Trinidad and Tobago was severely impacted by COVID-19 in 2021.
The virus not only led to the loss of lives but livelihoods and even forced those at the helm of businesses to make some tough decisions which included increasing the cost of their goods and services in a bid to keep their operations afloat.
Regrettably, this move compounded the pressure and stress citizens felt this year as prices increased for most necessities, in particular, food prices and transportation.
While many of those price hikes were blamed on international forces, such reasoning has done little to ease the financial burden placed on consumers—many of whom have been out of work for months due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Fortunately, the Government intervened by way of its 2022 Budget presentation, removing Value Added Tax on over 50 food items expanding its list of basic food goods which are zero-rated.
While the move was applauded by consumers for the savings it offered, it was quickly countered with notices from businessmen that the prices of other food items were still on the rise.
Just yesterday, the Minister of Trade and Industry Paula Gopee-Scoon on behalf of the Government, was forced to intervene and hold discussions with National Flour Mills after the company announced a hefty hike in the price of flour, ranging from 15 to 19 per cent.
The intervention of the Government has seen the move adjusted to a more palatable ten per cent and 17 per cent.
But more significantly, the Trade Minister also urged supermarkets and businesses, who use flour as the main ingredient in their products, to constrain raising their retail prices.
Indeed the need to exercise some restraint should be emphasised.
While it may be easy to mark up prices and have consumers dig deeper into their pockets to make a profit, businesses owners would do well to remember citizens too are feeling the squeeze.
The average citizen should not be forced to choose between feeding themselves and their families or paying a bill, which sadly has become a reality for many especially in the middle-class.
Aside from the physical and psychological toll COVID-19 has placed on the population, juggling finances have also impacted the psyche of citizens, who are made to weather all the storms that come with little to no change in their salaries.
The onus now rests on business owners to do as the Minister suggested and challenge themselves to find creative ways to conduct their operations efficiently and in a manner that would not impact the consumer, as much as possible.