THE Downtown Owners and Merchants Association (DOMA) said yesterday its members, as well as companies outside Port of Spain, are disappointed and fearful following the announcements made by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley regarding the phased reopening of businesses.
Following is a shortened version of DOMA’s statement:
A cross-section of our country’s merchant sector has responded in unison and in fear of serious ramifications if, as we understand it, the merchant retail sector, which includes malls, are required to remain closed until after June 7.
We wish to signal immediately that we emphatically appreciate the Government’s efforts and initiatives to date and applaud especially the Covid-19 response of the Ministry of Health and its team, led by our Minister of Health and the CMO (Chief Medical Officer), for it’s steadfast leadership and hard work.
We are however under obligation to respectfully inform the national discussion with feedback from our sector, a network of establishments that represents more that 30,000 employees across our towns and cities, and including the major participants in suburban shopping centres.
Cracks are beginning to show in the financial well-being of this sector and its supply chain, and we feel that we have a case for urgent consideration.
We have received calls this afternoon from the following sub-sectors:
• furniture and appliance retailers and distributors
• wood-working shops that produce for furniture retailers
• footwear and clothing shops and boutiques
• small garment manufacturers that sell to retail shops
• fabric and accessory suppliers, including upholstery shops
• small garment makers who cannot access raw materials from fabric and accessory suppliers, especially as it relates to the opportunity to produce face masks
• fashion designers and home sewers.
• mall operators
• mall tenants
• auto garages and shops.
The common denominator of the majority of the calls were related to the inability to carry, for another month, the fixed cost overheads that have been carried since March 12 when sales in the sector began plummeting by up to 70 per cent.
By the time that the shutdown came on March 24, 100 per cent of revenue was lost in support of the measures needed to protect the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
Often forgotten by the economists and academics is a sector of this country’s economy that carries the employment interests of tens of thousands of persons who have commitments that include basic cost of living—rent, electricity, child support, hire purchase, etc.
We have zero intention of quarrelling with the Government. Instead, this is a plea from a sector too long misunderstood and marginalised as non-contributors to the nation’s economy. There has been very limited appreciation of the vital link between a multitude of producers and cottage industries and the end consumers via this sector. We are the foot soldiers of this economy, down in the trenches day in and day out and from this sector has come almost all of our nations greatest champions of business including our conglomerates.
Should our reasonable plea for respectful consideration of some limited operational hours under Phase 1 or for the latest Phase 2 not be agreeable to the authorities we wish to urgently request our Governments intervention in the following areas.
Bank Interest; The deferral of principal has actually caught many business people in an ‘interest-trap’ – if because of a cash-flow shortage the business accepts the bank deferral it is actually facing punitive increases in interest charges increasing their fixed costs and further depleting their funds. In the absence of any help from the banking sector we wish to request intervention by the Ministry of Finance via the Central Bank in the form of an interest subsidy on business loans. This interest subsidy is a cornerstone of the intervention of the Governments of Canada and the UK being lauded as vital to business survival.
T&TEC Reserve Capacity; Businesses with T&TEC commercial Rate D1 meters are being charged for the electricity that they are not using. We wish to request immediate relief for all T&TEC reserve capacity charges and reversal where it has been applied already.
Commercial Rent; Payment of even 50 per cent of rent is depleting the funding of small and medium business operators and placing incredible strain on mall owners that have major mortgage commitments.
We humbly submit that allowing those businesses listed above and who have voiced their desperate concerns to us to operate under limited hours will satisfy both of the above objectives. Failing this allowance we wish to implore urgent consideration of the reasonable measures for Government intervention as outlined above.