VISET Statement on the Informal Sector Cushioning Fund and Social Security Strategy

Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation (VISET) were pleased when the Government of Zimbabwe announced at the beginning of April a cushioning facility for vulnerable families meant to alleviate the effects of lockdown measures that they had introduced with the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since then, there has been various pronouncements regarding the facility from many ministers regarding the facility, that has left many confused as to the status of the fund.

Upon its introduction, Government announced that it had approved a $200 once-off cushioning allowance for needy people on the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare database to cover their needs during the 21-day national lockdown period. This was announced by Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare minister Paul Mavima in a post-Cabinet media briefing.

He said the facility would benefit at least one million people, with beneficiaries receiving their money via OneMoney wallet, a mobile money transfer platform operated by mobile network operator, NetOne. The Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development then also said they were calling on SMEs and informal sector associations to compile lists of members of their associations for submission to its provincial offices.

Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Minister Dr Sithembiso Nyoni said the ministry would include the list of applicants to its data base as part of its efforts of formalising the sector. Organizations subsequently did so and submitted these lists to provincial offices throughout the country.

In his address to parliament in July, the minister of Finance and economic development Professor Mthuli Ncube said that government was making use of a ‘sophisticated algorithm system’ to identify vulnerable groups to benefit from the cushioning fund. He subsequently made various pronouncements on the fund at various Zanu PF meetings throughout the country.

All these conflicting pronouncements have left the intended beneficiaries confused as to whether the facility is indeed in existence or it is being used as a patronage tool to benefit ruling party supporters. Informal associations have been inundated with enquiries on the status of the facility and the department of Social Welfare has unfortunately not been forthcoming with details as to the true status.

Anti-Corruption Trust Southern Africa (ACT-SA) reported that politicians in the Midlands province are the majority of beneficiaries for Covid-19 relief funds targeted for the informal sector. In a statement, Act-SA director Obert Chinhamo said his organisation was concerned the package did not benefit the intended beneficiaries. “Act-SA is deeply concerned that the rescue package meant to cushion the Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and the Informal sector against loss due to the national Covid-19 lockdown has been hijacked and looted by the political elite and civil servants in Kwekwe and Redcliff,” Chinhamo said.

Some organizations have reported that their members are in receipt of the funds, with the Bulawayo Vendors and Traders Association (BVTA) while acknowledging that its members had received the allowances, said there was a need for the figure to be reviewed upwards considering the challenges that informal traders have faced during COVID-19 induced lockdown.

“As Bulawayo Vendors and Traders Association (BVTA), we acknowledge and welcome the development that has been done by the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare. Members yesterday confirmed receipt of $600, as part of the government promised cushioning fund.

However, we feel that the money is too little considering the challenges that informal traders have faced during COVID-19 induced lockdown”.

As Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation (VISET), we received reports that 158 of our members in Masvingo province are in receipt of the funds. We are of the belief that there was need for greater information dissemination pertaining to this facility and the attendant modalities on order to have meaningful impact. Mediums such as television and radio should have been employed for better reach. It would appear from the reports we are receiving from our membership countrywide that most of the beneficiaries are those in the cities. The other limitation was that some deserving beneficiaries did not have access to One Money, given that Ecocash is the dominant player with over 85% market share.

It is clear from the foregoing that the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the fact that Government has no precise policy on a social protection programme to cover citizens when they are vulnerable economically.

VISET believes it is time that Government has a rethink on the operations of the National Social Security Authority (NSSA), which at present does not cover domestic workers as well as those in the informal sector, despite the fact that at present, this sector accounts for most of those in gainful employment. This is a body that can be structured to ensure that citizens are given an inflation adjusted stipend that can cover purchase of basic commodities in a month. Other countries are known to give unemployment benefits to those out of work.

It is indeed a cause for concern that despite this body having been formed to cushion workers when incapacitated or in death, the most Zimbabweans have heard of is the numerous scandals that have bedevilled NSSA.

Source: Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation (VISET)