Govt still remiss in its consultation with private sector on Covid-19 lockdowns, says BLSA

5th July 2021 By: Donna Slater - Creamer Media Contributing Editor and Photographer

Despite the improvements in government’s approach to tackling the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdown regulations, Business Leadership South Africa CEO Busi Mavuso says government has still not embraced consultation with the private sector.

She points out that a case in point was government’s decision to ban alcohol sales and sit-down dining, yet again, without talking to the alcohol or restaurant industries beforehand.

Mavuso says lockdowns are never good for the economy and that government should always strive to ensure the negative impact is reduced. “The only way that can be done is if government consults with business, so that unintended consequences can be anticipated and avoided.”

Nonetheless, she says, the current Alert Level 4 lockdown is targeted and has a finite end date, showing government was careful to balance risks and benefits of different measures. “This is significantly better than indefinite lockdowns that indiscriminately shut down businesses irrespective of the risk they pose or the consequences.”

However, Mavuso adds that government needs to fully understand the impact of its decisions and business needs to fully understand government.

The knock-on effects of the current and past lockdowns are deep and extensive, she explains. “The alcohol industry is not just about big companies, though the brewers, distillers, packagers and agricultural producers affected employ a great many people.”

More importantly, Mavuso says the alcohol industry forms the backbone of many small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as township businesses. “Hundreds of thousands depend on the industry for their living but have now seen that cut off.”

NOT LEARNING FROM PREVIOUS SHORTCOMINGS

Restaurants have been “hit hard” by the ban on sit-down eating as well as not being able to sell alcohol, she notes.

The result of this is devastating to the many service workers who depend on jobs in the restaurant industry, as well as on restaurant suppliers.

Further, Mavuso says that, while discussions are ongoing regarding an extension of the Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme to protect vulnerable workers, this will come late and provide only limited relief.

Nevertheless, despite a constitutional dispensation that emphasises joint decision-making, leading to forums like the National Economic Development and Labour Council, and despite promises to learn from earlier lockdowns, government has again imposed “draconian” restrictions without consultation, she states.

“To be clear, sometimes it is going to be necessary to suspend certain activities. But when those decisions must be made it must be with full understanding of the consequences,” says Mavuso.

Tackling what measures to take to slow infections must be done with appropriate interventions to support businesses and workers who are affected, she says.

“Such support does not have to be financial [though often it should include this, particularly for vulnerable workers] but [instead could be] regulatory change that enables the industry to shift activities to ensure they are viable by the end of the lockdown,” says Mavuso.