In the past 14 months, businesses across T&T have taken a huge hit and have all but begged the Government to give them a seat at the table to hear their perspective on how the crisis wrought by the COVID-19 could be better handled, to ensure some equity and fairness in how the measures were dispensed.
But lockdowns came with no input from business, although the private sector accounts for a huge portion of employment generation in this country not only directly, but indirectly.
Yesterday, Downtown Owners and Merchants Association president Gregory Aboud told CNC3’s The Morning Brew, “There have been zero consultations. Nobody is interested in hearing our point of view. No one is interested in discussing strategies. No one is interested in finding solutions that include the contribution of the business community in trying to liberate this country from the COVID pandemic.”
That note of despair was echoed by T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce CEO Gabriel Faria, who told Guardian Media, “Many businesses were holding out, they went into a space of hibernation, they would have given up their rental spaces, laid-off workers temporarily - with the hope that by the middle of this year, things would have gotten back to normal.” But the lockdown extension to July 4 announced by Prime Miniter Dr Keith Rowley last Saturday, Faria said, all but dashed those hopes and “dozens of people reached out in a state of despair, saying they cannot continue.”
Both men were clear the business sector was not asking for anything that is not in the interest of the country; all they want was the opportunity to meet and discuss a safe, limited reopening of businesses.
Lockdowns have led to business closures, with many others unable to reopen, throwing more citizens on the breadline. Many workers were sent home without pay, unable to pay bills, or provide for their families
While it is true the state has graciously agreed to some grants, the length of time it takes to access those facilities means some may not access them before it’s too late.
It is with some ray of hope then that one looks to the decision by the PM yesterday that a ministerial team will finally sit with the heads of T&T’s major business organisations in a collaborative effort to collectively combat the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic with a view to economic recovery and growth.
While this conversation is long overdue and had it been done earlier, could have made the world of difference on where the country and economy is today, the reality is that it is necessary. We hope, therefore, that this is a starting point and that the lines of communication remain open in the interest of the country.
This is not just about the government but it’s a situation for all hands-on deck and what better way to do so than to have the best minds in the country come together, the men and women responsible for billion-dollar businesses and thousands of jobs, who lead successful enterprises and whose skill and acumen are needed now more than ever.