Prime Minister Hun Sen on April 10 ordered two government ministries and two associations to work together to develop, assess and upskill the Kingdom’s handicraft, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (“HSME”), which he estimated currently number about 700,000.

The premier was speaking at a meeting of the Samdech Techo Foundation Association (STFA), attended by about 5,000 people, including representatives of HSMEs and other businesses, NGOs, and banks reportedly based in Phnom Penh and all 24 provinces.

The four aforementioned organisations entrusted with the initiative are the Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation; Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training; Federation of Associations for Small and Medium Enterprises of Cambodia (FASMEC); and STFA.

Hun Sen said the four will tackle skills shortages that are holding small- and medium-sized enterprises (SME) back, and ascertain where development efforts should be directed given the socio-economic realities that they face.

The premier brought up an idea he had proposed earlier in the year, in which the government would provide free vocational and technical training to about 1.5 million young people from poor and vulnerable households nationwide at state institutions, in addition to a monthly stipend.

Suggesting a start date between end-2023 and early 2024, Hun Sen has similarly opined that the plan focus on the development of a national knowledge-based economy.

At the April 10 meeting, he recommended drawing up a clear plan to integrate the HSME initiative with the youth training plan, predicting that “around one million” of the 1.5 million anticipated beneficiaries would “come from” such enterprises.

“The point that I should continue to drive home is to focus on promoting the processing of our country’s offerings, especially when it comes to the SMEs involved in the production of Cambodian foods,” he said.

The premier also assured that the government has provided all manner of support for the informal economy to expand.

“One of the mechanisms that has been put in place and the framework for this evening’s meeting is an assembly between the government and the informal economy – broadly speaking – although we may only use the term ‘handicraft, small-, and medium-sized enterprises’,” Hun Sen said.

FASMEC president Te Taingpor commented that, since 2019, his federation has provided a whole slew of short-term training courses to members on topics such as business processes and document preparation, as well as customs, duties and other taxes. He noted that Covid-19 forced classes to migrate online.

“Training is essential to increasing the quality and quantity of [skilled manpower] for the production sector,” he said, affirming that, when organising courses, he would try to invite experts from relevant ministries and institutions to help with the training.

The state-owned Small and Medium Enterprise Bank of Cambodia Plc (SME Bank) had disbursed some $418 million in loans to at least 3,185 SMEs since its foundation, as of October 31, to keep them from going under during the height of the Covid-19 crisis, and subsequently to help them reopen and expand post-pandemic, according to its CEO, Lim Aun.

The bank was established in February 2020, and lends directly and through co-financing schemes with a number of participating financial institutions (PFI).