The virtually bankrupt Women of Worth (WOW) programme will be resuscitated with new stringent measures and the rebranded project will also target men, Minister of Social Protection Volda Lawrence announced last week.

During her contribution to the debate on the 2016 national budget, Lawrence disclosed that more than 77 percent of beneficiaries of the WOW programme, which was developed by the previous PPP/C administration, have not repaid their loans.

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“In 2015, the Ministry resuscitated the WOW programme with the Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry (GBTI), which provided loans for more than 90 female single parents. Regrettably, we inherited a bankrupt programme,” Lawrence stated.

“From the $29.4 million in loans, approximately $22 million, were non-performing at the end of December 2014, which represents 77 percent of WOW’s portfolio,” she disclosed.

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The WOW programme was started in 2010, though an agreement with government and GBTI. It was executed through the then Ministry of Human Services and Social Security but only single parents registered with the ministry could have accessed the small loan, provided that other conditions are met. The programme targeted women who could have accessed up to $250,000 without having to put up any collateral.

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Last week, Lawrence said the APNU+AFC government renegotiated with GBTI and there will be more stringent oversight of the programme and men will now also benefit.

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“It cannot be business as usual and we cannot continue on the same broken, ruined track…the WOW programme will now be known as the POWER (People of Worth Entrepreneurial Resources) Project…for, while in the past, WOW focused on women, POWER will provide loans to both males and females, married or unmarried,” Lawrence asserted.

During last week’s debate, many of the opposition speakers pointed to the WOW programme as proof of their success in helping women to become entrepreneurs but none gave the financial statistics on where they left it. “The whole point of that programme was that it provide opportunities for women, single women who did not have the same as their male counterparts…we recognised at the PPP that it was not a level playing field and still is not,” PPP/C parliamentarian Vindhya Persaud said in her critique of government’s new programme.

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Former PPP/C Minister of Human Services and Social Security Priya Manickchand, under whose stewardship the programme was launched, said she did not believe that the WOW programme should have been pulled because of faulty loans.

“You don’t quash a programme because you can’t manage the programme. You fix it and you manage it. The programme was always a risk because of the nature of the programme –offering collateral free loans to anyone carries with it a risk that there will be low repayment if there is not serious monitoring. We are talking about single parent women who are trying to look after their children,” she asserted.

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The PPP/C had boasted, up to two months before the May 2015 general elections, that the programme was a model and was progressing favourably.

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Then Minister of Human Services Jennifer Webster had said so good was the WOW project’s progress that there were repeat borrowers.

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“We have been having discussions with the Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry Ltd. and have found that there have been second, third and fourth time borrowers, who have actually grown above the category of the maximum loans…they have graduated,” she had said.

But Lawrence brought to the House, statistics to show that the programme was in dire financial straits and said POWER is now part of a plan to introduce greater financial support for families, including micro-credit for both male and female single parents.

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She said while cash transfers are helpful to persons in dire circumstances, the country needs to move holistically to help families seeking public assistance by offering skills training available through other government agencies.

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