The Cost Of Informality

In a quest to formalise informal businesses, there are certain factors that stand in the way of this goal. It is clear that a good number of informal enterprises operate the way they do due to the underlying socio-economic background in which they find themselves working. For example, most of these are formed in areas where poverty is prevalent. In a bid to make these businesses formalise and hence become viable and profitable entities, some of these factors need to be taken into consideration as they can be used as catalysts or incentives to formalisation.

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The International Labour Organization points out the fact that informality inhibits investment in bigger business ventures because they lack the necessary capacity and size to fully exploit economies of scale. One factor that drives this notion is their low levels of productivity due to poor access to skilled labour. However, this is not the case for larger formal enterprises for they are in a better financial position to access high-skilled labour and can hence fully exploit economies of scale which enhances their profitability.

The lack of secure property rights especially for micro and small enterprises deprives them access to credit and capital. This is a huge hindrance whenever they try to expand their business operations in the sense that their businesses do not possess the legal title deeds to the physical residences on which they conduct business. In this sense, their businesses cannot be used as collateral whenever they try to get loans from financial institutions. This mode of operation also makes it difficult for them to access legal and judicial systems to enforce contracts.  This aspect for example impedes them whenever they try to participate in the tendering processes of bigger companies or even government business.

Another obstacle for informal businesses is that most of them lack social protection. The fact that a vast majority of these are not registered units puts them in a situation where they are not recognised by governments under which they operate and hence fall outside of the official regulation network. This leaves them vulnerable to exploitation for they are not protected by social and labour legislation. Corrupt government officials often demand bribes to ensure that they remain in business, which is an unnecessary expense in the long run.

What comes out clearly is that some of the mitigation strategies that need to be embraced and implemented revolve around issues that deal with capacity development especially upskilling as this is a crucial requirement for boosting the productivity of informal businesses. Also, the development and harmonization of informal organisational structures should be done in a way that enables them to own the working spaces under which they operate, be it on a collective or individual basis.  More importantly, the improvement of conditions of employment in the sector in as far as occupational safety and health policies are concerned is another area that needs to be addressed. This includes looking into the promotion of labour rights, the extension of social protection to reach the most vulnerable and a favourable regulatory environment that discourages corruption.

In a bid to encourage formalisation, the above factors need to be strongly considered. The most viable way to tackle the problem and move forward would be to target top tier small and micro businesses in each of the sub sectors in the informal economy and engage these in a pilot programme. This  would then be used to precisely map out the challenges faced on the path to formalisation with the aim of developing and implementing tailormade strategies for the different business sizes in each sub sector.

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst.

 

 

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Informality In Sub-Saharan Saharan Africa

The latest Regional Economic Outlook: Sub-Saharan Africa is a survey conducted and released twice a year by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The latest was made public in April 2017 and highlights the importance of the informal economy as being a key component of most economies in Sub-Saharan Africa, contributing between 25 and 65 percent of GDP and accounting for up to 90% of jobs outside agriculture. This includes household enterprises that are not formally registered.

(Source: https://www.imf.org/~/media/Websites)

Estimation of the size of the informal economy is done by looking at indicators such as the tax burden, institutional development and unemployment rates amongst other factors. According to the paper, a larger tax burden is likely to encourage more economic activity to remain in the informal economy. The level of institutional development is another indicator whereby the lack of respect for the law encourages informal activity. Higher unemployment rates are an indicator of poorly functioning labour markets with labour not being absorbed into the formal sector.

The IMF indicates that the average share of informality in Sub-Saharan Africa reached almost 38% of GDP during 2010 – 2014. This is surpassed only by Latin America and the Caribbean at 40% of GDP and compares with 34% of GDP in South Asia, and 23% of GDP in Europe. In member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the informal sector is estimated to account for 17% of GDP. Their findings suggest that informality seems to fall with the level of income, likely reflecting higher government capacity and better incentives towards formality in higher income economies.

In terms of the experience of its populations as entrepreneurs, Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate of early stage entrepreneurial activity. However, about a third of the new entrepreneurs in the region report that they chose to be entrepreneurs out of necessity. Despite this, the region has the most positive attitude towards entrepreneurship. The policy change proposed in this regard is to create an environment in which small firms in both formal and informal sectors can thrive and grow, one that is supportive of SMEs.

As far as informality and productivity is concerned, high levels of informality in the informal sector have significant implications on productivity. This in turn negatively impacts economic performance. The paper draws certain conclusions from World Bank Enterprise Surveys which indicate that the productivity levels of informal firms are significantly lower than those of formal firms. On average, the productivity of informal firms is only 25% of small formal firms and 19% of medium sized formal firms, based on real output per employee. This reflects a lower level of physical capital and skill levels of informal workers.

In regard to tax policy, the document proposes that relatively high VAT thresholds are recommended for developing countries, with licences and fees for businesses below the VAT threshold. Such a move would reduce the number of small businesses that are discouraged from registering with the tax administration. As a result, the increased growth and transition into formality would allow small enterprises to grow to a size above the tax threshold, generating higher fiscal revenue. The benefit for formalisation would be better access to finance and public services, which would exceed the tax cost.

Moving forward, countries in the region need to focus on developing strategies that will not only foster and support the positive growth of informal sector activities, but also go further to incentivise their graduation into the formal sector. The importance of capacity building initiatives in the areas of technical, financial and management skills as well as those that are centred around technology adoption as a means to increasing their productivity cannot be overlooked if this is to achieved.

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst.

 

 

Capacity Building for Informal Business

Efforts directed towards capacity building of micro, small and medium enterprises are yet to be well structured in a manner that ensures their sustainable growth. With their contribution to new jobs in Kenya standing at 90% and accounting for 35% of the country’s GDP, there is a gap that needs to be filled which will enhance their productivity. Most businesses in the informal sector continue facing steep hurdles that undermine their performance.

(Source: http://www.corporate-digest.com/images/news/)

The European Commission’s Guide for Training in SMEs puts forward actions that will enhance the performance of businesses in the sector. Some of the interventions consist of factors that ensure the success of a business from which valuable lessons can be drawn. These include anticipation of skills, assessment, adoption of a collective approach, exploitation of opportunities as well as providing guidance and support.

The anticipation of skills and competence related to the needs of the market is crucial in order for a business to remain relevant and up to date in a rapidly changing economy. A good example is that of businesses having the skills necessary to work with new technologies that will increase their output and make them more productive. This factor enhances the longevity of a business in a way that it constantly adapts to the needs of clients.

In the area of assessment, it is important for businesses to constantly carry out a needs assessment. This will put them in a better position when it comes to assessing their requirements, and thus assist in the setting of objectives that facilitate the planning of their operations. More importantly, the evaluation and modification of the results regarding the chosen objectives is a crucial element of developing a permanent culture of assessment. This process enables them to become dynamic in the markets in which they operate.

A collective approach is important when engaging with the informal sector. Public institutions in the field of training, professional bodies as well as social partners such as development finance institutions need to be actively involved in the development and execution of strategies that are aimed at strengthening the sector. This collective investment will provide a solid foundation for building and qualitatively growing this sector of the economy.

The collaborative effort mentioned above should be governed by the principle of guidance and accompaniment. This approach points towards the mentoring of informal businesses in a way that helps them to overcome the obstacles that they face. This can be done by assisting them to put in place and strengthen internal organisational structures such as having detailed and updated financial records. Businesses in this sector of the economy can also learn a lot from each other by sharing practices that make them more productive.

Last but not least is that informal businesses need to be facilitated in a way that will enable them to maximise the opportunities within their field of operation. In the light of this, the right information such as local and regional market opportunities need to be availed to them. This has to be coupled with policies that facilitate their access to these opportunities. When correctly equipped and facilitated, informal businesses will grow due to these new economic and social opportunities.

 

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst

 

 

 

 

The Role of Informality in the Kenya Industrial Transformation Programme 

The Kenya Industrial Transformation Programme (KITP) is an effort by the government to create an industrial hub in the country through sector specific initiatives in agro processing, textiles and apparel, leather, fisheries, services and SMEs (small and medium enterprises). With the SMEs sector being the fastest growing business segment of the economy accounting for 83% of the total employment demographic, I will highlight some of the strategies that have been proposed to make it more productive.

Image result for Kenya industrial Transformation Plan

(Source:https://issuu.com/kamkenya/docs/kitp_short_version_20150910__1_)

Some of the challenges that the sector faces include a lack of understanding of basic business practices such as book keeping and marketing. These limit their growth when it comes to accessing finance to expand their operations for they are seen to be high risk clients by financial institutions. The recent interest rate cap has negatively affected them as fewer can access loans from banks. Their level of human capital is also low due to a lack of formal education amongst most of the workers engaged in the sector. Most SMEs also have little knowledge of other markets which puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to approaching the export market.

Proposed initiatives in KITP aimed at uplifting the sector include the setting up of a fund to provide low cost financing to SMEs. The fund is to be set up as a credit guarantee system or as an investment in private equity funds with contribution from both government and development finance institutions. It is targeted at those SMEs with promising business plans as well as those that demonstrate potential for growth. 

The strategy also plans on establishing communication and training between large companies and SMEs so as to facilitate subcontracting. This move is meant to increase the share of large corporations in the country sourcing from local SMEs to 30%, while building the capacity of SMEs to meet these needs. This will also look into ways of  improving the capacity of the large companies to identify and manage suitable SMEs.

Another intervention is that of enhancing MSE’s (Micro and Small Enterprises) competitiveness. This will be done through a competition in every county where 5 products from entrepreneurs engaged in the manufacturing and agribusiness sub sectors will be selected to have their products available on supermarket shelves. The process will involve conducting quality, packaging and branding training to get their products certified by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS). The winner of this competition will receive a prize of Kshs 1 million aimed at improving their operations.

Further, there are plans to establish a metal fabrication centre of excellence in Kariobangi, Nairobi, aimed at upgrading the existing Jua Kali metal fabricators by providing common user facilities, training programmes and incubation facilities. This will improve the quality and quantity of the products that these artisans produce, as well as equip them with technical skills which will include knowledge on how to operate modern machinery.

The KITP should not be one of those policy documents that are drafted, launched and eventually gather dust on the shelves of libraries and institutions. It is a noble initiative that needs to be fast tracked and implemented as it will translate to the improvement of the lives of the millions of Kenyans that are engaged in micro, small and medium sized economic activities.

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst

 

The Importance of ICT in Informal Business

We live in an age where access to information is at its highest level. With the onslaught of digital technology, the internet has become a vital source of unlimited information. This has been hastened by the increased availability of smartphones, which have made it possible for people to get onto the internet from wherever they are through these mobile devices. This technological advancement has transformed the lives of many people by making it easier for people to access various services from the comfort of their palm.

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(Source: https://www.howwemadeitinafrica.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Tala-600×300.jpeg  )

The effects of this advancement in technology has changed the way business is conducted by the introduction of new and innovative ways of reaching out to clientele. Micro-businesses have embraced the use of mobile payment technology in their operations. They view this mode of conducting business as an easier form of cash delivery to their suppliers and business partners and accessing loans as it is a system which is relatively affordable, personal and can be used anywhere and at any time. These factors have fast tracked its growth.

A study conducted by Internet World Stats indicates that Africa accounts for 16.6% of the global population and has an internet penetration rate of 26.9%. In comparison, the penetration rate in Latin America and the Caribbean is 59.4%, 56.5% in the Middle East, 76.7% in Europe and 88.1% in North America.  On the African continent, Nigeria leads with an internet penetration rate of 47.9%, which is 27.4% of the continent’s total internet usage. Kenya is ranked third with a penetration rate of 66%, contributing to 9.5% of internet usage. Population size was a major variable that was considered when conducting the study.

The penetration rate on the continent presents an opportunity that can be exploited as a means for businesses to reach a wider audience. The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics latest survey of Micro Small and Medium Enterprises indicates that 43.1% of MSMEs do not use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) because they don’t think that it is vital to their operations. 14.3% thought that it was too costly while 4.5% cited a lack of access to electricity as the reason. There is a need to educate MSMEs on the importance of ICT as a means to growing their businesses.

The survey also looked at the type of ICT equipment available in licensed businesses. 40.7% of the MSMEs had a mobile phone, 15.0% had a radio while 10.5% of the respondents reported not having any ICT gadget. Availability of the fax machine, tablet, digital / video cameras was reported by less than 5% of the respondents. This is a clear indication of the importance of mobile phones as a gateway to interacting with small businesses. A lot more can be done to facilitate business transactions in the informal economy considering that only 49.3% of the businesses surveyed use mobile money platforms. It is a platform that is yet to be fully exploited as it is often underrated as an avenue to develop business capacity.

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst