This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on October 30, 2016
Last week the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) released the National Micro, Small and Medium Establishment (MSME) Survey. KNBS defines micro-enterprises and having less than 10 employees; small enterprises having 10 to 49 employees and medium sized enterprises as having 50 and 99 employees. In terms of licensed versus unlicensed business, the survey found that there are 1.56 million licensed MSMEs and 5.85 million unlicensed businesses. With regards to employment, number of persons employed by MSMEs is approximately 14.9 million with the unlicensed enterprises contributing 57.8 per cent. Overall, micro sized enterprises accounted for 81.1 per cent of employment reported in the MSMEs. The value of the MSME’s output is estimated at KES 3,371.7 billion against a national output of KES 9,971.4 representing a contribution of 33.8 per cent in 2015. In terms of distribution of MSMEs by sex of business owners, the survey found out that 47.9 per cent of the licensed establishments were owned by males and 31.4 per cent were owned by females. Further, 60.7 per cent of unlicensed establishments were solely owned by females. In terms of type of activity, repair of motor vehicles and motor cycles accounted for more than half of the total persons working in MSMEs.
Unsurprisingly 80.6 per cent of establishments reported family/own funds as the main source of start-up capital while 4.2 per cent of business owners got loans from family and/or friends to start their business. What was interesting however is how income generated was used. Micro establishments reported spending 44.4 percent of income on household and family needs. Medium and small establishments spent significantly high part of their net income on investment at 63.4 and 69.5, per cent, respectively. 93.8 percent of the unlicensed businesses reported a monthly turnover of less than KES 50,000 and none had a turnover above KES 1,000,000. Licensed establishment with a monthly turnover between KES 50,000 to KES 200,000 constituted 31.3 per cent. More than half of the licensed medium establishments recorded a turnover of more than KES 1,000,000.
While useful there are several gaps in the survey. The first and most obvious is a failure of analysis with a focus on the informal sector. The survey used the terms licensed versus unlicensed, with no clear focus on whether the unlicensed segment is considered informal. All the survey has in terms of registration data is that 78.9 per cent of the businesses were not in the registers maintained by the counties. However, the KNBS also makes the point that a county license (also referred to Single Business Permit) is a requisite for all enterprises. Licensing is not a sufficient indicator form informality, as there may be licensed enterprises that still operate informally with regards to tax compliance, adherence to minimum wage, and submission of statutory payments.
However, what was useful in terms of extrapolating informality, is that the survey noted that all unlicensed businesses in the MSME sector are micro- establishments. It would not be a stretch to assume that unlicensed businesses are informal, but as mentioned, licensed business can also operate informally. The important point here perhaps is that informal firms tend to be micro in size.
The second concern with the survey is the paltry data on tax compliance. The survey makes the point that licensed MSMEs pay a monthly average of KES 33.8 billion in taxes compared to KES 294.0 million paid by unlicensed businesses. Again other features of formality are not clearly delineated thus one can only extrapolate that a significant portion of income earned by unlicensed establishments is not taxed.
Finally, the issue of productivity was not addressed in the survey. There is no indication as to whether licensed enterprises are more productive than unlicensed ones, or which of the micro, small or medium enterprises are the most productive.
In short this MSME survey is a step in the right direction however it is a shame that KNBS did not use this opportunity to truly delineate between formal and informal economic activity. This can be seen in the fact that the Economic Survey released by KNBS this year indicated 82 percent of employed Kenyans are engaged in the informal sector. Yet in this survey unlicensed enterprises account for only 57.8 percent of those employed. In the future, it would be useful for KNBS to focus on formality versus informality more so than licensed versus unlicensed.
Anzetse Were is a development economist; firstname.lastname@example.org