THE Prime Minister on Saturday said Government will provide an additional $30 million in relief to people negatively affected by the covid19 pandemic – $10 million for displaced bar and restaurant workers and $20 million for self-employed people with families.
At a news conference in Scarborough, Tobago, Dr Rowley said, since bars have been affected by the restriction of people congregating, "we need to bear a little bit of the burden they are bearing."
He said Finance Minister Colm Imbert will find $10 million "specifically to treat with employees who work in bars and restaurants and who have lost their jobs or who have suffered a reduction of their income."
Rowley said bars and restaurant owners who have lost or are losing their business, will be asked "to identify themselves to the money that we have made available for small business support and to access the generous small business support which is available to sustain their business going forward."
He promised applications will "be treated with some element of alacrity" and examined to ensure those genuinely in need of relief, get it. Rowley warned that smartmen and smartwomen, who may try to access this relief, would be handed over to the police.
He disclosed that Government discovered that some 5,000 people dishonestly tried to get money through the salary relief and rent relief grants where over $100 million was given to people who lost jobs during the pandemic.
Rowley said the actions of con artists, "caused those who qualify, to get their grants later or in some instances, not to get it all."
He said Imbert will also find an additional $20 million to help self-employed people "especially where children are involved."
Rowley observed many of these people were barely surviving on the margin because of covid19 and public servants should show empathy in treating with them. While there could be instances of smartmen and smartwomen "getting away," he said it is better this happen "than for children to go hungry in our population."
He declared, "If we ever catch up with the smartman or the smartwoman, hand them over to the police please. That is an instruction from the Prime Minister of TT." Rowley said citizens who have been relatively comfortable during the pandemic should note that "when you feed yourselves, you might be hurting families in this country, who do not know where the next meal is coming from."
The Public Service and state enterprises, he added, will not hold any Christmas office parties.
There was a mixed response to the new financial help from bar and restaurant owners.
Trotters restaurant group owner Peter George said, "Any step to help people is great." But he did not know if the $10 million allocation could treat with the 6,000 plus bar and restaurant workers in TT.
Bar Owners/ Bar Operators Association of TT interim president Teron Mohan said the relief was unacceptable.
Pub House owner John Quan said, "We need to see proof of who is receiving it." Pro Sports Bar owner Courtenay Legendre and Havanna Recreation Club and Hotel Owner Leno Forde welcomed the relief.
Forde said, "It is long overdue. There was no income for three months and it took a serious effect on my livelihood. I have to do my own bartending for hours because I could not pay my employees. I had to let go at least six of them until we come back to some sort of normalcy.
"I couldn't pay bills for some time, so I had to cut staff. I now only have a staff of myself and one other individual. For the longest time, my sales is basically to repurchase stock. It affected my family life and my ability to provide."
TT Chamber of Industry and Commerce CEO Gabriel Faria said, "We have been calling for support for these sectors for some time." But he shared George's concern about the quantum of relief for bar and restaurant employees.
Faria said the private sector will look at solutions such as virtual parties or delivering care packages to employees instead of physical Christmas gatherings.
Caribbean Association of Event Professionals president Roxanne Pantin said the Government should also consider helping the local events sector which has not reopened since March.
She said 20,000 people are employed directly and indirectly in this sector. Saying this sector did not only involve staging parties, Pantin listed caterers and hairdressers among other workers.
In his budget presentation in Parliament on October 5, Imbert said Government spent more than $4 billion of the estimated $6 billion it determined it would need through the pandemic.
He added this included 81,179 salary relief grants to 33,183 people, who lost their jobs or had their incomes reduced, amounting to $129.8 million; 2,818 grants to senior citizens, who had not received their senior citizens pension, with each grant equating to $1,500 in food support; $30 million to religious bodies for food distribution and cash grants of up to US$1,000 for 300 nationals stranded overseas.