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Pressure Mounts on Gov’t to Reopen The Economy

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The government is under pressure from the private sector to re-open the economy following the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) projection that Coronavirus is not going away anytime soon.

On Wednesday, the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) impressed on the government to ease its restrictions and partially reopen the economy which will culminate into full reopening as Kenya learns to live with a new normal.

Speaking during a virtual meeting with the government through the office of the National Development Implementation and Communication Cabinet Committee (NDICCC), chaired by Interior Cabinet Secretary Dr. Fred Matiang’i, KEPSA Chief Executive Ms. Carole Karuga reiterated that COVID-19 is the new normal and every effort must be made to ensure there is continued economic activity in the country while upholding measures to safeguard the health of Kenyans.

“Coronavirus is the new global reality. We are working hard to protect our people and curb the spread whilst, getting the economy on a recovery path through ensuring both formal and informal sectors resume to normalcy,” Ms. Carole Karuga said.

“The government and the private sector can develop a practical recovery strategy that balances health, economic, and societal needs respectively,” said Dr. Karuga.

Dr. Matiang’ i called on the public and private sectors to explore ways to deal with the reality of COVID-19.

“This is a shared responsibility and a comprehensive recovery plan will be rolled out, which includes the eight-plan stimulus package recently announced by President Uhuru Kenyatta, as well as the Private Sector’s interventions that are geared towards keeping our economy going,” Dr. Matiang’ i said.

“All the proposals presented by KEPSA will be consolidated into a white paper of private sector protocols as the government considers easing containment measures,” Dr. Matiang’i said. Adding that: “Where there are gaps, it is imperative to address them now as the government is working on the 2020/2021 budget.”

Dr. Matiang’i also confirmed that the National Treasury has handed over Ksh10 billion to the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) for tax refunds as envisaged by President Kenyatta’s economic stimulus program.

The CS, however, warned about a rush in reopening citing other economies that have recently re-opened only to witness a spike in infection rates.

KEPSA recommended a phased opening of the economy, starting with the reduction of curfew hours for non-essential services and sectors including retail sectors.

This measure, according to Dr. Karuga will allow for more economic activity and workforce productivity – particularly for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs)

“The unprecedented scale of the pandemic means that the return to work will need to be gradual and phased, and heightened caution is necessary to prevent further waves of infection. It is also important to ensure that the burden of COVID-19 prevention is not placed disproportionately on SMEs, who are already struggling to stay in business,” KEPSA Chairman Nik Nesbitt said.

Among the restrictions KEPSA wants lifted include

  • Re-opening government offices that are either closed or at limited capacity, especially the Land registry and the Judiciary in order to allow them to continue providing essential government services to businesses.
  • Review the curfew hours to begin at 9.00 p.m. and gradually review it as time goes, with eventual lifting of the curfew, as appropriate.
  • Re-assess and review the inter-county travel ban to:
  1. Allow farmers to travel between counties to sell produce and livestock.
  2. Allow technicians and managers to travel outside Nairobi/Mombasa to farms and factory sites.
  3. Allow plastic waste collected for recycling from other counties to be transported to the recycling facilities in Nairobi and Machakos.
  4. In the medium term, assuming disease remains in control, allow intercounty movement to activate domestic tourism
  5. Re-open livestock and produce markets that had been closed with clear appropriate protocols
  6. Classify recycling as part of essential business to stop pilling of garbage
  7. Re-open sporting events under controlled atmosphere and strict regulations
  8. Re-open learning in schools, both public and private, to continue offering the accredited education curriculum, while adhering to the recommendations of the Education COVID-19 Response Committee

“Getting ahead of the coronavirus is not solely the responsibility of the government, and the private sector has demonstrated that understanding. They have been agile to expand manufacturing capacity and shift supply chains to meet the increasing needs for the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE),” Ms. Karuga said.

Trade and Industrialization Cabinet Secretary Betty Maina presented a raft of proposed guidelines that businesses will have to adopt and enforce when they reopen their establishments.

“These standard operating procedures will be unique to every work environment. And will help us to balance safe operations of businesses and minimization of infections,” CS Maina said.

Regarding when and how to reopen the economy, KEPSA has outlined a set of working principles for recovery.

The three principles include guidance on the government’s plans in order to scenario plan; adopt a unique Kenyan strategy while leveraging global benchmarks and best practices; and a practical restart strategy that balances health, economic, and societal needs.

To contain a new wave of infection, KEPSA recommends for the government to provide information with Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for employees to follow as a means of ensuring safe work conditions.

On the other hand, KEPSA places responsibility on the private sector to initiate workplace measures and protocols to maintain safety.

Chief Administrative Secretary in the Ministry of Health Dr. Mercy Mwangangi said that Kenyans need to see the silver lining and leverage on the opportunities the COVID-19 crisis has presented.

“The health sector has been working well with the private sector and will continue prioritizing local manufacturers for provision of the medical equipment,” Dr. Mwangangi said.

The private sector also reaffirmed its commitment to the government’s efforts to curb and contain the disease through observing social distancing, wearing masks, and practicing proper hygiene.

“We encourage the public to continue to play its part in preventing the spread of the virus as we advance the efforts and conversations on the opening of the economy,” Ms. Karuga concluded.

See Also>>> Central Bank Maintains Base Lending Rate

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