|Neshuro growth point, Mwenezi|
MASVINGO - Some business people at Nyika growth point have complained that they are being unfairly disadvantaged by the District Covid-19 Taskforce which they accuse of abusing the national lockdown order to allow only a select few shops to operate.
“They are moving around ordering everybody else to close except a few shops that were selected in a corrupt manner. There is confusion and ignorance as to who the lockdown order exempts as well as the terms and conditions, and we are being taken advantage of,” said one business person.
Another shop owner said a vehicle recently drove around the whole growth point threatening smaller businesses with severe consequences if they did not close immediately.
“They drove around using a hailer mounted on a pick-up truck. We were made to close early in the morning when we had just opened for the business of the day. We all pay tax and rates, and we employ people so we don’t understand why somebody could arbitrarily handpick those who are allowed to operate. They must rather put us in groups and allocate us alternating trading days,” said the business person.
In a stamped letter dated April 07, the taskforce makes it clear that only Chingwanga, N.Richards, Major Family Savings (MFS), Mutema, Bilcro Groceries and Flexi Mart are allowed to open.
The committee is largely made up of the District Development Coordinator (DDC)’s office, Bikita RDC, health authorities and the security services sector.
When contacted for comment, Bikita RDC CEO Peter Chibhi said it was the taskforce’s duty to do all that it deemed necessary to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
“If we open all groceries shops in the growth point, it will be congested yet we need to decongest it. The problem is that our community has not experienced a single case or death due to Covid-19. If we are to have a full-blown outbreak, then everybody will voluntarily shut down their shops,” said Chibhi.
When asked about complaints about the alleged corruption and unfairness involved in cherry-picking those that are allowed to operate and those that are forbidden, Chibhi said the arrangement was a result of a decision by the taskforce.
“That is the responsibility of the taskforce to direct. If we allow all shops to open then there will be chaos in the growth point. The media would then say, people are not observing the lockdown order,” he said.
Some business ownersin Zaka and Mwenezi complained that they too were in a similar predicament, and they no longer bothered opening their shops since the stipulated timeframes keep on changing, to the delight of corrupt police officers who use the uncertainty to elicit for bribes.
Shops were initially allowed to trade between 09:00hrs and 15:00hrs, but the trading hours were later changed to between 09:00hrs and 13:00hrs. Many big grocers have, however, have since reverted to trading between 09:00hrs and 15:00hrs.
The Public Health (Covid-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment) (National Lockdown) Order, 2020 commonly referred to as Statutory Instrument 83 of 2020 was gazetted on March 28, 2020.
The instrument lays down the lockdown rules valid for a period of 21 days from March 30 - April 19, 2020.
Businesses offering what are defined as essential services are allowed to operate within stipulated timeframes and these include shops selling basic commodities, health services providers as well as those offering electricity and water services.