Tuesday, October 20, 2020

When the boat stops cruising due to Covid-19

The tourism town of Maun and by extension the entire North West District has been hard hit by the COVID 19 aftermath, leading to a total standstill on the town’s economic activity.

As it is norm during the winter peak season, the town would have by this time of the year been abuzz with tourists from around the world, either checking-in locally or on transit to the Okavango delta.

However, this remains a farfetched dream which might not materialise even in the near future, considering the fact that the continued lockdown has on its own had a negative impact on whatever plans which were initially put in place. It all started with movement restrictions which saw tourists who had made advanced bookings making trip cancellations, some of them even demanding to be paid back their monies. Hotels, lodges and guest houses have on the other hand also resumed business, which also is nothing exciting really as they cannot operate without clientele even at local level because everyone is affected. They had pinned their hopes on the local market, especially by hosting workshops and meetings, but this is not happening as well because the COVID 19 travel restriction and social distancing protocol means they cannot host as many people as they used to. It means also that their rooms will remain vacant for a long time because of a decline in accommodation bookings.

As if not enough the Maun Administrative Authority (MAA), a subordinate of the North West District Council says the flow of business is bound to fail because despite their efforts to try help normalize the situation, some business people are reluctant to meet the sub council halfway on issues of compliance. They are also not happy because of some people in the informal sector who do not adhere to the rules and regulations set up by the council’s bylaw office.

MAA chairperson Vepaune Moreti said at a meeting here that the expectation is that through an association made up of people in this sector, they should be able to interact well because the sub council’s intention is to help them grow by way of availing operational places and enforcing trading compliance among other things.

“ As MAA it has always been our wish to better their working conditions and ensuring that their places of operation are conducive  and serving the COVID 19 protocols. What frustrates us is that despite the many efforts that we make, there are some who still want to be followed around as it has become clear to us that they are not willing to cooperate”, said Moreti. He admitted however that there are currently a limited number of operational spaces for hawkers, even though this does not give them the right to operate within the premises of other people in business. “We see a lot of them selling their stuff right in front of chain shops and private businesses. This is very wrong because now their trespassing. It is also very unfair since they compete with these big shops while operating within their own spaces. We have been overwhelmed with numerous complaints which we are working round the clock to address, in vain”.

Moreti noted also that some hawkers and street vendors have become a danger to motorists and pedestrians alike, as they have erected permanent structures on parking lots and road reserves, something which council totally discourages. He said most of these people do not even possess trading licenses and are not members of the business association either, thus complicating working relations even more. Most often, he said COVID 19 preventive measures have been ignored as evidenced by too much congestion at mall areas because almost everyone is selling. Had they joined the association, he said these people would by now know what is expected of them and to know that the council is not by any means trying to disrupt them but to help them do things appropriately. “Our intention is to collaborate with the informal sector association and re-arrange businesses systematically. Part of the agreement is that we will make use of identified open spaces in town and will expect them to have moved to the new designated places by the end of June. We are just hopeful that they will conform since we don’t want to be seen to be pushing them away”.

Moreti further noted that MAA has taken responsibility to distribute food items to hard to reach areas within the delta as well as Remote Area Dwellers (RAD’s), adding that this will in a way help reduce costs due to elimination of the middle man as well as guaranteed supply of complete food baskets. The sub council will further issue vouchers to beneficiaries in main villages and catchment areas for use at local supermarkets as this has proven to be one way which can reduce expenditure particularly on the part of manpower and transportation. The chairman stated that Maun still has potential to bounce back to normal business as long as both government and the private sector join forces and come up with strategies and initiatives that can help the current situation for the betterment of the lives of Batswana in general.

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The Telegraph October 21

Digital edition of The Telegraph, October 21, 2020.