The Health Protection Agency (HPA), on Monday, revealed that measures will be taken against micro-businesses delivering food and beverages unless they immediately register their services with relevant authorities.
According to HPA, the agency has received multiple complaints of unregistered food and beverage services, conducting deliveries and advertising through online platforms.
During Monday night’s press briefing held by the Health Emergency Operations Centre (HEOC), HPA’s medical officer Dr Nazla Rafeeq stated that this implementation was mandated to address health and safety concerns.
Although the Business Registration Act which came into effect in 2014 requires businesses to be registered and follow a set of safety standards, this is the first time that authorities have made a move to implement this law regarding vendors operating from home.
HPA’s announcement mandates micro-businesses to go through the lengthy process of completing paperwork and finalise their registration immediately.
The registration process requires the submission of various documents, including the building usage permit, a copy of company registration or local investment registration, full details of manufacturing good and brands, the layout or floor plan of the area with measurements and labels and the trade permit and Business Name Registration of the company.
Since authorities did not grant a transitional period for the changes, micro-businesses can be fined up to MVR 10,000 under Section 24 of the Business Registration Act, if they continue to offer services from September onwards.
HPA’s announcement, which came at a time where home-based micro-businesses are thriving in the community, was met with heavy criticism from the public.
According to clause (a), Section 9 of the Business Registration Act, selling products or providing services at home to sustain one’s own livelihood without employing any additional individuals, is exempt from registration.
Many argued that micro-businesses will fall under this category as most home-based businesses are typically a single-person endeavour to generate enough profit to cover the cost of basic necessities.
Such businesses grew in numbers amidst the ongoing pandemic, as many resorted to selling home-cooked meals, desserts and other food and beverage items in order to sustain their livelihoods amidst job loss and pay-cuts due to the economic recession.
Some also expressed concerns on how authorities will conduct inspections in a home under the existing guidelines, which only target restaurants and cafe’s.
Moreover, questions were also raised over the possibility of the government to impose taxes on micro-business, following registration.
A viral screenshot from the Viber group of Restaurant Association of Maldives (RAM) where a member said that “RAM must push HPA in this tempo to eradicate unregistered online food vendors” only added fuel to the fire.
Since women are the driving force behind the majority of micro-businesses operating from home, advocates against gender-based violence spoke out against the policies which disproportionately affect women.
As a country heavily reliant on the hospitality field for income, the restrictions on local and global travel and tourism as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have severe repercussions on the Maldivian economy, with many losing their jobs and local companies struggling to stay afloat.
In mid-April, the World Bank estimated that the Maldives will be the worst-hit country in the South Asian region, in the ensuing economic regression caused by the pandemic.
In a bid to counteract the financial impact of COVID-19, the Maldives government introduced an economic relief fund with MVR 2.5 billion intended to prevent the closing down of local businesses and the loss of jobs.
Meanwhile, the Finance Ministry projected earlier that the state deficit would reach MVR 13 billion this year compared to the MVR 5.9 billion originally stated in the 2020 State Budget, as a result of economic repercussions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The ministry also projected that the total state debt sans guarantee would increase to MVR 70 billion, which accounts for 86.6 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). An overall 115 per cent drop is projected in the GDP, along with 81.3 per cent for nominal GDP.
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