By James Muonwa
PARLIAMENT’S Portfolio Committee on Women’s Affairs, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and Community Development has been lobbied to push for a further relaxation of Covid-19 regulations to allow resumption of cross-border travel and trade.
Giving oral evidence during the committee’s public hearing held in Chinhoyi Thursday, SME sector players said the pandemic had adversely affected their businesses due to the closure of the country’s land borders and banning of air travel when the disease broke out early last year.
The traders appealed to committee chairperson Chido Madiwa (MP Mutasa South) and fellow legislators to lobby government to review Covid-19 regulations in light of the decreasing number of new infections and deaths.
A representative of cross border traders, Eunice Jokonya said the quick opening of borders could save most members of her association from bankruptcy.
“We are not yet out of the woods in terms of Covid-19, but we know the situation is slowly returning to normalcy. We, therefore, appeal to government to open borders so we can travel to neighbouring countries to make our orders, that’s how we survive. SMEs are the backbone of the economy,” said Jokonya.
She revealed some cross border traders were now broke due to Covid-19 which saw them spending all their savings as well as capital and were now unable to resuscitate their businesses.
Jokonya also called on the committee to push quasi-governmental lending financial institutions such as SMEDCO, Empower Bank and Women’s Bank to offer easily accessible loans at concessionary rates.
Vongai Wachenuka, chairperson of the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA) reiterated the need to urgently open borders as well as increase import quotas.
Wachenuka lamented women cross border traders bore the brunt of Covid-19 lockdowns and called on councils to avail land on which ZCIEA members could build proper spaces for themselves.
Participants were unanimous the available loan schemes targeting SMEs were exorbitant while conditions were restrictive.
Government, MPs also heard, put a moratorium on taxes and should compensate SMEs and informal businesses for the livelihoods disrupted as well as losses, particularly those experienced by fruit and vegetable vendors whose produce rot.
Vongai Kapesa, representing artisans, called on government to legislate awarding local builders’ subcontracts on the impending multi-million-dollar Harare-Chirundu highway dualisation project.
“We are appealing to be considered, possibly as a consortium whereby SMEs come together and bid for some subcontracts as Chinhoyi builders so that at least our members can be uplifted and benefit from this project that is coming to our province,” said Kapesa.
The committee, whose other members are MPs Joyce Jaja, Constance Chihoro, Goodluck Kwaramba, Lindiwe Maphosa and Christina Manyere held the public hearing jointly with the Senate Committee on Indigenisation.
The MPs later toured various vending sites in Chinhoyi central business district and Gadzema township.
They later travelled to Kadoma where a similar public hearing was held on the same day.