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Diane Hadad

Tobago business sector representatives are calling for greater collaboration on the way forward in the management of the COVID-19 spread and also with the rebuilding of the economy.

They say while losses continue to mount, the promised Government assistance is yet to reach those in need, adding that the latest round of restrictions is creating uncertainty and further weakening an ailing private sector.

Tobago Chamber of Commerce head Diane Hadad said the reimposition of the restrictions creates an air of uncertainty, especially for the private sector, which has reported losses ranging from 45 to 60 per cent since last year. She described the scenario as unsustainable.

“People are struggling to pay rent, keep staff and to secure finance and refinancing. There are reports of frustrations and tension from dealing with the banks.”

Hadad said several business people have reported that the grants and assistance funding promised by the THA have “either never materialised or went to persons who do not need it.”

“There are even reports of people who did not deserve funding and the sums claimed were way out of whack in terms of people who are entrepreneurs and did not get any assistance or what they got could not help them get restarted,” Hadad said.

She said any assistance being provided by the THA should be discussed with the business sector to ensure it reaches those who need it. She said in Tobago, where the public sector outweighs the private sector, a lot is taken for granted in terms of how restrictions affect the lives of people.

“The public sector is taken care of by the taxpayers and the coffers that belong to the entire country, so they won’t feel the same way that the employees in the private sector feel. A lot of them are on reduced salaries, can’t pay their rent and feed their families.”

Hadad said many have been sent home and are facing eviction and foreclosure and the reintroduction of the restrictions creates additional “stress and uncertainty.”

Meanwhile, Tobago Business Chamber president Martin George said while he appreciates that the steps were taken to manage the spread of the virus, they will have a negative effect on the business sector.

“When you have this drastic stop and starts, it is devastating to business activity. It creates shocks throughout the entire business community because it’s difficult for business persons to be able to plan properly in terms of their staffing, in terms of their requirements and their needs and of course for expenses and income, these are also affected negatively if it is that you have a stop-start, stop-start scenario.”

George said he would prefer to see a “more gradual and graduated” type of increase in the restrictions and “more dialogue with the business community” as part of the response recovery process. He once again called on the Government to facilitate the reopening of the economy by prioritising vaccination in Tobago, which will in effect create a safety bubble that will allow business and the international border to reopen while Trinidad gets vaccinated.