Coronavirus: Kenya president, top officials take pay cut; taxes reviewed

The coronavirus epidemic continues to disrupt life across the world. The disruption is all but gathering steam in affected even virus-free African countries. The rate of infection is lower on the continent as compared to Europe, Asia and parts of the Americas, where lockdowns are in place.

The impact on gatherings is an area that most African governments have moved to control. A number of business conferences were cancelled on account of the pandemic. A number of governments have also declared State of Emergencies.

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa extensively outlined the economic impact of the pandemic on the economy – mining, tourism – in his first address on Saturday. In Nigeria, the government is looking to revise the current budget.

Our main coronavirus hub is seized with major developments around the epidemic. This piece will focus on the impact on business with emphasis on a raft of incidents that have been undertaken.

  • Nigeria, Egypt to shut down all airports
  • Rwanda fines companies guilty of price gouging
  • MTN Nigeria, Cameroon tweak mobile money charges
  • African Finance Ministers meet ECA boss via technology
  • Nigeria to slash budget by
  • Ghana, Kenya telcos review mobile money charges
  • South Africa apex bank warns against currency scam
  • Nigeria reduces petrol price
  • Rwanda, Ethiopia move to control prices of essentials
  • Nambia economy hit
  • Zimbabwe suspends international trade fair
  • African airlines to lose big – IATA

Kenya pay cuts, tax reviews

Kenya’s president has announced pay cuts for himself and his deputy as well as a category of top government officials. All savings are expected to go into helping combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking on Wednesday, President Kenyatta said himself and deputy Ruto will forgo 80% of their salaries whiles Cabinet Secretaries and Chief Administrative Secretaries to take 30% pay cut each and 20% for Permanent Secretaries.

The president also confirmed that the number of cases in the country had increased by four and now stood at 28. Other details he gave during his briefing were:

  • One patient has recovered from COVID-19
  • National Treasury to offer 100% tax relief to persons earning less than Sh24,000; Income tax down from 30% to 25%.
  • Daily curfew from 7pm to 5am effective Friday, March 27, 2020.
  • All State and Public Officers with pre-existing medical conditions or aged 58 years and above to take leave or work from home.

Kenya Airways to fly citizens for free

“As our last flight departs JFK today, we are offering one-way complimentary tickets to Nairobi, to Kenyan citizens in urgent need. Please contact our team on +1(866)5369224 for more information,” this is a tweet from Kenya Airways, KQ, the East African country’s national carrier.

“*All passengers will be subjected to entry/screening procedures instituted by the MOH,” KQ added. The airline has suspended all flights in and out of the country whiles government has also announced the closure of all borders in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Kenya currently has 16 confirmed cases with government announcing stricter measures aimed at arresting further spread. Kenyans have hailed the embattled airline for the current gesture.

The Nairobi – New York route was relaunched in October 2018. KQ got permission to operate direct flights to the US in September 2017, after several failures due to non-compliance at its airports.

Instead of 22 hours, the travel time over 13713km between Nairobi and New York had been cut to 15 hours, saving up to seven hours. The historic direct flight is expected to help the company recover from a $267 million debt.

Egypt, Nigeria shut down all airports

Two of Africa’s economic giants, Nigeria and Egypt have shut down all airports to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Nigeria had till now shut down all but the Lagos and Abuja airports. The order starts on Sunday March 23 as the country continues to experience rising confirmed cases of the disease.

Egypt will shut down its airports and air travel starting March 31 to contain the outbreak of the coronavirus. The new measures will heavily impact the country’s economy and tourism sectors.

Some 138,000 jobs are immediately at risk and 1 billion us dollars in airline revenues has been lost, according to IATA.

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Rwanda fines 44 company for hiking prices

Rwanda’s Ministry of Health has fined a number of companies engaging in price gouging in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the attendant race to stock food and get some critical items.

Forty-four companies and business people in Kigali alone have been fined to the tune of 3.81 million Rwandan Francs.

The Ministry along with the Kigali City authorities said the fines related to raising prices of some food products, intentional use of unapproved weighing scales, issuance of illegal invoices, substandard and/or poorly manufactured items.

Asked if the current action related to items that had their prices set and controlled by government, the Ministry clarified: “Only for essential crops. However, in this particular times fighting the spread of Covid-19, we have decided to control prices of basic food items to avoid speculation.”

MTN reviews tariffs in Uganda, Cameroon

Mobile phone giants, MTN, are tweaking their tariffs in the area of mobile money transfers in some African countries with the aim of reducing contact with cash amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The latest developments are in Uganda and Cameroon where the operator is waiving costs on transfers done with their mobile money platform. The MTN Uganda offer included among others:

  • For 30-days, customers can send up to Ushs 30,000/- (about $8) Mobile Money every day to other MTN MoMo customers free of charge. The offer is meant to reduce the risk of transmission by avoiding the physical exchange of currency notes.
  • The offer comes alongside a day-time data bundle that will enable Ugandans stay on-line and work from home. Customers will get 1GB of data at just Ushs 2,000 valid between 9am and 5pm.
  • MTN is also complementing government’s sensitization drive by availing UGX 500 million ($130,000) in cash and free media channel space (radio, tv, social media, SMS, call centre IVR platform) to promote the Ministry of Health’s sensitization messages.

MTN Cameroon said the suspension of payment of fees starts today: “Within the framework of its response plan to the health crisis caused by the Coronavirus / COVID-19, MTN Cameroon announces the suspension, effective Friday, 20 March 2020, of the payment of fees on money transfers between MTN Mobile Money accounts.

“This measure suspending the payment of fees concerns money transfers for amounts up to 20,000 FCFA (twenty thousand francs). The measure will be limited to 3 transactions per day, per account, and will be valid for a period of 30 days. This may be reviewed based on the evolution of the health crisis.

MTN Cameroon, by suspending the payment of money transfer fees between Mobile Money accounts, seeks to provide its support in the fight against this Coronavirus, by reducing the use of cash as much as possible, and favoring distance payments,” an official statement of March 19 read in part.

Impact of coronavirus on African economies – Analysis

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African finance ministers in virtual meeting with ECA boss

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, ECA, has turned to technology as it seeks to gauge the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on economies across the continent.

ECA boss Vera Songwe in Addis Ababa is host of the virtual meeting expected to last two hours. It is co- chaired by two Finance Ministers; Ghana’s Ken Ofori-Atta and South Africa’s Toto Mboweni.

The ECA headquartered in the Ethiopian capital cancelled a scheduled conference of minister last month at a time that the pandemic was at the stage of an epidemic and was arriving in Africa.

As of today (March 19), there are over 630 confirmed cases with 16 deaths across 34 African countries. The numbers continue to rise as governments move to implement a flurry of restrictions including closing borders and imposing strict public guidelines.

South Africa president Cyril Ramaphosa in an address last Sunday admitted that the country’s economy especially in the area of mining and tourism had been badly hit by COVID-19.

Ghana’s finance minister told parliament recently that a $100 million fund announced by President Nana Akufo-Addo was not readily available and the country may have to turn to international lenders to raise part of the money.

Nigeria to cut budget by 1.5 trillion naira

The record budget of Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer estimated at 34.6 billion dollars for the year 2020 will likely be revised downwards, according to the Ministry of Finance.

This is due to the sharp drop in the price of crude oil which is also related to the coronavirus pandemic. The proposed revised figure will be 1.5 trillion naira (about $5 billion) less the original figure of 10.9 trillion naira.

World oil demand is expected to contract this year for the first time in more than a decade, as the coronavirus epidemic is causing a blockage in economic activity, the International Energy Agency disclosed recently.

Another trigger effect of the crisis on the oil market is the tensions between Saudi Arabia and Russia, two OPEC heavyweights that have caused the production pact between the two countries to collapse.

The 2020 budget, adopted in December, was calculated assuming crude oil production of 2.18 million barrels per day at a price of $57 per barrel.

Nigeria is still struggling to emerge from the 2016 recession, which was caused by the collapse of oil prices at the end of 2014, with economic growth currently hovering around 2%.

Ghana, Kenya tweak mobile money charges

As part of measures to reduce handling of cash amid the coronavirus pandemic, Telecom operators in Ghana have agreed with the Bank of Ghana, BoG, to waive charges on a certain amount of transaction.

All transfers of 100 cedis (about $18) or below will attract no charge according to a current directive from the BoG. the measure is supposed to be in place for the next three months.

“The Bank of Ghana has agreed with banks and mobile network operators on measures to facilitate more efficient payments and promote digital forms of payments for the next three months, subject to review, effective March 20, 2020,” a BoG statement noted.

The West African country has a high mobile network coverage with most people preferring money transfers using mobile transactions that banks. All networks have platforms that offer a wide range of services from sending and receiving money to the payment of utility bills etc.

Kenya’s major network operators had also announced a similar measure days back. Kenya’s M-Pesa is one of the most efficient mobile money transaction platforms across Africa.

South Africa central bank warns against currency scammers

The South African Reserve Bank (SARB), the apex bank, on Tuesday issued a public warning that persons posing as officials purportedly collecting contaminated bank notes were fraudsters.

Reports indicate that some people had been going round asking South Africans to surrender their contaminated bank notes and that it was part of the SARB efforts to curb spread of coronavirus.

The BBC reports that persons involved in the scam have been issuing fake receipts for the money collected, saying banks will compensate them.

“The SARB will never ask members of the public to hand over their cash,” the bank said. In a Twitter thread, it said no banknotes or coins had been withdrawn and no instruction issued to hand in money that might be contaminated.

It also urged members of the public to contact the police when approached by “individuals purporting to be SARB employees or representatives”.

Zimbabwe cancels trade fair

Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa has declared a national disaster over coronavirus even as the country is yet to confirm any case.

Mr Mnangagwa has also postponed independence day celebrations scheduled for 18 April and banned all public gatherings of more than 100 people.

The Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) that was to take place in the south-western city of Bulawayo from 21-25 April has also been postponed. The ban will affect church gatherings, weddings and sporting events for 60 days.

The president told a press briefing at his office in the capital, Harare, there would be no travel ban, but discouraged travellers from countries that had confirmed coronavirus cases from visiting Zimbabwe. He also advised Zimbabweans against travel abroad until the pandemic was under control.

Namibia records economic dip

Business dips in Windhoek following Namibia’s first two coronavirus cases on Saturday. Small scale enterprises are lamenting of poor sales as people desert public places as precautionary measures.

“Personally for my job, it went down a bit, because the clients now don’t want to be in public places. I work in a salon and nobody wants to show up because it is crowded most of the time”, a barber said.

For Sylvia Ashipala “Our Namibia is a poor country and there is no medicine or vaccination. What will happen to us with this coronavirus, what can be done? If there is no medicine in the pharmacy?

“For example we work in the government, when we got to the pharmacy to buy pills, we are refused because the pharmacy says the government doesn’t pay, now who will help us? Our country has nothing, no vaccine, no pills.”

Namibia has joined a host of African countries that have taken drastic measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Windhoek has shut down buildings like the National Gallery and libraries in a bid to prevent social gatherings. Notices posted to the premises said the facilities will be reopened on April 14.

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