The National Fund for Small and Medium Enterprise Development (SME Fund) has provided funding for 1,035 projects with the total value of KD177.1 million over the past three years (2016-2019), said Minister of Commerce and Industry and Minister of State for Services Affairs Khaled Al-Roudhan. The minister provided the details in response to a query in parliament by MP Mubarak Al-Hajraf.
“Commercial enterprises took the lion’s share of funding worth KD61.2 million to finance 411 projects, followed by service projects with KD64.8 million for over 406 projects. In addition, 147 industrial projects woth KD38.2 million, 43 craft projects valued at KD5.2 million and 28 agricultural projects valued at KD7.5 million had been provided financing by the National Fund,” disclosed Al-Roudhan.
He added that in the meantime, the Fund had rejected 1,807 projects in the same period for various reasons including lack of financial and technical studies, inaccurate or exaggerated assessment of total cost, unclear sale, marketing and pricing policies, lack of experience and many other reasons.
It will be remembered that Al-Hajraf had been hounding the Al-Roudhan since March when he, along with fellow parliamentarian Humaidi Al-Subaei, filed a grilling motion against Al-Roudhan over allegations of financial and administrative violations. The accusations centered around a property scandal that defrauded nearly 11,000 investors of over KD500 million. The scam was operated by foreign private sector companies that sold investment properties to residents in the country through fraudulent transactions on plots of land or projects that they either failed to deliver or simply did not exist.
Al-Roudhan had no direct role in the scam nor was he involved as the said scam took place largely during the tenure of his predecessor.
After the grilling, 10 lawmakers filed a motion of no confidence against Al-Roudhan. During the motion to vote on his dismissal, the minister received overwhelming support from parliament and won 34 out of 50 votes in his favor and killed the motion of no confidence.
During the three-hour long questioning of the minister, the two lawmakers digressed from their main accusation to accuse Al-Roudhan of favoritism in granting funding to small and medium enterprises and of misusing public funds by hiring consultants from outside the ministry’s ranks. “All restaurants and all coffee shops. The funding goes to bakalas, hairdressers, restaurants; where are the funds for industry,” questioned Al-Subaei.
In a stinging response, the minister said that although favoritism did exist and this had led him to fire the head of the Small and Medium Enterprises fund, the cases that Al-Subaei brought up were in fact projects he approved of personally.
“All those jobs are dignified industries. And the projects we finance represent what the fund is looking to finance. I don’t know what you want me to fund, a missile factory?” asked the minister. The present inquiry is probably a continuation of the earlier accusations, to which the minister had given the right answers.