Why have we been neglected in the budget?
This was the question raised by the Barkeepers & Operators Association of T&T following Monday’s budget presentation as it calls for a meeting with the Minister of Finance to discuss the industry’s future.
In a release on Thursday, the association said it “is deeply disheartened and dissatisfied with not being acknowledged in 2021 budget. This was blatant disrespect shown to over 20,000 employees in this sector, all affected with job loss and reduced income and business owners who are now facing bankruptcy due to compounded bills with little to no income for the past six months.”
The association said numerous attempts had been made to meet with the Ministry of Finance with little success while several recommendations offered for the 2021 budget “showing clearly where and how to increase compliance, generate revenue and create employment from the bar industry” were not taken.
Vice President of the Association Satesh Moonasar said the association is hoping their formal calls for meetings will be acknowledged, but they are growing frustrated with the lack of response.
“We haven’t had anything planned to engage them, like to go to the Parliament or anything that. We are to do it in a form fashion where we send letters, and have it work through the process we don’t want to have it reach to the point where we have to go and stand outside the Parliament or hold a protest or anything like that to get their attention. We are trying the formal approach to get the attention of the Minister,” he said.
“We will continue to try and to the point where we believe we need to take the next step and we will try our best to find a way to have some kind of communication with the Finance Minister because all we want is to work in hand with the government in order to charter a way forward for the industry.”
Bars have faced numerous restrictions over the course of the pandemic. Initially being closed outright from March 17, before being allowed to operate until 10 pm following a lifting of restrictions on June 22.
That was short-lived as bar hours were reduced to 8 pm one week later after excessive gatherings which breached public health guidelines occurred outside some bars and restaurants.
The operating hours were restored to 10 pm on July 20, which have remained in place despite the restrictions on in house dining and consumption of alcohol in bars being put in place from August 17.
“Since we have been reverted to the grab and go system now, the grab and go system is not something that is feasible for the bar sector. Being that the main thing in a bar is to actually sit and have a drink or have something to eat and socialise. So the grab and go system is something that does not work for every bar in Trinidad and Tobago” said Moonasar.
Moonasar said discourse was required concerning the gaming tax issue, to help bar owners, who missed out on close to six months of revenue remain compliant.
“We know that compliance to the gaming sector, according to how the information given by the Minister of Finance is low, so we gave certain recommendations on how we can be more compliant and be more accountable to the ministry of finance in terms of having gaming taxes paid on time on a regular basis,” he said.