Municipal officials charged us for lockdown permits, say small businesses

As government gradually eased the lockdown restrictions that marked the beginning of Alert Level 3 on Monday, more and more people are revealing some of the “horror” stories of the three-month long national lockdown.

One of these, is the case of the small traders in Nkomazi local municipality who allege that they were tricked into buying business licences, under the guise that these were permits to trade during the lockdown.

“The traders were informed that the documents were COVID-19 permits, whilst in essence they reflect that they are ‘Business Licenses’ and nothing that relates to the pandemic is reflected in the document. The Shop owners, supermarkets and other small business owners were charged different amounts ranging from R1500.00 to R1800.00,” said a small trader who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation.

The trader is one of the members of the Nkomazi Small Business and Informal Traders, an organisation that claims to represent about 600 small business and informal traders in the area that was once branded as the epicentre of the Corona-19 pandemic in Mpumalanga.

When the prohibition of small businesses to trade during lockdown was lifted the minister of small business development, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni called on all municipalities to assist eligible informal traders to comply with Covid 19 regulations and issue them with Covid-19 permits allowing them to trade within the services which are essential and permitted in terms of the regulations.

One of the differences between the licence and the permit is that the permit is specific about the items that can be sold during the lockdown, whereas the licence is silent on this.

To add salt to injury, law enforcement agencies did not recognise the licences and forced the traders to shut their businesses down, until they were in possession of valid permits, which were supposed to be free.

Another hurdle that the small traders will face is that they have no proof of payment for the various amounts that they paid to the municipality.

“There were no receipts given to the traders during this process. This is an indication of an understatement of revenue, which equates to fraud and corruption. We hold a strong view that the failure to register the revenue made it not to be recognised and possible will make accountability of such very difficult, if any,” said one of the traders.

After unsuccessfully complaining to the municipal manager of the Nkomazi local municipality, Daniel Ngwenya, they escalated their complaint.

“We wrote to Cogta MEC, Mr Mandla Msibi, the Executive mayor of Nkomazi and the premier of Mpumalanga province. Only Cogta responded and referred the matter back to the Nkomazi municipality. The fact that they are referring the matter back to the municipality shows that they are taking the matter very lightly,” said the trader.

He said that they’re contemplating taking the municipality to court.

“We are consulting with our lawyers to approach the court on an urgent basis for an order declaring the action unlawful and illegal and reimburse those who have paid,” said the trader.

Nkomazi local municipality spokesperson, Cyril Ripinga did not respond to a written enquiry, but a source within the municipality confirmed the allegations.

“The executive mayor, (Johan Mkhatshwa) is also frustrated with the level of corruption at the municipality, because this seems like a perfect crime. They used municipal offices as if everything was legitimate, but there’s no proof that the officials have taken money because no receipts were issued. The fact that they accepted varied amounts shows how desperate they were to swindle the poor of their hard earned money during such a difficult period, where every cent counts,” said the source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

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