COVID-19: PM announces relief measures



MASERU – Prime Minister Motsoahae Thabane has announced a raft of quick and targeted economic interventions, including a M500 million relief fund, to cushion the country’s economy against the impact of the coronavirus lockdown. In a live TV address to the nation on Monday, Thabane said the fund will, among others, subsidize salaries of 45 000 factory workers by up to M800 for three months.

M100 million will be provided for agricultural subsidies to increase food production and nutrition situation and household food security, whilst maintaining the right level of grain reserves. The prime minister also acknowledged that the nationwide 23-day lockdown had affected poor people’s livelihoods and said government has formulated a social protective plan.

He said for three months, government will add new beneficiaries of vulnerable groups including children, elderly between the ages of 60 and 70, people with disability, to benefit only during the pandemic to ensure they do not fall into poverty trap.

According to the National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP) II, people living with disability due to illness are reported to be around 45 607. The number of double orphans, in 124 485 households, is reported to have declined from 221 403 in 2006 to 210 712 in 2016. Poverty remains widespread with nearly half of the population living in poverty and 75 percent of the population either poor or vulnerable to poverty, according to a joint report by the World Bank and the Lesotho Bureau of Statistics released in December last year.

Currently, there are 41 000 households across the country which receive monthly social grants from government, according to the Minister of Social Development Motlohi Maliehe. Government anticipates the number to rise to above 50 000 at the end of the lockdown which has disproportionately hurt marginalized communities due to loss of income and lack of food and other basic needs.

Thabane also indicated that government would also assist businesses in the tourism and hospitality sector – hotels and restaurants – who are in stress due to the travel restrictions. “Small businesses will not be required to pay licensing fees for three months. Tax compliant businesses will be allowed to delay their pay-as-you-earn and value added tax liabilities until September without penalties,” he said.

He further indicated that for the non-essential services like public transport, Simplified Business Taxation (SBT) payable during the nationwide lockdown will be deffered. Government, through the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) and the Ministry of Small businesses will also eexpand credit guarantee facilities and open participation to other financial institutions.

“Government has directed commercial banks to grant three months’ payment holidays to borrowers whose financial positions will be negatively affected with a condition that the arrangement shall not place the borrower at a worse-off position at the end of the holiday period,” Thabane said.

“There will be reduction of transaction fees and charges for transacting on electronic platforms,” he added. The prime minister further told the nation that the insurance sector will exercise some flexibilities meant to reduce the burden on policy holders. “Insurance premium holidays of up to three months shall apply where in insurance policies will not lapse if premiums are not paid for a period of three months. Such premiums shall be deferred for payment later,” he said.

He added that: “Insurance companies shall continue to honour insurance claims during this time. Delays in policy renewals shall be permitted during this period up to a maximum of three months.” He, however, did not mention whether the lockdown will be extended or not.

The Minister of Development Planning, Tlohelang Aumane, told a press conference after the prime minister’s statement that no decision had been made on extending lockdown as yet. The prevention nationwide lockdown was enforced on March 29, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. During lockdown, citizens are not allowed to leave their homes except to procure essential goods and services. Citizens are only permitted to go to work if it is deemed essential and if it cannot be done from home. Small businesses like beauty salons, car wash, taverns, and printing shops are closed.

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