An employee of Passage to Asia Restaurant on Ariapita Avenue, Port-of-Spain, sanitises the display counter as they prepare for opening today.

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Businesses are hurting badly because of COVID-19 and the government is just not doing enough to help them, the American Chamber of Commerce of T&T has said.

AMCHAM T&T made the statement yesterday in response to the Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s announcement on Saturday that a phased re-opening of businesses will begin from today.

Among the businesses scheduled to reopen today are food establishments, while hardwares, electrical, and plumbing shops have been granted longer opening hours.

“We appreciate the caution being exercised at this point in the phased reopening. While we do not advocate for greater easing than has been announced at this point, the reality is that all businesses are hurting badly – most with zero sales in April and now zero for most of May. The Government’s interaction with businesses around support – both non-financial and financial – has been inadequate,” AMCHAM T&T stated.

“There are some other businesses that should be considered for exemptions to allow them to operate and we urge the Government to put in place a clear and transparent process for them to apply to do so,” it stated.

AMCHAM T&T said the government needs to take decisive action to ensure the country’s economic environment becomes more conducive for doing business.

“More broadly, the reason the Government did so well in managing the health side of the pandemic, is because they acted decisively, took responsibility, made decisions and turned those into action. For the country to recover from the dangerous economic winds swirling around us, they must now take responsibility, act quickly and decisively and collaboratively with stakeholders to make the economic environment more conducive to doing business and attracting investment,” it stated.

AMCHAM T&T lauded the government for its containment of COVID-19 in this country.

“The decisive measures, based on available data and science, that were taken to this point have undoubtedly saved countless lives and made the requirements of ‘total lockdown’ much shorter than if there had been significantly greater spread of the disease locally,” it stated.

However, AMCHAM T&T said the fact that fewer than 2,000 people in this country have been tested so far is “concerning”.

“What is a little more concerning is that fewer than 2,000 people have been tested so far. This means that an accurate assessment of risk is not entirely possible,” it stated.

According to the Ministry of Health’s 10 am daily COVID-19 update yesterday the number of unique patient tests completed was 1,966.

AMCHAM T&T’s chief executive officer Nirad Tewarie was among a group of this country ‘s private sector executives and labour leaders who wrote Prime Minister Dr Rowley on April 16 calling on him to convene and chair an emergency meeting of the National Tripartite Advisory Council (NTAC) to deal with the job loss expected to take place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rowley has not responded to that request as yet.

Dr Thackwray Driver the chief executive officer of the Energy Chamber of T&T who was one of the signatories of that letter said he believes now is the perfect time for a new relationship between the tripartite partners to be established.

“The Energy Chamber believes that the current crisis presents an excellent opportunity to forge a new relationship between the tripartite partners (business, labour and government),” Driver stated.

“An improved industrial relations environment is a prerequisite for long-term economic transformation and do not want to waste the opportunity that the current crisis presents, “ he stated.

General secretary of the Joint Trade Union Movement Ozzi Warwick who was also a signatory said the letter was a historic one because it showed business organisations and trade unions coming together recognising the crisis the country is facing.

Warwick said he expects Rowley to respond to the letter.