Business chambers hope SoE serves as ‘wakeup call’ to the disobedient

In this file photo these elderly men chose not to wear their masks properly as they hung out at the Brian Lara Promenade in Port of Spain on May 6. Photo by Sureash Cholai
In this file photo these elderly men chose not to wear their masks properly as they hung out at the Brian Lara Promenade in Port of Spain on May 6. Photo by Sureash Cholai

THE presidents of the Supermarket Association and three chambers of commerce/business associations are hoping the state of emergency (SoE) will finally get those who have been disobeying public health regulations to comply.

The Prime Minister announced the decision on Saturday afternoon and it was subsequently proclaimed by President Paula-Mae Weekes hours later.

It will include a daily curfew from 9 pm to 5 am.

President of the Greater San Fernando Area Chamber of Commerce Kiran Singh told Newsday the Government had no choice given the rapidly increasing number of covid19 cases.

He said he believes the majority of the population are trying their best to take all the necessary precautions, but “as usual, there are a few within the society who continue to break the protocol to cause this increase.

“The fact that we have community spread is what is making it difficult to keep this virus from spreading. And the fact that we now have the Brazilian strain (P1) which wasn’t present before.”

Naturally, he said, a state of emergency causes the economy to “grind to a halt,” as the retail sector is “basically at zero."

He said it is worrying.

“We remain hopeful that the grants and so on promised by the Minister of Finance (Colm Imbert) gets to those who would be affected by the fallout. There are a lot more people who are suffering now more than ever before since the onset of the pandemic on our shoes.”

Asked if he agrees with some social media users who said the SoE should have been implemented sooner, he said, “This allows the military now to be out in full force to remind citizens that they have to remain home and that they are to only be out for work or to get groceries, make market or get medication.

“And the military is not the police. They are certainly more strict and serious. I hope citizens understand what it means to be under a SoE.”

He said a number of businesses in San Fernando, though essential services, have opted to close until case numbers are under control.

“This goes to show that business owners and entrepreneurs have seen that the almighty dollar is not what we are after, it is the safety of lives. That is of paramount concern to everyone. Nobody should be knocking down the government and saying there shouldn’t be a SoE. What else are they going to do?”

President of the Chaguanas Chamber of Industry and Commerce Richie Sookhai shared similar sentiments. He said he sees the need for such a drastic measure to be taken owing to the indiscipline of some people.

He said, “It is unfortunate that the members of the population are not adhering to the safety protocols so the spread (of the virus) is still taking place.

“I mean, within a week’s time I don’t think we are going to see any major, drastic changes but if that is the case and numbers are still rising, we will definitely have to look at further restrictions going forward…And for businesses, they will again have to suffer an additional time where they need to keep their doors closed.”

He too said the SoE should have been declared sooner but said he does not fault the Government.

President of the Supermarket Association Rajiv Diptee said the general agreement among supermarket owners thus far is closing a bit earlier than usual.

He said this is to allow for cleaning and sanitising of the building, preparing for the following day while leaving adequate time for their employees to return home before 9 pm.

"In the interest of a streamlined operation, most of my members have indicated a lock-off time of 7 pm. Some may have a bit of a difference so Massy Stores, for example, is closing at 6.30 pm…

“So, depending on where the store is located and if most of the staff members are from the area, you could get away with a little bit later. But if they are coming from all over then they have to close by 6.30 pm or 7.30 pm.

“Nothing major really changes for us. There was no where to go after hours anyway.”

Arima Business Association president Reval Chattergoon said he agrees with the decision, especially having recently issued a press release calling for even stricter restrictions.

“We were very fearful we would have ended up here. We take no goodwill in saying that we are here now.

“There are a lot of people dying through the irresponsibility of a few. The SoE – I don’t see that the government of the day had any other option because our healthcare system is under dire strain. If you talk to any healthcare worker, you could feel their frustration.”

On Friday, the association issued a statement and suggestions for financial relief.

It said it “notes that while few were able to access the SME loan, the one-time loan disbursement was insufficient to cover costs for which the loan was intended.”

Its suggestions included: Offering cheaper moratoriums than in 2020, reducing interest charges for loans, credit cards and bank overdrafts by at least 50 per cent, waving the tax or penalty for accessing at least 50 per cent of pension or annuity funds early and suspending the disconnection of utilities and waiving penalties for late payment of same.

Other suggestions were to waive all penalties on statutory payments for at least six months, removing VAT on specific vitamins and supplements that provide immune support, offering tax credit of 100 per cent on all purchases of renewable energy generation sources to alleviate the burden on utility companies, charging businesses at the residential utility rates, offering SME grants to assist businesses with repurposing their companies, and implementing small business stimulus measures for at least one year instead of three to four months.


"Business chambers hope SoE serves as ‘wakeup call’ to the disobedient"

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