ROME, Italy, Mar 18 – Companies are prohibited from laying off workers and rents are reduced under Italy’s economic survival plan for life at the European epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte hailed his 25-billion-euro ($28-billion) programme as the “Italian model” that the rest of Europe could adopt as it imposes its own painful lockdowns.
Italy’s 2,503 official COVID-19 deaths account for more than half of those reported outside China.
“When we talk about the Italian model, we are not only talking about health but also the economic response to the crisis,” Conte said while unveiling his “Cura Italia” (“Italian Cure”) plan at the start of the week.
Other European countries will probably never take on all 127 points Conte – a former law professor – and his team of technocratic ministers drafted during Italy’s gravest emergency since World War II.
But here is a broad look at some of the measures outlined in the 72-page decree Italian President Sergio Mattarella signed on Tuesday night.
Companies are prohibited from laying off workers for the next two months without “justified objective reasons”.
The self-employed and seasonal workers such as tour guides can expect a 600-euro ($680) payment for the month of March to help cushion the pain of lost business.
The government will also cover 100-euro bonuses for low-wage employees.
Families are issued 600-euro vouchers to cover the expense of having to hire baby sitters to look after kids that will be out of school at least until April 3.
The Italian government said Wednesday that its month-long shutdown of everything from kindergartens to private universities might run well into next month.
The self-employed who have to look after their kids will receive “parental leave” payments that cover half of their declared monthly incomes.
These payments can also be calculated on a daily basis.
Rent and mortgage
Conte shut down all forms of business except for pharmacies and grocery stores for two weeks starting on March 12.
The government is compensating shop owners by offering them tax credits to cover 60 percent of their March rent payment.
The self-employed and freelancers with home mortgages can ask to have their payments suspended for up to 18 months if they can prove that their incomes fell by a third.
A variety of taxes and salary withholdings are being suspended for sectors and professions deemed most affected by the crisis.
An existing list has been expanded to include everyone from truck drivers and hotel staff to cooks and clerks.
The government expects to start collecting the taxes again in May.
Politics and prisons
A variety of other measures affect issues ranging from prison to politics and sport.
A planned national referendum to cut the number of parliament members has been postponed until the second half of the year.
The government is sending 20 million euros to repair the damage caused to prisons by rioters who were anxious about the new disease.
Italy’s sport federations get four-month tax privileges and 130 million euros will go to support film and cinemas.
Kenya to import mitumba after coronavirus pandemic
Kenya is set to lift the ban on imports of second-hand clothes once the Covid-19 pandemic is over, the Industry, Trade and Co-operatives Cabinet Secretary Betty Maina has said.
The Cabinet Secretary last Wednesday announced an immediate temporary suspension of the importation of second-hand clothes as a measure to stop importing the SARs-Cov-2 virus that causes Covid-19 disease.
Ms Maina said the action taken is in line with the conditions as set out by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs).
“The government has suspended importation of second-hand clothes with immediate effect to safeguard the health of Kenyans and promote local textiles in the wake of coronavirus,” said Ms Maina.
“Most of the Mitumba imports come from China and Pakistan, countries which are the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic. The decision is intended to safeguard Kenyans against the spreading of the coronavirus and is therefore a health issue,” she said.
In an interview with the The EastAfrican, Ms Maina said the Kebs will enforce the suspension as we wait for the situation to improve.
“It is a requirement by the Kebs to take such an action in times of an epidemic like the Covid-19,” she said.
A recent study by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the virus can stay longer on different surfaces, including clothes.
Ms Maina, however, said the temporary ban will not in any way affect the policy on Mitumba imports from the US.
Under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, Kenya sold about Ksh40 billion ($400m) worth of textiles and clothing to the US.
“This does not in any way affect our policy on our imports from the US. The decision is strictly an urgent measure to curb the spread of the coronavirus,” added Ms Maina.
World Bank pushes G-20 to extend debt relief to 2021
World Bank Group President David Malpass has urged the Group of 20 rich countries to extend the time frame of the Debt Service Suspension Initiative(DSSI) through the end of 2021, calling it one of the key factors in strengthening global recovery.
“I urge you to extend the time frame of the DSSI through the end of 2021 and commit to giving the initiative as broad a scope as possible,” said Malpass.
He made these remarks at last week’s virtual G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting.
The World Bank Chief said the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered the deepest global recession in decades and what may turn out to be one of the most unequal in terms of impact.
People in developing countries are particularly hard hit by capital outflows, declines in remittances, the collapse of informal labor markets, and social safety nets that are much less robust than in the advanced economies.
For the poorest countries, poverty is rising rapidly, median incomes are falling and growth is deeply negative.
Debt burdens, already unsustainable for many countries, are rising to crisis levels.
“The situation in developing countries is increasingly desperate. Time is short. We need to take action quickly on debt suspension, debt reduction, debt resolution mechanisms and debt transparency,” said Malpass.
Kenya’s Central Bank Drafts New Laws to Regulate Non-Bank Digital Loans
The Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) will regulate interest rates charged on mobile loans by digital lending platforms if amendments on the Central bank of Kenya Act pass to law. The amendments will require digital lenders to seek approval from CBK before launching new products or changing interest rates on loans among other charges, just like commercial banks.
“The principal objective of this bill is to amend the Central bank of Kenya Act to regulate the conduct of providers of digital financial products and services,” reads a notice on the bill. “CBK will have an obligation of ensuring that there is fair and non-discriminatory marketplace access to credit.”
According to Business Daily, the legislation will also enable the Central Bank to monitor non-performing loans, capping the limit at not twice the amount of the defaulted loan while protecting consumers from predatory lending by digital loan platforms.
Tighter Reins on Platforms for Mobile Loans
The legislation will boost efforts to protect customers, building upon a previous gazette notice that blocked lenders from blacklisting non-performing loans below Ksh 1000. The CBK also withdrew submissions of unregulated mobile loan platforms into Credit Reference Bureau. The withdrawal came after complaints of misuse over data in the Credit Information Sharing (CIS) System available for lenders.
Last year, Kenya had over 49 platforms providing mobile loans, taking advantage of regulation gaps to charge obscene rates as high as 150% a year. While most platforms allow borrowers to prepay within a month, creditors still pay the full amount plus interest.
Amendments in the CBK Act will help shield consumers from high-interest rates as well as offer transparency on terms of digital loans.