A month is a long time for businesses, considering how challenging this year has been and has a significant impact given the fragility of a business at the moment, Chamber of SMEs CEO Abigail Mamo told The Malta Independent.
Mamo was commenting on the recently announced restrictive measures, whereas from 29 October, bars and clubs have been instructed to remain closed until 1 December.
Whilst those establishments with a snack bar or kiosk licence are allowed to remain open, they are under any circumstance to offer or sell alcohol to clients and must remain closed between 11pm and 5am.
“Whilst the measure is only for a month, one must consider how difficult this year has been already and that the measure came all of a sudden; so yes, a month is a long time. It is another month of paying rent and electricity out of our own pocket, and for some it might even lead to them deciding to call it a day and close their establishment.”
Mamo informed this newsroom that the Chamber has received numerous queries and concerns about the latest measures.
“A good number of these owners did not realise just how much they would be impacted by this measure.” Despite kiosks and snack bars still allowed to remain open, the new measure means that such establishments are not allowed to serve or offer any alcohol.
“There were owners who realised that the new measure really affected their operation and how they work. Despite them being allowed to remain open, they cannot really function. We have had wine bars, which operate almost exactly like a restaurant, yet due to the fact they have a licence as a snack bar, they cannot truly operate as they did before without serving alcohol.”
All catering establishments already had a number of restrictive measures placed on the way they operate. Earlier in October, all restaurants, bars, clubs and snack bars were enforced to close and stop serving customers by 11pm.
Mamo explained that bars and kiosks had no problem with this measure, but many found it difficult to understand why now they were not allowed to serve alcohol. “We understand that enforcement can be challenging since there are a large number of catering establishments, and the authorities decided to take a blanket approach to avoid loopholes.”
She said that this new approach has done a lot of harm to businesses who could have continued remained open. “Owners are frustrated and angry.”
She said that Health Authorities are calling for what is best for the general public and that businesses and the Chamber will continue to follow these measures. “We of course understand and believe it is very important to follow the directives of the Health Authorities, but we believe there could have been ways for such establishments to remain open and serve a few people safely, rather than shutting them down completely.”
Issue of licences a problem both businesses and authority could have avoided
On the topic of licences, Mamo explained that this is a problem that businesses have created and that should have been seen beforehand by both the businesses and the authorities.
“When it comes to having a proper licence I believe this is something that could have been tackled much earlier on. I believe owners should have made sure that as their businesses grew and extended, they apply for the appropriate licence, but that the authorities [in this case, the Malta Tourism Authority] should also make sure that establishments are operating under the correct licence.”
She said that the responsibility to have the correct licence falls both under the businesses and authorities.
“Unfortunately, now there is not enough time to fix all this, but maybe businesses can start the process of apply for a proper licence. This is not the first time catering establishments had to close, so we are not excluding that it could happen again, therefore we believe that establishments can begin the process of applying for the appropriate licence and regulations so that they can be more prepared.”
Need of strong support measures for all catering establishments
Mamo said that currently the Chamber is discussing the necessary support for such businesses, especially considering how businesses currently are losing rather than gaining. “The biggest concern of these owners is that they still have to pay rent, pay their staff and electricity. We are aware that bars will be receiving the full wage supplement, but this does not mean that snack bars and kiosks will be too. Whilst they are open they are unable to operate properly.”
She said that it is important that all establishments are provided with the necessary support as they all still have costs to pay. “Given the fragility of businesses at the moment, there needs to be the correct support for them, as this might lead some businesses to call it a day so that they will not be at risk of losing more business and money.”
Whilst bars and clubs are expected to resume back to normal in December, businesses are still concerned about the Festive season. “Many are concerned and aware that the festive season will not be like any other we have experienced, and this is an added problem and brings a big uncertainty. That is why we continue to push for proper support so that businesses can stay afloat until next year where things will hopefully be better.”
MHRA in discussion with authorities for clarity on licences
The Malta Hotel and Restaurant Association (MHRA) are currently in discussion with the authorities with questions regarding the licences of establishments.
“We understand that most people including the political parties now accept that there must be a balance between health, economy and quality of life. The difficulty is finding that balance,” the Association said.
“Clearly health is extremely important but one cannot ignore the economy nor the quality of life since no one can predict accurately when Malta will exit the pandemic. We now await clarity on the issues raised by MHRA with the authorities.”