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Energy Minister Stuart Young, second from left, third row, chairs the meeting between the Government and resentatives of various business organisations to discuss Covid-19 related business concerns, yesterday.

RADHICA DE SILVA

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Business owners in San Fernando are asking the Government to assist with utility expenses, in light of high overhead costs including rental demands.

The call was made by the president of the Greater San Fernando Chamber of Commerce Kiran Singh during a meeting with Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon and Energy Minister Stuart Young.

Singh, who had earlier predicted a 25 per cent permanant closure of businesses in south Trinidad, said electricity remains a large budget item.

“Despite several appeals, T&TEC has not given any concessions. We know that power usage requires a commitment to pay with which we have complied. Commercial landlords, in particular, continue to feel the negative impact of high reserve requirements and rates although there is zero business activity,” he said. He noted that last year residential landlords were given Rent Relief Grants.

“Commercial landlords received no help. In the majority of cases, before landlords were even asked to assist in shouldering the financial burden, rents were reduced to assist tenants. It must be remembered that ‘brick and mortar establishments generate a multitude of expenses from mortgages, loans, utilities, security personnel and insurance which must be paid regardless of occupancy levels,” Singh said.

Noting that insurance companies showed compassion last year, Singh said this year no relief measures have been announced.

“We are pleading for a three-month premium deferral,” Singh said.

He noted that the utilisation of the surplus funds allocated to the commercial banks for the SME sector remains unused.

“The Government issued a TT$300 millon tranche to the commercial banks last year for soft loans within the SME sector. Approximately one-third of that sum was taken up. We are aware that the Government’s balance of payments is in an unhealthy position,” he said.

He noted that smaller businesses are wary of high interest rates as well as hidden charges imposed by banks on customers.

Singh recommended that surplus funds be redirected to service VAT refunds.

“ All taxpayers are required to file and pay taxes promptly and failure to do so results in the imposition of penalties and interest charges. We are only asking for what is owed to us to be paid on time. Cash flow is the lifeblood of all businesses. VAT refunds will certainly aid in the survivability of many small businesses,” he added.

He also proposed an entrepreneurial Relief Grant from Nedco.

“ Financial services offered by Nedco should be more heavily advertised in print, electronic and social media. The micro-enterprise sector is in desperate need of financial assistance and is largely unaware of the services accessible through Nedco,” he added.

Singh also called for incentives to boost local e-commerce.

“ At present, online purchases from foreign merchants continue unabated. Local businesses feel somewhat disadvantaged by this. Local business can operate in an online environment but because they are not classified as essential businesses, they are prohibited from delivering goods during the SoE. This has engendered an unfair competitive advantage. An equitable fair trade environment is needed in which local entrepreneurs are allowed to sell online and deliver merchandise,” he added.

Singh was among several business leaders who met with Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon on Wednesday.