The Restaurant Association of Maldives (RAM), on Monday, welcomed the Health Protection Agency (HPA)'s announcement mandating all food vendors, including home-based micro-operations, to register with authorities in order to continue services.
HPA's announcement was described by RAM as the successful result of all their efforts till date.
RAM also revealed that it was currently holding discussions with several state institutions, including the Ministry of Economic Development, Male’ Water and Sewerage Company (MWSC), State Electric Company (STELCO) and Waste Management Corporation (WAMCO), in order to address other challenges in the industry,
Notably, RAM revealed that it had requested a follow-up meeting with HPA and the Economic Ministry concerning previous discussions.
RAM expressed gratitude to relevant government institutions for their support in addressing problems within the industry.
Attributing the organisation's success to its members, RAM invited other restauranteurs to share their opinions and solutions by signing up.
HPA's announcement, which came at a time when home-based micro-businesses are thriving in the community, was met with heavy criticism from the public.
Several raised concerns that the decision disproportionately affected women and single mothers who are selling home-made food and beverages in order to stay afloat amidst the financial recession, after suffering job loss, unpaid leave or pay cuts due to the ongoing pandemic.
Many accuse that HPA's decision was influenced by RAM, and imposing a difficult guideline with a strenuous registration process on micro-businesses was a deliberate move to "wipe out the competition" amid the increasing popularity of home-based cooks and bakers.
A viral screenshot from the Viber group of RAM where members celebrated HPA's decision and a restauranteur said that "RAM must push HPA in this tempo to eradicate unregistered online food vendors", resulted in public outrage.
According to HPA, the implementation was intended to address health and safety concerns, after receiving multiple complaints of unregistered food and beverage services conducting deliveries and advertising through online platforms.
On Tuesday, Family Legal Clinic (FLC) submitted a letter to Parliament Speaker Mohamed Nasheed, requesting the parliament to draft a new set of guidelines for micro-businesses.
The pro bono legal service provider noted that the safety guidelines listed by HPA are targeted towards commercial-scale outlets, which are difficult or impossible for home-based vendors to follow. FLC also highlighted the lack of a transitional period, despite HPA's failure to regulate such endeavours for health and safety concerns prior to their announcement.
Notably, FLC noted discrepancies in the law and HPA's decision.
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.
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 Maldives will be the worst-hit country in the South Asian region, in the ensuing economic regression caused by the pandemic.
Ministry of Finance 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 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). An overall 115 percent drop is projected in the GDP, along with 81.3 percent for nominal GDP.