Bar owners ask gov't for secured loans

Bar Owners Association of Trinidad and Tobago (BOATT) president Teron Mohan speaking to the media at Hutt Shuts bar in Tacarigua. - SUREASH CHOLAI
Bar Owners Association of Trinidad and Tobago (BOATT) president Teron Mohan speaking to the media at Hutt Shuts bar in Tacarigua. - SUREASH CHOLAI

BARS are no longer about rumshop culture. The business ties into sports and leisure, employs over 20,000 people, and earns the State about $1 billion in annual revenue, playing a key role in the economy, stakeholders have charged.

The Barkeepers and Owners Association's president Teron Mohan, its PRO Anil Maharaj and vice-president Sataish Moonesar held a media conference on Friday, to appeal to government for loans, among other reasons.

They also strongly denounce any suggestions that bars played a significant part in the recent surge of covid19, attributed to community spread.

In addition to dozens of bars that have already closed permanently since the first lockdown in March, the association also argued that the country will struggle to cope with the repercussions of rising unemployment, as more bars are sure to follow.

The bars are now a month into another set of restrictions.While they can open, customers are required to leave the premises after making a purchase. That, many argue, is fine for liquor marts and grocery stores, but not for bars and lounges that cater to seated customers.

"Most of the bars cannot see the feasibility in opening," Maharaj said. "The costs to the overheads far surpass the revenue they were making on a daily basis."

Stressing the annual revenue earned by the State, Maharaj said it is telling that, so far, the association has recorded the permanent closure of 55 bars.

Bar Owners Association of Trinidad and Tobago (BOATT) president Teron Mohan middle flanked by public relations officer Anil Maraj (left) and vice president Satesh Moonasar at press conference at Hutt Shuts bar in Tacarigua. - SUREASH CHOLAI

"These are tax-paying outlets," Maharaj said. This has resulted in a $1 million loss in revenue for the State."

He added that owing to the present "grab-and-go" restrictions, 65 per cent of outlets are closed at present and about a third of those are likely to close permanently.

"When these bars close, this will just add to an already burdened economy."

Because of this, he said, the association is asking the State to intervene by providing bars with government-secured loans. It said the loans that the government is offering small businesses through First Citizens do not apply to the industry, or at least bars that have a gaming account and pay a gaming tax.

They said it would also be unfair to expect bars to pay full gaming taxes for the year when they were closed or their gaming machines barred from use for an extended period.

"So it's a need for the change of the overall system. And that is what we're calling on the government to discuss...with us.

"Gone are the days of the rumshop-style business. We now have sports and entertainment centres (where) once you're over 18, you're allowed to come in. So it's no longer the days of older people intoxicated and having a ball," Maharaj said. "That is a perception that the government and public have of us. We intend on changing that. In the coming months, you will see a drastic change."

Bars were originally ordered closed for three months during the first lockdown, which closed all non-essential businesses.

With respect to public health, the association said there were several other overlooked areas that might be responsible for the upsurge in covid19 cases locally.

"When bars reopened after the (first shutdown), so were beaches, rivers, and not forgetting we had a general election campaign. These are all in totally uncontrolled environments, whereas (with) bars, we operate (in) a totally controlled environment.

"People are finding ways of entertaining themselves now – and they are all in breach of the regulations. We have issues with Bayside (Towers). We have issues with people at their private beach. And all these are in breach of the regulations. And we have bars and restaurants being blamed and accused wrongly.

He said this has resulted in an upsurge in the illegal sale of alcohol, which is revenue lost for the government.

The association was formed in April, it said, out of a need to have bar owners' voices heard. It now has about 1,000 members and said it continues to grow rapidly.

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