Militancy-hit traders from across the tribal region complained they are yet to receive funds promised by the Small and Medium Enterprise Development Authority (SMEDA). The delay was despite their fulfilling eligibility criteria and submitting complete documentation.
In an attempt to alleviate the suffering community, SMEDA started a grant-programme nine months ago for the rehabilitation of militancy and flood hit businesses in tribal areas. The effort was in collaboration with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and $7 million were allocated for the business community in Fata.
Like other aspects of life, businesses in the Federally Administrative Tribal Areas (Fata) were also badly affected due to volatile law and order. Bara Bazaar, Khyber Agency was considered one of the major business hubs in the tribal belt with 8,000 registered shops. After unending curfews and military operations, the shops had to shut down in 2009.
The situation also impacted commerce in Khar Central Bazaar and Sadeeqabad Phattak in Bajaur Agency.
Muhammad Anwar Afridi, a shopkeeper, said he was forced to shift his business from Bara Bazaar to Batathal, a settled area near the border of Bara tehsil because of the curfews. “Previous, we would have so much work to do, even 15 labourers were not enough,” asserted Afridi. Now he finds it hard to meet his household expenses.
Afridi heard the government and trade unions were making efforts towards the welfare of businessmen but he has not received any help so far.
Bara Trader Union Senior Vice President Syed Ayaz Wazir stated such rumours are floated often but nothing concrete ever materialises.
Talking about SMEDA, he said the programme creates more problems than it solves, “It costs Rs15,000 to get one application signed by all authorities,” he shared.
According to Wazir, an eight-member delegation met with the assistant political agent to discuss the availability of funds to support the five percent who have managed to hold on to their businesses.
Muhammad Sharif Khan, a trader at Sadeeqabad Bazaar in Bajaur Agency said his enterprise suffered badly as a result of terrorism, prompting him to apply for aid. But, he “still has not received any help.”
The SMEDA initiative, Economic Revitalization of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Fata (ERKF), was designed to cover two kinds of areas in Fata– easily accessible and difficult to reach.
ERKF Senior Field Coordinator Ihsan Khan explained the first step of the programme is to inform residents. This was done through the media, political agents, the FATA Secretariat and Habib Bank. “We provide forms on first-come, first-served basis,” said Khan. In addition to Bajaur, the relief-initiative is now getting applications from Kurram and Orakzai agencies.
Khan pointed out any tribesman with a CNIC wanting to start his business is eligible for the grant. They also provide grants to set-ups established in 2010. Most of the applicants were rejected because they do not meet the criteria, argued the senior field officier. He clarified the grant is not a loan and will only be given to tribesmen.
So far, the initiative has received 8,000 forms among which 200 have been processed and 50 traders have been given funds amounting to Rs40.7 million.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 8th, 2013.
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