BWIRE: Digital solutions to tame covid-19

BWIRE: Digital solutions to tame covid-19

By Victor Bwire

With the 3rd case of a positive case of coronavirus in Kenya announced by the President, and a raft of measures put in place to deal with the situation in the country, agencies both public and private that offer critical services have to make hard decisions, excluding profit considerations to save Kenyans.

The government in its advisory, requested Kenyans to avoid use of cash money when transacting, hinting that providers will be requested to revise transaction costs on mobile money transfers downwards.

Given that money is the critical player in the economic lives of many countries, and cash the main item in kadogo economies like Kenya, the possibility of cash being a player in the coronavirus spread is real, thus the advisory that we prioritize cashless transactions by the government must be supported by the Central Bank and mobile money transfer service providers like M-Pesa (Safaricom), Equitel (Equity) and Airtel money.

The biggest intervention here is to lower the transaction costs of these services, including bank charges on electronic money transfers and purchases. It’s time the financial sector gave back to the community, by reducing their charges or zero-rating some charges on electronic money transactions.

It’s emergency time, and we hope to see some actions on this. In addition the central bank might be forced to allow the expansion of the money one can transfer electronically, the proof and time to assist the situation, while mobile money service providers, in addition to reducing transaction fees, have to consider expanding the limits to what people can get, keep and transact daily.

For example, at M-Pesa, the daily transaction ceiling is Ksh.140,000 meaning that one cannot receive or send more than that amount on a single day. At the same time, the maximum one can send in one transaction is Ksh.70,000 while the maximum one the have in your mpesa account is Ksh 100,000.

Now, for some honchos and landlords, this is very limiting and will play a big role in the already dim economic projections shared related to the corona virus. It’s about giving to the community and assisting the government to protect the people in these difficulty circumstances.

The reduced charges can be documented and computed to show how much the sector contributed during the emergency in the country. And the mobilization of their technical teams to be on standby in case of breakdowns during increased transactions.

You don’t want to imagine what will happen when mobile banking services collapses during this time of hitches with the mobile money transfers. And the mobile money-lenders, don’t abandon Kenyans at this critical hour of need.

We must moderate our greedy ness must be moderated during this emergency just we are requesting those Kenyans hoarding essential goods to stop it.

The media especially radio should give some airtime for public service announcements on educative messages to the community especially to prevention and awareness campaigns while the national narrative and coverage must be as accurate as it can be.

Be on the watch for peddlers of misinformation and deliberate distortion of information on the outbreak. Respect the privacy of any suspects or victims of the virus as it will lead to stigma, while scary presentation are causing fear and panic among Kenyans.

This does not mean you don’t ask hard questions and watch dog the interventions, availability of services and drugs, handling of the progress on behalf of Kenyans. Call out those frustrating efforts to protect Kenyans and dealing with the emergency.

Private hospitals and health service providers must join in zero rating charges on the tests and related health care associated with the virus.

As part of the Covid-19 outbreak, just like the government suggested and advised, the central Korea in South Korea has resorted to quarantining physical bills while in some areas authorities are burning banknotes/paper money as an intervention.

The Central bank in Korea in its quarantine policy is holding onto notes coming from commercial banks and other money agents for the up to two weeks, a period determined to be within which the virus dies (it dies after nine days).

Already pundits have predicted a gloomy economic forecast related to the outbreak and any more delays by the financial sector to mitigate will only make a bad situation worse.

Locally, Cytonn in their weekly updates, focusing on the impact of coronavirus to the Kenyan economy has made the following observations; disruption in supplies from China that will lead to a shortage of imports from China for instance, which accounts for an estimated 21.0% of the country’s imports, is likely to cause local importers to look for alternative import markets, which may be more expensive and as such higher demand for the dollar from merchandise importers and reduction in diaspora remittances, owing to the decline in economic activities globally hence a reduction in disposable incomes.

Bwire is the Head of Media Development and Strategy at the Media Council of Kenya