Panic has already set in for business associations and chambers as the Government’s announcement of the shut down of non-essential businesses took them by surprise.
Some organisations told Guardian Media that they were concerned that there was a marked lack of details in the Government’s sudden announcement of the shut down of non-essential companies and for everyone else to stay at home.
The chambers and associations also say that there was no engagement with them before the Government made the announcement yesterday.
Chief executive officer (CEO) of the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce Gabriel Faria first commended the Government for their handling of the COVID-19 crisis but said that without consultation with the business community “you don’t know what you don’t know”.
“We recognise the reason that the Government has escalated the matter and the closure of non-essential services, our disappointment is that there was no engagement with the private sector,” he said.
“We are more disappointed that just yesterday (Wednesday) I was in a meeting with three ministers and I actually raised it as a point of concern and suggested that we tried to look at it proactively,” he said.
Faria said there was no indication then of what the Government had intended to do.
“The greatest strength people can bring is collaborating and understanding what they do not know,” he said.
“So I think our disappointment is not the decision to escalate, our disappointment is that since the press conference, the minute this was issued, I have received no less than a combination of 100 phone calls and messages and emails from people asking me how is this going to affect their business,” Faria said.
“We could have alleviated that if the Government had proactively engaged the business sector, not to do it in the background, but at least have a discussion and identify potential challenges,” he said.
Faria said there were businesses facing challenges “that I did not think about”.
He said that some businesses that may not be considered “essential” but they still have containers at the port to clear.
“Those containers and going to be cleared Monday or Tuesday next week, how is that going to be dealt with?” he asked.
Head of the Greater San Fernando Area Chamber of Commerce, businessman Kiran Singh said he and his members were also worried about the State’s announcement and lack of details.
“We have people who would close business on Friday and only find out then if they are considered essential and be allowed to open or be closed,” Singh said.
He said another worry was the current run on groceries and pharmacies.
“The ‘no more than 10 people in a space’ gone out the window,” he said.
“Panic buying going to create shortages and even though the ports will remain open there is not guarantee that the goods will be cleared on Monday or Tuesday,” he said.
Singh said that the shutdown may lead to a spike in the crime as private security may not be considered essential.
Head of the Arima Business Association, Reval Chattergoon added his praise to the Government’s handling of the COVID-19 virus but also took them to task for the new restrictions.
“It is my view that the sooner that we can get a handle on the virus is the faster that we return to normalcy,” he said.
Chattergoon said that people often dismissed the importance of Small and Medium Enterprises.
“But when you look at the amount of people that we employ and the effect that such a restricted access would have on them,” he said.
He said businesses were already dealing with drops in sales, even gas stations were facing a 30 per cent dip in sales.
“It is a cause for concern,” he said.