Daly Bread: Re-opening a bonito economy; continue cautiously but don’t forget the ‘small man’

EPL Infrafred Sauna

As is now plainly apparent, the working poor consists of those in low paid jobs and many of the self-employed, whose work is a hustle. They are being crushed.

In addition to those in the food business, we must therefore identify the vulnerable groups among the self- employed. Putting them back to work should receive priority consideration for re-opening the economy on a carefully phased basis. Self-employed persons comprise a self-reliant sector deserving of special attention.

Photo: Entrepreneur Rudd Gonzales (right) gives a customer a haircut at Cuts ‘R’ Us in St James.
(via Cuts ‘R’ Us)

It must be re-emphasised that we have public administration deficiencies and we lack both data about economic activity and independent institutional strength. Consequently, the vast sums touted as set aside for government-provided relief are not promptly reaching those in need who are not in formal employment. The relief may never get to them.

This deficiency is stark in the operations of the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services, where it is apparent that only a minority of the applications submitted for support have been processed. Without reliable data, any ‘verification’ of self-employed claims is likely to facilitate an abuse of political power.

Two weeks ago I wrote: “The deadly economic strike of Covid-19 on the lives of the hustling/working poor was immediate simply because citizens in that group can only manage to live from day to day and have little or no savings. The result is that these citizens and their children are currently suffering from hunger.”

This is incredibly so after the pile of money that has passed through the Treasury.

Last week I asserted that ‘things were too nice for the majority of the haves to be bothered. The pandemic has brutally unmasked the extremely fragile situation of the poor’. One distinguishing feature of the haves is the savings and assets that they have, or should have, from the profits of their businesses in the years of gushing oil and gas wealth.

As is well known, the working poor have no savings. Bonito can be tasty and a quarter of the price of king fish. Wood fire is free. On some of the coasts of Trinidad, smoked bonito, if you can get it, and some wild growing plantain or green fig is now the main course of the survival menu. This is symbolic of the straight jacket of inequality.

Photo: The bonito fish.

By contrast, it is disheartening to hear the hysterical accusations of certain sectors of the haves in the big business community against the government’s careful phasing of the re-opening of business and to feel their apparent lust for business as usual.

The ‘bonito economy’ undermines the cry of these big business haves that they ‘cannot last another month’ if their businesses remains closed. As they say, ‘gimme a break’.

After the style of French Queen, Marie Antoinette, these blind mice—unaware of conditions on the ground—might say in dismissal of the working poor: ‘let them eat cat fish, nuh’.

Of course the re-opening of business is a source of re-employment, but there are important considerations weighing against an unqualified re-opening. The government and health experts have fully articulated the risk of a second wave of disease. However, subject to strict mask and sanitisation requirements, we must carefully re-examine the dire situation of those self-employed individuals now restricted by regulations, who are not in line to benefit from NIS registration.

I draw comfort from the submission of the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research (CAFRA), reportedly made to the Road to Recovery Committee, regarding socio-economic and gender inequalities, which may lead to ‘widespread insecurity and instability from which no one will be immune’.

CAFRA referred to the precariousness of life of those ‘without secure income and savings’: “It was also shocking the numbers of working people and their dependents who face hunger after two to three weeks of lockdown.”

Photo: Watermelon vendor Mickey ‘Dallas’ Rambally shares his views on 23 April 2020 about agricultural life and his joy in feeding not only the east coast but the ‘rich people who does drive all de way down here with dey big big cars to buy we watermelon’.
Rambally was killed at that same shack, two weeks later, on 3 May.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

Hopefully the preponderance of super capitalists and ‘same old’ establishment figures on the Committee will understand the CAFRA submission and provide a plan to extend credible social safety net protection to bona fide self-employed individuals—known in some case studies as ‘own account workers’.

Many of them already fall outside the income tax net and need not fear if asked to register for an expanded NIS.

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About Martin Daly

Martin Daly
Martin G Daly SC is a prominent attorney-at-law. He is a former Independent Senator and past president of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago. He is chairman of the Pat Bishop Foundation and a steelpan music enthusiast.

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