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ISLAMABAD: The federal government has decided to use funds of Rs 5.557 billion savings from the closed ADB Financial Markets and Governance Program (FMGP), project loan to clear liabilities of SME Bank’s depositors but there is still no plan for recovery of outstanding loans and employees’ fate is in sight.

The Federal Cabinet, in its meeting held on March 17, 2023 approved a SME Bank winding up plan prepared by State Bank of Pakistan (SBP).

The Finance Division shared the background of the case that SME Bank Limited was established through amalgamation of Regional Development Finance Corporation (RDFC) and Small Business Finance Corporation (SBFC) in 2002 having 93.89 % shares of GoP, which was incorporated as a public limited company effective from January, 2002. The Bank aimed to exclusively cater to the financing needs of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to help stimulate SME development and pro poor growth in the country.

Privatisation: govt delists SME Bank

The privatisation process of the Bank started in the year 2008 which remained unsuccessful. Second and third attempts of the privatisation of SME Bank made in December, 2015 and October, 2018 also failed due to lack of interest from potential investors.

During the same period SME Bank Ltd. was facing various issues including negative equity of billions leading to non-compliance of Minimum Capital Requirement, liquidity short fall, limited branch network and employees’ litigation matter, etc.

After three failed attempts, the Cabinet Committee on Privatisation (CCoP), in its meeting held on December 26, 2022, approved delisting of the SME Bank from the privatisation program in order to enable Finance Division and the SBP to proceed further in the matter.

According to official sources, SBP was requested to share the way forward for SME Bank in the light of CCoP’s decision. Accordingly, SBP shared a detailed winding up plan. Implementation of the proposed winding up plan would allow repayment of customers’ deposits, closure of branches and gradual elimination of operational cost of the bank. These measures would facilitate orderly and timely winding up of the bank.

SBP maintained that SME Bank was insolvent and any other option to rehabilitate the bank or its merger with any other institution was not advisable, therefore, SBP suggested winding up of the SME Bank, which was included in the Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies (MEFP) agreed with the IMF, the sources added.

SBP had intimated that an amount of Rs. 5.557 billion (savings from the closed ADB Financial Markets and Governance Program, project loan) was available with them. It had requested GoP’s consent on winding down plan, as a way forward for SME Bank and to release funds to pay off SME Bank depositors which amounted to Rs 5.773 billion, in the first instance.

The Finance Division proposed that the action plan provided by SBP as a way forward for SME Bank’s winding up may be approved and the funds amounting to Rs.5.557 billion available under ADB’s FMGP loan account may be released to pay off majority of SME Bank depositors.

During discussion, while highlighting the significance of SME sector in providing employment, some members urged that options should be explored to rescue the Bank, as enough funding for small and medium enterprises was not available in the financial market.

Citing example of 11 large US private banks, led by JP Morgan Chase, who came together to save First Republic Bank, the members suggested that a similar model may be replicated. Another possibility, of NBP taking over the SME Bank was also proffered.

The Minister for Finance explained that all options of privatisation, merger etc. had been explored but there were no takers. To stave off a run on the bank and to pay the depositors, the only viable alternative was winding up, and it would allow the SBP to utilize Rs. 5.557 billion savings from the closed ADB Financial Markets and Governance Program project loan.

The members also enquired about the fate of loans extended by the SME Bank. It was noted that this would be managed later, as recovery of outstanding loans would be the responsibility of the liquidator.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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