By Yankuba Jallow
The Minister of Trade said Wednesday the Government at the moment does not have a specific relief package for the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises.
Mr Bai Lamin Jobe made this statement in response to a question posed by lawmaker for Srrekunda Central Halifa Sallah.
“Honourable Speaker, would the Honourable Minister for Trade, Industry, Regional Integration and Employment indicate to this august assembly the package for relief or compensation if any that has been prepared for owners of businesses like video clubs which have suffered closures?” Halifa Sallah asked.
“The Government of The Gambia acknowledges MSMEs (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) including owners of video clubs have been seriously affected by the pandemic. However, due to economic challenges and budget constraints, the Government at the moment does not have a specific relief package for the MSMEs,” the Minister said.
The Minister maintained that the Government in partnership with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) commissioned a comprehensive assessment of the socio-economic effects of COVID-19 on The Gambia and the final draft report is being reviewed by stakeholders. He said the study explores the short, medium and long term socio-economic impact of the pandemic and will offer recommendation to mitigate the negative effects.
“Some of the recommendations include direct cash transfers to MSMEs, most affected in the informal sector and micro-enterprise category. Loan restricting and referrals specifically for small and medium enterprises,” the Minister said.
The Minister said the Government of the Gambia in partnership with the UNDP through the Gambia Bureau of Statistics conducted a rapid assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on tourism-related enterprises in which individual entrepreneurs were covered. He said those covered included tourist taxi drivers, airport porters, fruit and juice sellers, bird watchers, tourist guides, hairdressers and craft market vendors. He said it was based on a list provided to the Government by the Gambia Tourism Board.
He said the rapid study recommended the UNDP to possibly provide direct cash transfer to some of the people who were laid off due to COVID-19. He added that there will be an intervention for both formal and informal sectors.
“The figures are not yet finalised,” he said.
“Honourable Speaker, the Honourable Minister is talking about a study, but the Regulations ordered for the closure of such businesses as having been mentioned. Is there any call number for those affected to call the Ministry to indicate their deprivation and is the Ministry taking note of what they are saying regarding their losses at the moment?” Sallah asked.
“Honourable Speaker, there is no call number to that effect. This responsibility was given to a multi-sectoral committee being supervised or being assisted by the UNDP,” the Minister answered.
He detailed that as and when the need arises, the free toll number could be provided just like the COVID-19’s.
“A call number has not been established,” he said.
“Honourable Speaker, it is important for the Speaker to take note that these people are being evicted for not paying their rent – both compound and businessmen. These are young people who are extremely suffering. The Minister should take note of the suffering of the people due to closure of their businesses,” Sallah said.
Sallah asked: “Shouldn’t the Government establish a call number and ensure that these people record what is happening to them and for immediate action to be taken to address their concerns.”
“Thank you, in response, I will say yes a call number maybe instituted but we all know how stretch Government finances are,” he said.
Honourable Ousman Sillah asked whether the Minister has plans to work with the Ministries of Health and Justice to ease the restrictions on video clubs so that they can earn something to live on.
The Minister responded in the positive adding the Government is considering easing the restrictions on video clubs and gyms.