Dainis Doniņš: The government is finally hearing out entrepreneurs. But it still doesn't listen

Conversation with Dainis Doniņš, Vice President of the Latvian Traders Association (LTA).
19.02.2021. MKMāris Krautmanis
 
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You operate in the field of catering (SIA Bodo and SIA Bodo se). What are the current issues, what decisions do you expect from the government?

The industry is not completely paralyzed, because you can at least sell takeaway food, but the situation is not great - takeaway sales are only to maintain the regular customer base, there is no profit from it.

Recently, there have been a number of public organizations that bring together the interests of various groups of entrepreneurs, and they are in favor of opening up, at least in part, catering businesses. Today, people long to enjoy food as they used to, they would be willing to endure some difficult conditions, just to be able to enjoy food onsite, not in a car or on a bench in a park. A document is being drafted outlining what caterers are willing to do to open restaurants and cafes - they are ready to respect the distance between tables, ready to measure the temperature of customers, ready to provide customers with disinfectants and introduce increased room cleaning, and more. We also see no reason not to be allowed to work on the terraces in the summer. There is no greater risk factor than if the person is walking down the street. Now, before the start of the summer season, caterers need to be vigilant and reach a compromise with the state authorities so that eating on the terraces and also indoors is allowed at least in part.

Your association also represents stores. What is the situation in trade?

Traders still have confusion about the square footage of space to follow. It is clear for large stores, but the problem is with small rural stores, where their place is small and at best one customer can come to the store. There are shops where the area is about 15 square meters, and the shopkeeper says he cannot work at all to comply with the rules. Right now, the situation is very bad for small shops.

I very much hope, however, that step by step the government will meet us halfway and remove some restrictions so that trade and catering companies can work.

It is good that a decision has now been taken to allocate working capital to companies. If something does not change yet and working capital benefits are not reversed, it will be of great help. If there was no decision on working capital benefits, many companies would be declaring bankruptcy now. The State Revenue Service evaluates the taxes paid in 2019-2020 and accordingly grants benefits so that companies have working capital.

But not everyone is lucky, and not everyone has paid taxes…

Yes, there are the self-employed and micro-enterprises, there are companies that have been established relatively recently and have not yet been able to earn enough and pay taxes. There are different cases. This is being discussed in our organizations. We believe that if a person who works, for example, in catering and is self-employed, then some minimum amount must still be paid to them. Unfortunately, there are groups of entrepreneurs who do not meet the criteria for receiving working capital. The criteria are serious. To date, as far as I know, only 51% of companies have applied for working capital. The others have not applied because they do not meet the criteria or are afraid that the state will give with one hand, but with the other will start to check and investigate intensively in order to take the given amount back again.

The curfew has been canceled as police started to run out of resources. Is there now an increased police presence and control in the shops?

Haven't felt any particularly intensified rounding-up, but there are raids. The municipal police are making sure that there are information signs everywhere - about how many people are allowed to go inside the store, about the need to wear masks and to observe the distance. The regulations of the Cabinet of Ministers set out the format of what and how many signs must be displayed at points of sale.

Will it not be the case that shops will be forced to set up electronic customer records, which will be similar to what is already in place in underground car parks?

I don't think anything like that can be imposed. After all, it is obvious that it would be a big cost, and it would make no sense. However, the number of buyers can be adjusted by counting baskets and trolleys. There should be no mandatory electronic record of people, I do not think it will be a mandatory measure.

Are you sure the government is able to consider something, think about it and then decide?

Yes (laughs), the decisions tend to be varying and not always the most sensible. But it is good that, at least recently, business organizations have been heard. However, while they did hear them out, nothing happened next, and the suggestions of the entrepreneurs on how to better regulate the flow of customers in Covid conditions were not taken into account. But it's good that they finally at least heard us. Because now we have reached a complete dead end. It has been dragging on for a year. No one thought it would last a year. And it will not end in one day. We will have to live with it. We have to act according to the situation and, as far as possible, we also have to live, trade, work.

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