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MP Rushton Paray during a press conference yesterday.

As the retail sector gets set to reopen on August 16, Opposition MP Rushton Paray called on Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to meet with business heads this week to assist small and medium enterprises adversely affected by the lockdown.

Paray also pleaded with Government to pay all outstanding taxes owed to businesses to quickly help them get back on their feet.

Speaking at a UNC press conference yesterday, Paray said he was surprised that Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley did not hold his weekly press conference and left it up to Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh to inform the nation in his weekly COVID-19 update that the Government decided to reopen the retail sector next Monday.

In delivering the news, Paray said, Deyalsingh provided no clarity with regards to the retail sector which had to shut its doors in April due to the pandemic.

“Because you still have no word on whether bars, hairdressers and gym and so on will be opening. Nothing gave an indication of how these businesses are going to resume their operations.”

He said there were urgent and financial issues that could not have been addressed by Deyalsingh.

“The prime minister is the only national official who is ideally placed to respond to these serious economic matters. But the Prime Minister choose to hide in Tobago and not face the nation on these critical issues.”

He said dozens of businesses had to close due to a lack of economic activity, inability to service bank debts and pay workers and utilities, while a contracting economy led to thousands of workers being displaced.

Paray said no one knows how many businesses had to shut down or the number of workers who lost their jobs because the Central Statistical Office-the agency to provide these figures have been starved of resources.

While small and medium enterprises were going bankrupt, Paray said, banks were allowed to remain open.

The Government and Central Bank, Paray said, did not introduce policies to force banks to reduce their interest rates, provide loan moratoriums and support to affected businesses.

Against this backdrop, the Mayaro MP said the Government must assist the retail sector urgently.

He called on Rowley to meet with Minister of Finance Colm Imbert and Governor of the Central Bank Alvin Hilaire to mandate banks to set aside appropriate sums to offer working capital and cash flow to corporate clients.

“That sum should be primarily dedicated to providing loans as requested to the retail sector on the softest possible terms with suitable moratoriums and to renegotiate existing loans, reduce credit card charges for a stipulated period, offer increase overdrafts and asset financing.”

Paray said banks should possibly waiver as many fees as possible and implement overall financial flexibility for six months.

“Also the prime minister must also instruct the Finance Minister to assist SMEs and displaced workers and to implement an official programme to disburse the funds.”

He said “the aim should be to have disbursements concluded within 30 days. The Minister of Finance and the prime minister must meet with all business organisations…don’t send the Minister of Energy. Meet with the heads of all business organisations within the next week and seek their counsel and guidance on how best the private sector can confront and ride out this economic impasse.”

Meanwhile, the Central Bank has responded to a criticism of the Central Bank Governor Dr Alvin Hilaire by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar which was published in the Sunday Guardian.

The Bank said, “The Central Bank would like to thank persons for taking the time to tune in to our recent financial stability webinar and sharing their feedback on our work. One key aspect presented at that webinar involves the need for urgent legislative reforms to private pensions. In this regard, the Bank looks forward to strong parliamentary support toward such reforms in the interest of the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.”