The drive to have Kenya become a 24-hour economy can only be realised if Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) get enough support, stakeholders in the manufacturing sector say.

Speaking during Standard Group PLC’s Transform Kenya forum on Thursday at Daystar University in Nairobi, the stakeholders said there was untapped potential in the SMEs that can be bolstered through joint efforts of the private and government sectors.

Speakers discussed how SMEs were either failing to take advantage of the business environment suitable for their growth or struggling to overcome challenges of growth due to lack of support from government and private sector.

Isuzu East Africa Managing Director Rita Kavashe decried delays in payments to SMEs that have forced some of them engaged in tenders to close shop.

“Prompt Payment Bill 2016 should be accelerated,” she said.

Ms Kavashe cited Kenya’s booming industries in the 1970s before the government opened floodgates to foreign industries leading to decline of local manufacturing.

“In the 1970s, City Radiators Kenya was booming with supplies to the automotive industry but when government opened up markets, there was a big decline,” she stated.

She argued that while industry players were keen on promoting local manufacturers, the government needs to work on policies to boost the sector.

“Isuzu Motors Limited has been supportive of local manufacturers with local content for big buses standing at 80 per cent and a lower percentage for smaller buses,” Kavashe explained.

She said once the National Automotive Policy which supports local car assembling is implemented, there will be significant progress in the manufacturing sector. But Trade Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya said there was more support towards use of local products with traders being discouraged from importing products that are locally available, to benefits SMEs.

“In the automotive industry, we have stopped importation of second hand spare parts as we support the local sectors, especially car assembling,” said Mr Munya.

He said more growth was expected as the government embarks on reviving grounded industries as well as establishing new ones in a move that will push the economy further towards 24-hour system.

Available support

Energy Principal Secretary Joseph Njoroge was optimistic that SMEs will utilise the available support and resources to spearhead the 24-hour economy. “We wish SMEs would operate 24 hours. We have installed flood lights for security and to enable SMEs to work throughout. The large industries can also double their production by creating extra lines of production,” said Mr Njoroge. Kenya Association of Manufacturers chairperson Flora Mutahi said there was support from the “government (that) is listening more to SMEs than before.”

Industrial Training Authority Director General Stephen Ogenga said the focus should be on ensuring there was qualified human capital to drive the manufacturing sector forward.

Crown Paints Chief Executive Officer Rakesh Rao regretted that the cost of manufacturing was high. Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology Deputy Vice Chancellor Mary Abukutsa-Onyango said universities and other institutions had adequate human resource and knowledge to promote manufacturing. Standard Group CEO Orlando Lyomu promised the media would continue providing the platform to ensure growth in manufacturing and other sectors of economy is actualised.