Coronavirus Pandemic – Government Should Provide Tax Relief As Stimulus To The Affected Businesses And Support Those Workers Who Are Forced To Sit At Home Because Of The Covid-19!
There is no doubt that the country is facing twin crisis from the coronavirus pandemic- one in our health system and the other in the economy which is now, from all indication, entering a recession. The economic effects of banning all forms of public gatherings including the temporary closure of land borders, sea and airports, could turn into a protracted hardship for entrepreneurs as business activities halt and unemployment surge. The economic damage is leaving no private businesses or individuals untouched. Government must provide tax relief to the affected businesses mainly in the tourism and services sectors, and look for ways to alleviate the financial hardship of the workers in the dying sectors.
Whilst the hotel industry is at a virtual standstill, restaurants are empty; tourist flights have been stopped; remittances, which is sustaining the livelihood of many families, is receding; those losing their monthly salaries will be unable to put food on the table, buy cash power, pay rent etc. and those in the business of importing goods are struggling without income. The ultimate fear is the lack of intervention from the relevant authorities to provide life support to the dying businesses and facilitate the process of workers to quickly access their social security NPF contributions since there are no institutions in the Gambia offering unemployment benefits to those laid off workers.
It would be a big step in the right direction if the Barrow government can engage the Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation (SSHFC) to revise its stringent National Provident Fund (NPF) policies to allow members who are affected to immediately access their paid contributions. Hotel and restaurant employees are mostly contributors in the NPF scheme and it is implicit in the SSHFC Act 2010 that contributors can only be paid back their retirement savings once they serve a grace period of six months after they become jobless. This therefore disqualifies all those workers who lost their jobs recently because of the virus with the possibility of forfeiting all their hard-earned contributions.
As one of those affected told me, “I have been working for a restaurant owned by a Dutchman for four years, I and my colleagues have been told to stop work last week because of the virus. We went to the corporation yesterday and we were told that all our contributions have all been paid by my boss, but according to their law, we have to wait for six months before our claim can be processed and this what I don’t understand”, he said.
Unlike the Federated Pension scheme, which is mainly for public enterprises and government agencies, the NPF also requires a contributor to have five years membership before any claim can be processed. It is therefore inconceivable to deprive the affected workers of their legitimate contributions because of certain provisions in the SSHFC Act 2010 that says that there should be a cooling off period of six months or have five years as member before your claim is paid. If amending part of that archaic law to accommodate those affected by the coronavirus becomes a necessity, the management of the nation’s social security system should be made to act appropriately.
As the wheel of business activities in the country continue to grind to a halt, government should also consider offering tax relief or tax exemption facility, which is within the prerogative of the President, to stimulate and energize the businesses to stay afloat and keep people employed until the coronavirus-related economic downturn has passed. A tailored support plan could be developed outlining the nature of options available for each business including deferrals payments, delayed income tax assessments, temporary reduction of payments, and withholding of enforcement actions such as penalty charges, interest on late payments and wind-ups.
Confronting the global pandemic is a national affairs, the government must rise up to the challenges of mitigating the hardship by providing more stimulus and support to the hotels, restaurants and small business owners affected by the outbreak as well as help those workers asked to sit down in the service industry to quickly access their entitlements from the social security corporation.
Aggressive action is needed to save lives and protect the livelihoods of a plethora of business owners employing thousands of youths now being forced to stay at home because of the virus. In the fight against the twin crisis of the covid-19 pandemic, I call on all of us, one and all, to play our part and show compassion. You never know, ‘the life you save may be you own’.
Let us put people first!
Written by: Morro Gaye