Liberian Businesses Reinventing the Wheel But Staying Afloat Not Easy in Wake of COVID-19 Pandemic
Monrovia – In a bid to toe the line of social distancing, Barkue Tubman, owner of Peace Café, one of Liberia’s premiere restaurants and lounge, recently introduced a Delivery Service, in partnership with Cookshop.biz and Meals & Deals on Wheels.
Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
Similarly, Zoe Baker, owner of the famous Terra Cotta restaurant is also doing the same.
Like the Hotel Industry in Liberia, the restaurant industry is taking a major hit during the Coronavirus pandemic – and with one casualty and ten recorded cases to date, the coming days is expected to be even tougher.
That though is not stopping struggling Liberian-owned businesses from reinventing the wheels just to stay afloat. But even amid the brave efforts many are making, enormous challenges remain and many are resorting to layoffs of staffers.
“As an entrepreneur I’ve learned the art of pivoting. One of my businesses is a small food and business development service establishment called peace café, I’ve had to lay off four staff, negotiate with existing staff,” says Tubman.
Baker, too says she has had to lay off staff and work with a skeleton crew just keep the doors open for those looking to takeaway.
Health Emergency Deals Blow
Recently, the government issued a national health emergency, ordering restaurants and cook shops to only allow five persons in at a time, while those outside should keep a distance of six feet apart.
Supermarket and large stores are requested to allow 10 customers at a time, while those waiting outside for their turn to be served should stand six feet apart, with businesses being encouraged to find innovative ways of promoting social distancing.
The order has dealt a major blow to the restaurant industry even as many owners are calling for stimulus packages to help them stay afloat.
During the deadly Ebola outbreak in 2014, government assisted businesses by using them as caterers to provide food for hospitals treating Ebola patients, a move that helped some restaurants keep their heads above water.
“You’re basically having to start a new business in the same place, same people different social behavior. No stimulus package insight and no relief. But one must not give up on Liberia especially Liberians we have to use now as an opportunity. You choose; but see the opportunity and support your community because it’s hard, really hard, let’s find a resolve for small businesses.”Barkue Tubman, CEO, Peace Café
Over the past few weeks Tubman says she has had to adjust the business model to suit the current reality in a bid to combat Covid19. “Developing a strategy that strongly practices social distancing, providing great service and quality products while ensuring the safety of our staff, customers and community.”
Nevertheless, she says, it comes with a price. “You’re basically having to start a new business in the same place, same people different social behavior. No stimulus package insight and no relief. But one must not give up on Liberia especially Liberians we have to use now as an opportunity. You choose; but see the opportunity and support your community because it’s hard really hard, let’s find a resolve for small business.”
Not everyone is so lucky. Businessman Amin Modad, whose businesses include the Bella Casa Hotel/Restaurant, Suncoast Beach and a food production company that produces bottled water, juices, and packaged red palm oil for export, has been forced to lay off all of his employees for now. “I had never felt more pressured and desperate. For the first time I have Been compelled to close down all my four companies and let go of staffs,” says Modad.
Though temporary, the businessman says, the move is profoundly decrescent and harrowing. “The situation seems so hopeless and the potential loss of lives so terrifying. But I’m not deterred or frightened of the future! I must not allow myself to be!”
US, Kenya Offering Breaks, Stimulus
While Liberia is not alone, countries around the world finding innovative ways to bail out citizens and businesses.
Last Wednesday, the US Senate approved a historic, $2 trillion stimulus package to provide a jolt to an economy reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, capping days of intense negotiations that produced one of the most expensive and far-reaching measures Congress has ever considered. In a remarkable sign of overwhelming bipartisan support for the legislation, the vote was unanimous at 96-0.
The legislation represents the largest emergency aid package in US history and the most significant legislative action taken to address the rapidly intensifying coronavirus crisis, which is overwhelming hospitals and grinding much of the economy to a halt.
In Nairobi, Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta, told a news conference last week that his administration was offering 100 per cent tax relief to all persons earning 24,000 and less
reduction of pay from 30 to 25 per cent. President Kenyatta also announced reduction of corporate tax from 30 to 25 per cent, reduction of turnover tax rate for MSMEs from 3 to 1 per cent and an additional Sh10 billion for elderly cash transfers
The Kenyatta government also implemented a temporary suspension of CRB listing of any person, MSMEs and corporate entities whose loan account fall due or is in arrears effective April 1, 2020, a reduction of VAT from 16 to 14 per cent effective April 1, 2020. The government also announced the lowering of Central Bank Rate to 7.25 per cent giving space to cheaper credit.
For those paying monthly rent, the burden is even higher. Last week, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s government was forced to shut down reports that it had ordered landlords to stop collecting rent for 90 days to cushion tenants supposedly battered by coronavirus has been widely shared on social networking platforms.
Not a bad idea but Liberia and many countries appear unwilling to offer such relief for citizens during the pandemic.
In Liberia, where even larger hotel establishments like Royal, Boulevard, Cape, Mamba and Palm Springs have been forced to lay off staffers, many are hoping the George Weah-led government can offer similar stimulus and relief packages for businesses.
Senator Abraham Darius Dillon(Liberty Party, Montserrado County), says with the pandemic taking a toll on Liberia, it is time for government to take and implement all the measures, even very stringent measures going forward for the safety and wellbeing of Liberians.
The Senator is also recommending immediate lockdown of Montserrado County in particular and the entire country in general for a number of days as necessary to curtail this crisis.
During the lockdown he says, government should impose curfew to keep people off the streets, out and about and pay civil servants for two months to enable them buy and get their basic needs as they remain home.
In addition to restoring to keeping electricity stable, the Senator is also recommending landlords be considerate in demanding rent money from their clients during this period.
For now, businessman Modad is urging small businesses to reach out to bankers and creditors and appeal for forbearance or restructure. “It is in everyone’s interest that they understand and work with you; however, be sincere in your interactions with them. Don’t over promise or overcommit!”
For Tubman, the current reality offers lessons for the future but also a challenge for Liberians not to lose hope. “Liberia is the land of opportunity and huge potential. However not a tittle to maintain forever because eventually those opportunities and potential should turn in to dreams realized and prosperity. It should be the reminder of hope in desperate times but we are not feeling that and our bank accounts and small businesses are going through some of the toughest times we’ve seen in a while.”