ONE LAW FOR THE RICH…
The firm border closure was lifted to permit big businessman Derek Chin to fly in from the United States.
On that same day, some poor people, seeking Covid-19 reprieve in a beach bath, were arrested – and later charged – for breaching the pandemic lockdown.
Chin was quarantined at the luxurious Cascadia Hotel – cordoned off on a floor, no less – while others had been kept in rundown facilities branded by the daily press as “cramped” and “rat-infested.”
Working class Trinidadians and Tobagonians trapped outside of the country – including students in India – have been instructed by Security Minister Stuart Young to “stay put.”
Travel is “limited to essential and emergency travel only,” Young had said, as he refused to open the doors to 33 elderly nationals who were holed up in Barbados, with limited funds and medication.
The minister became agitated and hinted darkly that the Barbadian authorities were colluding with the marooned Trinis, prompting outrage from that country’s Foreign Ministry and most prominent newspaper.
“The Minister of National Security seems to bring his youthful legal appetite for confrontation to his ministerial role,” Barbados Today declared.
Young has also held tough against stranded and struggling Trinis in Suriname and Margarita.
Frustrated students in far-off India are stuck in a hostel with little food and less money.
But, without fuss, the curtains were lifted for Chin, who even attracted sympathetic media coverage for giving a ride on an empty aircraft to a national trapped abroad.
That obvious bias along the corridors of power was also evident in re-opening of business operations by heavy-rollers – including the fast food sector – while tormented small investors are in their death throes.
Under pressure to aid small ventures, Finance Minister Colm Imbert said, with a straight face, that they had received tax refunds.
Imbert ignored the fact that the tax money was the business people’s own working capital, which, in many cases, they were owed for several years and, with inflation, is now worth less.
Cholesterol-laden chicken-and-chips – in a land in which one-third of nationals suffer lifestyle diseases – was considered more essential than native small and micro-enterprises, owned and operated by ambitious common people.
And even among fast food operators, well-connected figures were given a head start above an innovative entrepreneur with an indigenous product and total local ownership.
While small service providers, traders, distributors and retailers remain closed, big businesses are invading their areas of enterprise.
For example, a large supermarket chain has expanded its stock of stationery, which would doubtlessly affect small office supply stores when they eventually throw open their doors.
The government has ignored appeals of the national business organisation for tax deferrals and other relief measures to permit small entrepreneurs “to weather the storm.”
“The government has an excellent way of talking and a horrible way of doing,” said the Chamber boss.
He added: “If you’ve closed someone’s business down and you give them nothing and you don’t speak to them, that’s the opposite of empathy.”
Commercial banks are also nailing the small man, offering moratoriums on loans instead of providing debt relief that Imbert solemnly promised.
And even with that pause in payments, the working masses are being made to dish out legal fees for modified contracts and double interest charges on deferred loans.
For their part, banks are benefiting significantly from reduced reserve requirements and repo rate.
Offenders include taxpayer-owned First Citizens, a successor to National Commercial Bank, which was set as a “people’s institution” after the 1970 Black Power revolution.
Expect the banks to pocket even more profits during the current fiscal year.
The working masses, including the elderly and infirm, are enduring 35-degree temperature in lengthy outdoor lines, awaiting banking services.
Much-touted government support for thousands of displaced workers is emerging at a painful trickle, unlike in many other countries, including Caricom neighbours, where many have benefited.
And while the small man struggles, Derek Chin’s easy return to the country is riddled with raw relevance about the generous benefits of social status in Trinidad and Tobago.