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DOMA President Gregory Aboud.

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Businesses are continuing to take a financial hit as COVID-19 infections and deaths continue to climb.

So said the president of the Downtown Owners and Merchants Association (Doma) Gregory Aboud, who yesterday again called on the Government to discuss solutions and strategies with the business community as it relates to the management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking on CNC3’s The Morning Brew yesterday, Aboud expressed disappointment that the Government had failed to consult with the business community.

“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,” Aboud said.

But when asked who from the Government had rebuffed them, Aboud admitted that Doma had never reached out to the Government because it did not feel it was Doma’s place to do so.

“I don’t know why you think it’s our duty to make an approach. I would imagine that in normal circumstances whoever has his hand on the wheel would be the one interested to consult and it wouldn’t be us pestering anybody to be consulted,” Aboud said.

He added, “We appreciate the difficulty that the Government faces and the job they did to guide the country through perilous times. We don’t envy the job. But we also know that two heads are better than one.”

Saying the COVID crisis was deep, Aboud said many retail operators no longer had the finances they had during the last lockdown.

He said deferrals on loans did not mean loan forgiveness, noting that a huge sub-sector of the business community had rents to pay. With no income flowing in because of the lockdown, Aboud said many business operators were finding themselves in further debt.

Likening the COVID-19 pandemic as a slave master that had the entire country enslaved with restrictions, Aboud said it was time for harsher measures to be taken in the short-term so that the lockdown will not continue in the long-term.

“We are suggesting more early drastic measures be taken so the prolonged nature of these arrangements can be circumvented and we will not have the difficulty of a long period of restriction. We want to take medicine early in a severe dose, rather than to take it in smaller amounts and have the economy locked down for too long,” he said.

He also used Barbados, Grenada and St Lucia as examples of how the pandemic should be handled. At every step the business community in those communities was consulted, he added.

Aboud further said, “These countries took swift harsh action and escaped from the serious situation. They have reopened the economies. They have an additional feature where the borders are opened to allow those who want to go away and if they become vaccinated with both vaccines, then that vaccine passport becomes their immediate point of exemption to come back to their country.”

He noted that if Government does this, it will reduce its national burden for vaccinations. Aboud also said all the countries that emerged successful in the handling of the pandemic had consulted with the labour and business sectors.

He reiterated that businesses were under immense pressure and felt disconnected from the policies that were being rolled out by the Government.

Govt to meet business bodies tomorrow

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has appointed Energy Minister Stuart Young to host a meeting with some of his Government colleague and representatives of various business organisations to discuss COVID-19-related business concerns.

The Government made the announcement in a release yesterday, saying the meeting is carded to take place virtually tomorrow from 10 am.

The Government Ministers who will be in attendance are Minister of Trade and Industry Paula Gopee-Scoon, Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan, Minister of Sport and Community Development Shamfa Cudjoe, Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Randall Mitchell, and Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh.

The following entities have been invited to attend: T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce; T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce – Tobago Division; T&T Manufacturers’ Association; The American Chamber of Commerce T&T; Confederation of Regional Business Chambers; Downtown Owners and Merchant Association and Supermarket Association of T&T.

The Government said it looks forward to the continued collaboration with the business community to collectively combat the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic with a view toward economic recovery and growth.