Botswana: Polers Miss COVID-19 Wage Subsidy

Like many of their peers in the informal sector, more than 600 mokoro polers who eke out a living by transporting tourists into the Okavango delta have missed out on Covid 19 wage subsidy, designed to support workers whose employers have been negatively affected.

The General Manager of Okavango Kopano Mokoro Community Trust (OKMCT), Seikaneng Moepedi, revealed that more than 600 mokoro polers have been operating under the trust to transport tourists into the delta and have been affected by the impact of the coronavirus. He further stated that polers who were operating in the NG 32 concession in Okavango Delta have missed out and will not benefit from government wage subsidy because they have been operating as an informal sector as they were paid cash immediately after rendering services.

He added that the Trust could not apply for the subsidy on behalf of polers because they were paid on daily basis and most of them did not have financial records which is a requirement when applying for wage subsidy. He further decried that majority of mokoro polers have been financially affected and transporting tourists was only economic activities for them to support their families. "The last time they were paid was on February and afterwards tourists started cancelling their bookings," he stated

He however, said that would change soon as they have revised the mokoro policy last year to beef up the mokoro business to make it a formal business. "Mokoro polers were paid cash immediately after services but now we want to change that by as the Trust we will collect cash from tourists and then will keep them money and pay them at the end of the month," he said adding that in this way it will assist them with their financial trails and we can produce it if they need any proof about their financial situation. "At the current situation where BURS want proof their financials it become difficult to assist them," he said adding that situation will change for the better.

The coronavirus scare has wreaked havoc in the economy and many sectors in the country has been affected. A report released by Local Enterprises Authority (LEA) on the impact of Covid 19 on businesses states that tourism sector, which accounts for 27% of the jobs in the survey, bore the brunt of the impact, with a 72% revenue loss in March 2020, which put 729 jobs at risk.

Rapelang Samoxhosa, a poler from Xaxaba settlement but currently stays in Boro says his life has changed miserably after the outbreak of Coronavirus earlier this year.

A freelance Mokoro poler who has been transporting tourists in the delta since 1987 says life has become difficult as no more tourists coming to the delta. "We have no income to support our families and it getting hard every day", Samoxhosa said

Samoxhosa, 47, father of two decried that he has nothing to support his family and his future looks bleak as Covid 19 has affected the tourism sector. He appealed for good Samaritans to support him in difficult situation.

He says life was better before Corona as he was making P240 a day as he could support his family but now there is no income. He also decried that the lockdown has exacerbated the situation as they are not allowed to move to buy groceries at Maun. "We don't have anything to eat, and even our toiletries have finished, we are in danger of Covid 19 spread as we don't have basic necessities such as soap to wash our hands," he decried.

Another youthful poler from Boro, Orulagantswe Kgonowa says he quitted his job in one of the Safari company in the delta last year to focus on Mokoro polers because he was making enough money.

He says the situation has now changed after the outbreak of coronavirus which tourist cancelled their bookings. He decried that the situation is getting worse as they are yet to receive any food hamper from the government despite being in lockdown for close to 28 days which has been increased with further three weeks. He fears that hunger will kill them before coronavirus.

The chairman of Botswana Guides Association, (BOGA) Kenson Kgaga has complained about discrimination on the government subsidy as it does not assist informal sectors. He says that mokoro polers have been affected just like anyone in the formal sectors and must be assisted as they have been badly affected by the impact of Covid 19. Kgaga stated that Mokoro polers and freelance professional guides who were working on behalf of other companies have been affected and the government is not assisting them but most of them have been paying tax all along. He also noted that the association will soon release statement of displeasure on the government relief fund.

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