Small Business owner

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Finance Minister Colm Imbert has said the Government will be providing further support to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) through a $300m loan programme.

This is part of Government’s relief programme to offset the negative impact of COVID-19 and the entire programme is expected to cost the country $6 billion.

The SME assistance has come on the heels of concerns from the business community that SMEs were not receiving adequate financial support from the Government while public health restrictions remain in place.

Imbert who was speaking at a press conference hosted by the Ministry of Health explained that Government will subsidise all the interest and part of the collateral as well on these loans.

“We can’t guarantee 100 per cent because it would mean small business could walk away without paying the loans and that will just be a hit on taxpayers,” Imbert said.

The loans will be provided through State-owned Bank First Citizens, hence the interest rate can be controlled, Imbert said.

He said micro-enterprises will also be given additional support in terms of grants, as it is understood that they are less able to stand the shocks of these times.

Imbert said the loans will be for payroll support and he will give further details next week.

Under the current arrangements, the minister said, small and medium enterprises were defined as organisations that had an annual turnover of $20 million per year at the higher end.

The business community like the T&T Chamber which has been very vocal for the survival of SMEs however, called on Imbert to provide further details.

Saying while he is happy SMEs is getting more help, Chamber CEO Gabriel Faria however, added, “We anxiously look forward to hearing the details and hearing who will qualify and when businesses will actually get money in their hands. My concern is the Government takes too long to move from saying to doing,”

Faria also waded in Imbert’s statements that $700m in outstanding vat refunds have been paid in cash with another $3 billion to be paid in VAT bonds.

“This money was promised since October last year. So six months later 15 per cent has been paid. I would like to get some more details on how quickly they could expedite the balance.”

Faria added that Government must also understand that repayment of an interest free loan from the private sector is not a fiscal package.

The Chamber CEO also advised Government that while the country may survive COVID-19, “if the cure is not properly administered it could destroy us economically.”