San Fernando has transformed within the last five years.
Dozens of businesses in the city have shut down and main shopping areas are dismal.
But with the national Budget just days away, San Fernandians are hopeful that financial injections into San Fernando Waterfront Development project and the Skinner Park upgrade will breathe new life into the city.
Speaking to Guardian Media, President of the Greater San Fernando Chamber of Industry and Commerce Keiran Singh said he wanted the waterfront project, in particular, to continue at a faster pace.
“The city is dead right now. We understand that the road network must be improved and upgraded before further development could take place. This waterfront project will generate income for workers and create added businesses as the project gains momentum,” Singh said.
He also expressed hope that the government will continue the salary relief grant and offer support to floundering small businesses.
“The Micro-Enterprise grant should also be given to assist the small entrepreneurs to survive,” Singh said. He also said he hoped that the Budget will include the development of the La Brea drydock facility.
“This could be a net foreign exchange earner and it will generate employment for former Petrotrin workers,” Singh said.
He noted that the sale of the refinery must be expedited as fast as possible.
“We know the Minister has to deal with a $15 billion deficit but we are also hoping that the government could remove taxes and duties on solar products which will reduce the demand on the electrical grid and demands on natural gas,” he added.
Meanwhile, chairman of the Schmidt Group of Companies Derek Smith said he wanted to see the continued development of the waterfront project, the Boardwalk and the upgrade to Skinner Park.
“Half of my wishlist is completed already as it relates to the waterfront. We want to have restaurants there and businesses associated with the fishing industry and the general upkeep of the King’s Wharf. This is a great initiative and I feel proud that this government is proceeding with the project,” Smith said.
But President of the San Fernando Business Association Daphne Bartlett said 20 per cent of the businesses in San Fernando had shut down in the past few years.
She too called for the conclusion of the sale of the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery, noting that this could save significant foreign exchange.
“As you know the closure of Petrotrin has impacted heavily on businesses. Thousands of jobs were lost and then we had COVID. San Fernando is dead. Every day it is like a Sunday in the city. Nobody is shopping and there is no activity,” she said.
She said that a road level store on High Street has always been in demand but two months ago a road level store was shut down and nobody has come forward to rent it.
Bartlett said she hoped the Budget will also cater for the development of Etek Parks so that commercial activity could be generated.
“Many stores especially the smaller ones have been closed. The smaller shops got hit the most, hairdressers, nail techs and small food places. In all we had about 20 per cent of total businesses in San Fernando closing down in the main street shopping areas,” she revealed.
Owner of Valinis Drugstore Valmiki Ramnarine also agreed that the city was dismal. But he contended that there was nothing that could be presented in the Budget that could bring back economic activity.
“What needs to be reviewed in San Fernando is a revision of Town and Country laws to encourage development in San Fernando. Private businesses could fuel growth but they need to overhaul the ancient Town and Country Planning laws,” Ramnarine said.
He said business people have bought up properties but were not living in them.
“We have to bring back people to live in the city. The waterfront will be good but that is a big sham. They don’t have that money to complete that project. They needed to encourage private developers to partner with government,” he said.
Before the general elections, MP for San Fernando East Faris Al-Rawi promised the continuation of several projects in the city which will bring thousands of jobs.
These are expected to continue as allocations will be made in the 2020-2021 fiscal budget which is being dubbed the “People’s Budget.”