Reval Chattergoon, president of the Arima Business Association (ABA).

President of the Arima Business Association (ABA), Reval Chattergoon, is calling on Government to commit to implementing stimulus measures for the small and medium enterprise sector for at least a year, to help with the country’s economic recovery post COVID-19.

In an official statement issued today, the ABA president presents 10 recommendations which he believes would be beneficial to the sector as well as citizens in general, given that any further restrictions bring financial implications to citizens and businesses alike.

Mr Chattergoon notes that the Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) stimulus loan (TT$300 million facility) offered in 2020 by the Minister of Finance was too bogged down by bureaucracy to be effective, an observation the Minister himself made.

“The ABA 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,” Mr Chattergoon said.

He is recommending a review of the ranges of annual revenues required to access the SME loan and the loan amounts available to the businesses falling within the requisite annual revenue range.

“Given the decline in sales since the onset of the pandemic in Trinidad and Tobago and impending closure of some businesses due to the current wave of COVID-19, these ranges require review with consideration given to small businesses impacted by public health ordinances implemented in 2020,” said.

He adds: “Consideration should also be given for the undersubscribed SME loan to be used as concession on interest routed through financial institutions/banks for existing business loans. These institutions would already have the information of respective businesses and therefore simplifies the process of accessing relief while maintaining their accountability of the funds.”

The following is the 10-point plan put forward by the ABA for Government’s consideration:

1. Offering cheaper moratoriums than those offered in 2020 in which interest, if not settled, was added to the loan’s principal, and compounded. This resulted in increased monthly instalments after the moratorium ended and hardship for borrowers seeking relief.

2. Reducing interest charges for loans, credit cards and bank overdrafts by at least 50 percent. While the banking sector would initially make less than the normal hundreds of millions in profits annually, a reduction in interest charges would facilitate the survival of business from which these institutions can earn future revenue.

3. Waving the tax or penalty for accessing at least 50% of pension or annuity funds early thereby assisting individuals to unlock a substantial amount of their savings during this pandemic and not be dependent on the Government for financial assistance.

4. Suspending the disconnection of utilities and waiving penalties for late payment of same.

5. Waiving all penalties on statutory payments for at least six months.

6. Removing VAT on specific vitamins and supplements that provide immune support and or aid with boosting an individual’s immune system.

7. Offering tax credit of 100% on all purchases of renewable energy generation sources to alleviate the burden on utility companies.

8. Charging businesses at the residential utility rates given that there is little to no added value for being charged at commercial rates.

9. Offering SME grants to assist businesses with repurposing their companies to further digitize operations.

10. Implementing small business stimulus measures for at least one year instead of a period of three to four months. If and when the curve is flattened, it would take time after businesses reopen to return to its former/pre-Covid state or some level of normalcy.

Mr Chattergoon also saluted the efforts and sacrifice of national healthcare and frontline workers, and notes that given the huge spike in COVID-19 cases, the Association expects that “further restrictions are imminent”.

“We would continue to support the Government on any measures aimed at preserving lives even if this amounts to imposing a curfew or state of emergency,” he stated.

“We hope that, with over 700 members of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service currently in quarantine, the Defence Force would be called to assist if necessary…  We urge our burgesses and communities to adhere to the guidelines outlined by the Ministry of Health and to stay safe.”