Covid-19; Examining the Concerns and Expectations of Businesses in Ghana
It is obvious that COVID-19
has entirely disrupted every aspect of human life including economic, physical, social, and mental well-being. In the efforts to contain the virus and curb its spread, governments across the globe have implemented a number of measures including total or partial lockdowns. The Ghana National Chamber of Commerce & Industry (GNCCI) commends government for the bold measures implemented thus far. The GNCCI also commends government for the consultations it has had so far with key stakeholders.
There is no doubt that COVID-19 has negatively affected businesses in Ghana. As the representative organ of the business community in Ghana, the GNCCI undertook a business survey to understand the enormity of the effects. The survey also sought to elicit the concerns and expectations of the business community on the pandemic and its effects on businesses. The rationale was to obtain empirical evidence for effective engagement with government and other stakeholders. A summary of the key findings and recommendations is presented below. (Download the full report)
Summary of Key Findings
• Communication on COVID-19 and government response: Business respondents are generally satisfied with the communication on COVID-19 and government response so far. Businesses have been proactive in curbing the spread of COVID-19 by implementing workplace and health and safety measures with the predominate response being increasing awareness and keeping workplace safe and hygienic, investing in personal protective equipment, encouraging employees to work from home, or asking them to take paid leave.
• Financial cost and input supply: The total estimated financial cost, defined as revenue loss and constraints to business operation in monetary terms, resulting from COVID-19 per the 108 sampled businesses was GHS39,823,407 which also differs and increases with firm size: micro enterprise (GHS22,500); small enterprise (GHS50,000); medium enterprise (GHS500,000); and large enterprise (GHS600,000).
Cumulatively, the estimated financial cost varies across the business sectors: agric (GHS787,000); industry (GHS9,863,300) and services (GHS29,173,107). Within the industry sector, large enterprises are faced with highest estimated financial cost of COVID-19. Input supply has also been severely affected across firm sizes and business sectors. On average, the extent of the effect on projected 2020 annual revenue was higher for small (80%) and medium (80%) enterprises than micro (75%) and large (50%) enterprises.
Given the size of the estimated losses, the government’s stimulus package of GHS600 million to be shared among over 200,000 SMEs is woefully inadequate (average of GHS3,000) even for micro enterprise (GHS22,500). Also, the delay in the disbursement of the stimulus package is further worsening the plight of SMEs and prolonging the impact of the pandemic on their businesses.
• Employee management: The effect of the pandemic varies across business sectors in terms of lay-offs, expected lay-offs, short-time working hours, workers on paid leave, and workers made redundant. Across firm sizes, small enterprises are faced with highest lay-offs and redundant workers. Medium enterprises also have highest expected lay-offs and workers on paid-leave while large enterprises have highest short-time working hours mostly evident in the services sector. Staff morale has negatively been affected. Given the importance of SMEs for Ghana's growth adn the fact that SMEs account for 93 percent of jobs created in the private sector, the current disruptions their businesses could have dire consequences on the national economy.
• Handling of business events: In coping with the disruptions, some businesses either use video calls and conferencing, or have postponed or even cancelled events. The sudden shift of some business activities online suggests the urgent need to address the underlying issues to the high cost of data and related charges. The use of systems and technology to support business activities require businesses to be informed and mitigate their risk exposures to cybercrime.
• Business continuity and risk simulation: About two out of three businesses have a business continuity plan. However, four out of five businesses that have business continuity plan had never practised risk simulation. This raises the question as to whether the development of a business continuity plan is an end in itself or a means to an end. Businesses have given strong indication of re-evaluating their business strategies which will be critical in a post COVID-19 era.
• Mitigating measures: The predominate response towards curbing the spread of COVID-19 were increasing awareness and keeping workplace safe and hygienic. Others include investing in personal protective equipment, working from home, or taking paid-leave. The main support given by businesses to their communities include education and information dissemination, provision of health-related items, and cash donation. It thus suggests that businesses have been proactive in curbing the spread towards safeguarding lives and business continuity.
• Expectation from government: For businesses, the main expectations are a package of support (bailouts and tax reliefs). Other expectations include moratorium on salary loans, low-interest loans, lift of partial lockdown, and channelling of support through trade associations.
• Communication on COVID-19 and government response: The GNCCI encourages government to continue its regular update on COVID-19 to disseminate timely and relevant information to the citizenry. Businesses should continue to adhere to the health protocols in curbing the spread of COVID-19. The Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations must work with stakeholders to strengthen the Occupational, Safety, Health, and Environment (OSHE) mechanism and system to proactively ensure safe and healthy working environments.
• Expectation from government: The GNCCI maintains that provision of timely bailouts or tax reliefs is critical. However, government must consider the interconnected risks within the affected industries to achieve a better operational resilience and improved collective efficiency.
Government’s stimulus package should be structured to address input supply, production capacities, end markets, and employee management given firm size and business sector. In particular, as the single largest procurer and consumer of goods and services, government should leverage this key functionality to stimulate local business production, growth and development.
The GNCCI further urges government in consultation with the financial industry players to urgently make known the modalities required to enable large enterprises to access the GHS3 billion syndicated loan.
• Employee management: In lieu of layoffs and redundancies, businesses are strongly encouraged to work with unions and workers to explore alternative strategies to retain their workers, for example businesses can furlough employees as a worker-retention strategy. This will help minimize or eliminate the related costs of rehiring and training as well as loss of well-trained employees.
• Handling of business events: The sudden shift of some business activities online suggests the urgent need to address the underlying issues of high cost of data and related charges. The use of systems and technology to support business activities require businesses to be informed and mitigate their risk exposures to cybercrime.
• Business continuity and risk simulation: There should be periodic risk simulation by businesses to test the robustness of their business continuity plan. In this regard, trade and business associations in collaboration with other stakeholders must support their members to develop robust business continuity plans.