When the Managing Director of Samoa Commercial Bank, Lemalu Ray Ah Liki, announced earlier this month that his bank had started a Small Development Loan Scheme for Low Income Earners (S.D.L.S.) - Samoa Observer 21 October 2016, under the headline: Crowds take bank by surprise - he made a salient comment that sounded quite pleasing to the ear.
He said his decision to go ahead with S.D.L.S. was inspired “partly” by the daily struggles families around Samoa were going through, after he’d read their stories that were featured in the Samoa Observer under its column, the “Village Voice”.
He explained: “Yes, I saw in the paper that you’ve got this ‘Village Voice’ and I’ve noticed that there are people who want to develop their lands, so that they can improve their prospects with higher income, but then they do not have access to low cost finance, and also they don’t have a good cash flow.”
“And also, they don’t have the security, so nobody would want to guarantee their loans because they are risky. So I’ve decided, with some of my shareholders, to assist these people, and so we’ve put aside some of our deposits to guarantee these loans.”
Lemalu went on to say the problem though was that “we (just) can’t entertain everyone. I know there are a lot of people who want to come under the scheme but they do not qualify.”
He explained: “This (scheme) is specifically for families with low income as well as those who are really struggling.”
He said: “I also look at the Village Voice and there are a few of them who want to develop their land, their farms and improve the livelihood of their families.”
“Now that’s one of the reasons we decided to set up this scheme.”
However, he wanted highlighted that “this scheme is not exclusively for the rural and farming community.”
“A higher percentage of the facility will be directed towards the cultivation and development of suitable short term crops especially taro, given its profitability and demand by overseas markets.”
“Other short term crops like vegetables, taro, peanuts, banana and fruits can also be financed under the loan scheme.”
Lemalu maintained that “this is the bank’s way of helping those who struggle to get funds.”
“This is for families who have problems getting loans from anywhere because of the strict criteria involved,” he said.
“They have no source of income but they do have the ability to work on vegetable stalls or taro stalls and they would like to enlarge their activities.”
“This is the assistance we could provide for them. The shareholders are securing these loans so they don’t need to look for anyone to guarantee them.”
“We will give them the loans and we expect them to try and pay it back. That’s the whole idea. We want to help people who are unable to access funding for whatever reason.”
And the queues continued.
Said Lemalu: “When I left for lunch this afternoon the queue was right up to the door. We didn’t expect the queue to be like this.”
“We thought people will come in gradually but I think everybody wanted to come in and take advantage of the scheme.”
“(But then) despite the fact that some of them already knew that they did not qualify under the scheme, we will try to help them out under the window that we are now looking at for them.”
He explained: “There have been long queues in the last three days.”
“I think we already received up to 300 applicants and all of my staff are there to interview all the applicants and start processing their applications.”
Now the problem is that “not everyone coming through the door will qualify for a loan,” Lemalu explains. “Many of them are off slightly higher income bracket and I would like to assist these people.”
“So we may have another window for them, especially the genuine farmers who would like to expand or develop their land into short term crops, and this will have a slightly higher rate than the scheme - maybe 10 percent - but they will also be taken care of.”
“But if I see a need there for these farmers or clients, that they are inspired and they really want to develop and expand their farms, and have productive investments, then I am prepared to give them a chance and lower the interest rate slightly than the normal one.”
“So I am looking at assisting these people. This is something new but I am contemplating on assisting this portion of the population too.”
And lastly he warns: “Like anything new in this life, there are always challenges and obstacles. For this scheme, the main challenge is faced by the staff of S.C.B., who are now having to deal with the long queues.”
“So I have decided that we will spare Thursdays and Fridays to do the processing, and we will only receive applications on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays,” Lemalu explained.
Sure, as a businessman and a banker, Lamalu’s initiative is a business enterprise, and in that light, it is a risk so that the possibility of it failing simply cannot be ruled out.
Which is why the idea that it has been allowed to go ahead anyway knowing quite well, that the goal was to help those who have been spending most their lives – if not all of their lives – living out there in the villages where they have little, or even no knowledge at all of how banks work, is so poignantly gratifying you feel tears well up in your eyes.
So that for us all here at Village Voice, we are finding that now is a wonderful time to rejoice.
And so, on behalf of the Samoa Observer and Village Voice staff, we say thank you very much to S.C.B.’s Managing Director, Lemalu Ray Ah Liki, and his staff, for all that they’re doing to help the less fortunate people of Samoa out there in the villages, to work hard in order to better themselves.
And having said that, we applaud Lemalu and S.C.B. for having the courage and the care to launch a new initiative knowing well the times are fraught with daunting challenges that would frighten others away, and so today we wish them all the success that they rightly deserve.
Have a peaceful Sunday Samoa, God bless.