Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Lockdown is killing the informal sector

If there is any sector that is really the responsibility of government to have it protected it has to be the informal sector. In Botswana the informal sector is easily among the biggest employers, competing up there with government. And the sector is largely made up of women, who are working hard to support themselves and families, including sending their kids to school.In short, a greater majority of people rely on the informal sector than it is readily clear to a detached eye.

These are the people who live from hand to month and would be unable to even be away from work for a few days. Now they will be away from work for at least a month – with a possibility of an extension. And there is simply no how they can survive for that long.To say no Motswana will die of hunger is really to miss a point.Hunger is not the only thing to avert.People need to also keep their dignity intact.The pandemic is not only transforming how we live, it is also ravaging lives – including of people not infected by the virus.There is simply no how people in the informal sector can be expected to work from home.They earn a living by selling such things like air time, magwinya etc.

They do not have alternative sources of income.The day the lockdown started is the very day the for many of them the world collapsed.A way has to be found to immediately help these people.These are the people who have no registered companies. Thus, they cannot be expected to produce any documentation of proof to BURS (Botswana Unified Revenue Service) for claims.But they still remain an important cog in the overall machine that is the economy.It looks like government will be doing something about this sector. But for many of them time is of essence.

It also looks like the pandemic will be with us for most part of winter. And as it is, winter is really yet to start in earnest. A lasting resolution should be found. If we are to emerge intact as a country on the other side of this pandemic, we really have to show empathy one another, especially the weaker ones among us.We also need to have a stronger sense of community. There are many issues that needed to be addressed before the pandemic arrived. Those things were postponed because there was no pandemic and a blind eye could be turned on them.

They include finding homes for the homeless.The lockdown means that street kids cannot now remain in the street because current conditions mean that their sources of food especially have now dried up.For them the pandemic presents a double-whammy. There is the risk of being infected. And the ever-present challenge to scavenge for food.Government should now swiftly move from trying to get plaudits to really delivering services in this era of a lockdown.This government will in the end be judged by how it cushioned citizens from the economic fallout from the pandemic. It needs to move faster than it has hitherto been doing.

The public is clearly eager to give government both goodwill and also the benefit of doubt.There is no doubt that government was ill prepared for the pandemic. What is however more worrying is a public realization that every day that passes bolsters and confirms an ever-lurking suspicion that this government might really not be up to the task at hand.Fighting Covid-19 is much more than just beating the virus. It also has to do with keeping the economy working so as to take care of the people.

In the United States and United Kingdom since the advent of the pandemic, there have been reports of spikes in food stamps. At least in those countries there are safety nets for people who are unemployed and those who might need to be supported with food.Such nets barely exist in Botswana. And the situation will get out of control with schools now closed because schools are the most efficient sources of food for a majority of kids in Botswana.

With a halt in sales of diamonds, the cash cow has suddenly died.In no time chickens will come home to roost. There is simply no how Botswana economy can function for any length of time without replenishments by money from diamond sales.

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Sunday Standard May 24 – 30

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of May 24 - 30, 2020.