FINANCE Minister Colm Imbert, on Tuesday, said additional help would be provided for small and medium businesses during the covid19 pandemic. Consideration will also be given to extending existing covid19 relief measures if necessary.
Imbert said, despite no increase in covid19 cases, "a very delicate balance" must been maintained between public health and business activity.
At a virtual news conference, Imbert said the first set of Value Added Tax (VAT) refunds, issued in cash, was "aimed specifically at helping small business."
On other measures to help small and medium businesses, Imbert said, "We are certainly looking at that.
"We are finalising the loan programme, this week, where the First Citizens Bank will be issuing soft loans to small businesses, small and medium enterprises, over a four-year period with a two-year moratorium on payments and the Government will be covering all of the interest."
He said the programme should be approved this week for immediate implementation.
"We are hoping that the other banks will fall in quickly, so people can go to their particular bank to get these soft loans."
That will help small and medium businesses with their operating expenses during the pandemic, remobilise and re-develop, Imbert explained. Credit unions will also be provided with $100 million that is "specifically designed for small businesses that have some relationship with credit unions."
Noting that some 15,333 salary relief grants have been paid by the ministry, Imbert said all covid19 relief measures were designed for a three-month period (April, May, June). Government will examine if there is a need to extend those measures and will not "leave it so."
On the phased reopening of the economy, Imbert said it was obvious the "longer it takes to completely and fully open the economy, the longer it will take for the economy to recover."
But Imbert added, "The last thing you want is our health system to be overwhelmed."
Imbert, a former health minister, said that was why some 300 Trinidad and Tobago nationals who were stranded on cruise ships during the pandemic must come home in batches and "not all at once. "
On the $2,000 fuel grant given last week to maxi-taxi operators, Imbert recalled that Dr Rowley did say "a facility will be extended to regular taxis."
He said, "We are working on that right now because the number of taxis is much more than maxi taxis."
He said taxis also consumed less fuel than maxi taxis.
Imbert referred statements by some taxi operators about increasing their fares to Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan. He said the distribution of fuel grants was being implemented by that ministry.
Imbert also said he was unaware of claims in the media of "ghost hotels" in Tobago. He said the Tobago House of Assembly was responsible for handling a sum of $50 million provided by his ministry to it for hotel and guest house owners to do repairs/upgrades on their facilities.