 people (women) and a maximum of 200”.
It’s important to note that President Adama Barrow has used the Women’s Enterprise Fund as a political scoring point, rebranding it as “President Barrow’s Women Enterprise Fund”. An article on the Office of the President’s Official Website titled “More Women Benefit from President Barrow’s Women Enterprise Fund” highlights how the President “presented over Eight Million Dalasi to 20 women groups in the West Coast Region”. The article states that “the President presented the cheques to the women as part of the Women Enterprise Fund during the second leg of the ongoing Meet the People Tour on Thursday, December 8th, in Brikama”.
Hon Fatou Cham for Sannementereng advised women groups to be more proactive by not allowing challenges to derail their entrepreneurship efforts by raising their concerns to the relevant authorities in good time. She asserted that women groups were not just given the loans but were also trained on how to invest the loans.