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By JESSAN DOTON
What started off with panic and uncertainty, is now being used as a model for international financial inclusion.
These were the proud words echoed by the Permanent Secretary for Finance, Filimoni Waqabaca at the closing day of the 2012 Fiji Institute of Accountants Congress at the Sheraton Fiji Resort, Denarau yesterday.
Providing accessible and appropriate financial services and products to the unbanked, such as the poor and those living in remote and rural communities by 2014 was a goal set out by the Fijian Government in 2009.
Since then, as at the first quarter of 2012:
l 30 per cent of the 150,000 targeted people had bank accounts opened
l 60 per cent of the 150,000 (90,000) have acquired access to basic financial services
“This was made possible through combined efforts of banks, innovations in the Mobile Network Organisations, primarily mobile money, also with the aid of non-bank organisations, NGOs and donors/multilateral institutions,” Mr Waqabaca said.
The Permanent Secretary said it was an important area of focus because financial inclusion of the poor and unbanked contributed to economic development.
“It also improves living standards of those populations while empowering the women populace; therefore mitigating poverty and drives towards the countries growth,” he said.
From the formulation of a National Financial Inclusion Taskforce, there were nine focus areas identified which the group derived plans to implement and push for the set goals.
The three main working groups were that of microfinance, statistics and financial literacy.
Through their work with mobile operators, they applied the use of M-PAiSA (Vodafone) and Mobile Money Transfer (Digicel) as a means of accessing funds.
“In terms of financial literacy, classes in the area are being set up in the classroom curriculum from classes one through to form six, as well as community education efforts that target the wider community,” Mr Waqabaca said.
In most countries, the micro and small and medium enterprises sector is the backbone of any countries development, making up more than 60 per cent of its gross domestic product.
Comparing this to Fiji, which is only 12 per cent, Mr Waqabaca said there was an imperative need to grow this sector and provide support for those with ideas but no or limited access to funding.
“Out of the two billion credit Fiji gives out, only eight per cent of this goes out to the micro and small and medium enterprises sector,” he said.
“They need access to finance, and that is what we are tasked with; to look at ways and innovative approaches to facilitate that.”