Cleanliness next to godliness

10 Jul, 2020 - 00:07 0 Views

eBusiness Weekly

Looking back over the last four months, the entire business world has had to cope with a series of major revolutions, but already the outlines of the “new normal” are being filled in and most businesses now know what they need to do to not just survive, but to flourish and grow, in a quite different world.

In Zimbabwe, the Covid-19 pandemic and the need to use new foreign exchange markets are driving this revolution, but both present opportunities and both demand modest adherence to regulations that benefit all so long as all follow them.

Lockdowns imposed when Covid-19 struck have been eased to allow almost everyone to resume work, but the smarter businesses will be taking precautions to ensure that they can continue to stay open and do business.

This is, when you think about it, not that difficult and adds trivial extra costs.

For a start, cleaning staff have to be supervised to ensure they do a proper job, and are supplied with germ-killing antiseptics.

These chemicals do not need to be the more expensive things that humans have to rub on their hands, since they will be used on floors, work surfaces and machinery. But a clean environment is a healthy environment.

Secondly, staff have to be aware of the need to reduce risk.

Temperature scanning of everyone coming into the premises and making sure hands are frequently washed or sanitised is a start, along with telling staff and customers who are coughing and sneezing to stay home.

Admittedly there are a growing number of infected people who show no symptoms, but the World Health Organisation (WHO) now reckons that these people present little risk of infecting others.

But still, you want everyone around you in a mask and you want everyone at least 1 metre and preferable 2 metres away from you.

Anyone working for you who has someone close to them, especially a spouse or significant other, who is infected needs to take leave. This is not difficult.

The big prize is that you stay open. Sloppy businesses, even without any intervention from the Government or public health authorities, are not going to be functioning if all the front-office staff is off sick or a factory is closed because the entire engineering department is occupying a ward at Wilkins.

Possibly in larger businesses someone has to be the enforcer, making sure staff obey the health rules and that supervisors add these rules to their “must” lists.

The enforcer will not be liked, and should be someone with adequate experience to suggest different working solutions as well as just acting as a high school prefect checking garters on long socks.

The other revolution is the foreign currency market, and the fact that the monetary and fiscal authorities have now taken the plunge and gone for the big bang, with the auctions.

But for several months, with the interbank rate frozen, in retrospect probably a mistake, businesses were playing the black market or using middlemen suppliers who were playing the black market.

All very regrettable, but survival came first.

Pricing switched to tracking what “everyone” expected to be the black-market rate next week, customers cut spending.

The absence of queues at supermarkets is not just the extra 90 minutes a day in opening hours, it is fewer people with money to spend every day.

The dramatic inequalities in Zimbabwe in the distribution of ready money have really been exhibited in this period.

The auctions are now settling down and starting to work as expected, but curiously there are still businesses who have not read all the rules, and whose banks are not ticking the checklist before submitting the bids. This has to change.

The rules are simple, basically eight in number. Some are almost automatically followed, but there are two or three that cause most of the rejected bids. These are easy to fix, but do need to be fixed. Following any bureaucratic process, such as applying for a passport, is rather like writing computer code. If you go through each step without error you emerge the other end with what you want; but even a tiny error holds up the whole process.

All bidders have enough local currency in their account to pay for what they seek at the price they set and all, these days, know they need real invoices from their suppliers. The problems arise in the other five.

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, as part of its auction system and to remove speculative activity from the market, has chosen as a useful by-product to ensure that all businesses are compliant with proper accounting practices and financial regulations.

So there are a set of three rules that enforce compliance. All exporters entering the auction market have to have acquitted their CD1 forms, which they are supposed to do anyway.

All importers need to have cleared their bills of entry, again a routine operation that is supposed to be done very quickly.

And Zimra has to be happy, or at least not unhappy, with you. If there is a tax problem then the deal has to be made with Zimra so you are clear.

Again this is something all businesses should be doing regardless of whether they want to bid at an auction.

The final two rules are where most problems arise.

Some conglomerates do not seem to have wonderful internal communications, and so there are multiple bids.

But fixing this is just housekeeping, the head office being responsible for all bidding and combining all needs into a single package of invoices and applications.

This avoids, from the RBZ point of view, a lot of grief with some units being net exporters and others being net importers in a major business, or even middle managers trying something on.

The final rule is that a business with nostro funds has to spend that money first, before bidding, unless there is a good reason.

There are good reasons.

A bank might still be processing a payment, in that case the bank better be able to explain this to the RBZ and bidder and bank make it clear that the nostro funds are irreversibly allocated to paying a particular invoice which has not been resubmitted as part of the bid.

Presumably there could be a major purchase that has to be funded from both nostro and a top-up from the auction.

Careful explanations, irreversible instructions and other requirements could easily sort that one out.

The point is that these things have to be done, in house and at the bank, before the bid is submitted.

As with Covid-19 precautions, cleanliness is next to godliness.

The infection requires an ultra-clean environment and staff willing to keep it that way.

The auctions require ultra-clean accounts and a willingness to keep them that way. Both requirements are good for business, regardless of disease or auctions, but now there are extra reasons to follow best practices.

Skimping on the little stuff, like washing floors or delaying submission of a particular form, is now non-viable.

But following the rules produces a healthy business with a healthy workforce, and those are the two simple conditions for a profitable and growing business.

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