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Vendors get M500 subsidy each



MASERU-The government on Tuesday distributed M500 each to over 5 500 Maseru street vendors to help them cope during the lockdown. Each registered vendor received the funds through his M-pesa and Ecocash mobile money apps. The money was initially set to be distributed under the Thomas Thabane-led government in April. The Moeketsi Majoro-led coalition government imposed a fresh lockdown on January following a spike in Covid deaths countrywide. The lockdown triggered a fresh court battle by street vendors demanding to be allowed to continue their business or they would starve. The Principal Secretary for the Ministry of Small Business Development, Tankiso Phapano, said the ministry took long to pay the vendors because they were still collecting data from across the country. “Actually, it is the Ministry of Trade that is paying the street vendors through the Private Sector Competitiveness Project headed by Mr Chaba (Mokuku),” Phapano said. “Ours is just to collect data and feed it to the Ministry of Trade, the payer.” Phapano said the money was decided upon by the Thabane-led government but it was not possible to pay at that time because there was insufficient data on who should be paid. Former Small Business Development Minister, Chalane Phori, said he was surprised that the vendors only got M500 each instead of the M5 000 Cabinet had agreed upon. “It is mind boggling why all of a sudden these street vendors are being paid just M500. What happened to the proposed M5 000 as approved by the cabinet?” The payment comes at a time when street vendors have sued the government demanding to be allowed to sell their fruits and vegetables on the streets despite the biting effects of Covid-19. The street vendors told Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane in their court papers that it is unfair that the government has allowed big retail shops to sell fruits and vegetables while barring them from doing the same. This infringes their right to earn a livelihood. Their argument is that if the government deems selling fruits and vegetables an essential service it should not be limited to big retail shops. They also say it is unfair that they are being denied a chance to sell their fruits and vegetables while big retail shops, “most of which are owned by foreigners are afforded the opportunity”. Some vendors who were at the court in support of the six applicants told thepost that they had stocked a lot of perishable fruits and vegetables. “They are getting rotten now that the government has imposed a lockdown on us but allows big retail shops to continue selling,” one of them said. Another street vendor, Letsie Mafantiri, said the government’s regulations are killing their businesses. He said he buys in bulk in South Africa to sell in Lesotho. He said his stock costs around M20 000 but now he has lost everything as the fruits and vegetables got rotten. “Apart from that the police seized most of my potatoes and stored them at Pitso Ground police station,” Mafantiri said. “I am sure all my stock is getting rotten now,” he said. In the meantime, the Democratic Congress (DC) youth league president, Moeketsi Shale, has written to the National Covid-19 Secretariat (Nacosec) pleading with it to come to the aid of street vendors. “It must also be clear that I am putting all this in writing without any health-related credentials but only from a socio-economic perspective,” Shale said in his Tuesday letter. He said “most small business owners live from hand-to-mouth on what they sell every day, so a total closure will (bring) an absolute end of their means of living”. “Their stock is mostly perishable goods that get rotten if not sold, so closing their businesses is detrimental to their business operations as at the end of the lockdown they (would) have lost their daily income and stock in hand, they will run out of business”. Shale said most small businesses operate in open spaces, by the road and “according to the Nacosec guidelines, corona is less transmissible in open spaces, which is why gatherings outside are permitted to at least 100 people as opposed to 50 indoors”. “It makes little sense therefore to open shops inside buildings and close small informal businesses,” he said. “It is my plea therefore that small businesses be allowed to operate during the lockdown, but that strict guidelines be provided. They should wear masks and have sanitizers available. They should not allow congestion in their areas of operation.” Shale said there should be no self-service in order to ensure that not everyone comes in direct contact with the goods. He also suggested that there should be police presence to ensure compliance, “anyone who fails should be criminally prosecuted”. “On the other hand, big establishments should be opened two to three days a week to enable people to buy items not sold on the streets.” He said these measures will surely go a long way in preserving the livelihoods of those who desperately need to operate, while simultaneously mitigating the spread of the virus. The Minister of Small Business Development, Keketso Sello, said he usually holds meetings with the street vendors and he learnt that “some had just purchased in bulk recently”. “The government will work towards helping them,” Sello said. He said people did not have enough time to prepare for the lockdown as the Prime Minister announced it very late. The truth is there should be a lockdown so that people should stop dying in great numbers like what is happening now, he said. A lawyer representing the government in the street vendors suit, Advocate Chris Lephuthing, said there was negotiations between the parties to find how the problem could be solved in a fair way. “Maybe even this case might end up being withdrawn,” he said, adding: “The government does not want to fight with street vendors.” Nkheli Liphoto

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