The TT Manufacturers’ Association issued a release on Thursday calling for a resumption of business by Monday. That followed a call by Gabriel Faria of the TT Chamber of Commerce the week before asking for an acceleration of business resumption. Faria described the government’s cautious approach to the resumption of operations as “indifference and apathy to the business community.”
Ministry of Finance technocrats must be well aware of the impact of the closure of local businesses on both the local business sector and the revenue to be derived from exports.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced a second phase of the relaxation of restrictions from May 21, specifically targeting that resumption of manufacturing and construction. But he was cautious to note that the reopening of some business sectors will be accompanied by some existing restrictions. He is correct to do so. While resuming economic activity is important, any spread of covid19 will undo the gains of the lockdown and has the potential to place unsupportable strains on the nation’s health services. So hyperbole doesn’t help. The cure is not, as Faria noted, worse than the disease.
What will move the nation forward is an effort by the private business sector to collaborate more effectively with planned public sector monitoring and approvals processes to resume business in ways that meet or exceed government’s requirements for business operation to limit the possibility of spread.
On Friday, the Ministry of Health issued formal guidelines, based on recommendations by the World Health Organisation, for resuming business operations in a way that reduces the risk of spread. Some of these guidelines will require physical adaptation of existing company layouts, which are normally designed to maximise the use of space.
The government will also be creating compliance teams, which are still largely to be identified, hired and trained, to ensure that these new business requirements, demanded of all businesses, from SMEs to corporations, are implemented adequately before and after the resumption of in-office work. This oversight project should proceed as an extension of existing occupational safety and health regimes, which have traditionally been under-resourced, to create a sustainable system of compliance until the novel coronavirus is brought to heel by medical science. The government has responded to the very real-world complaints of private taxi owners who will be called on to transport workers at half-capacity by announcing a one-time $2,000 grant to meet the shortfall in income.
Clearly the government cannot extend that largesse to every business in operation in this country. The private sector must continue to develop responsive systems and business architecture to support remote work and reduce business movement.