“[…] We simply cannot continue like this without a massive fiscal intervention. My interviews last week were designed to get this message over to the policy makers and to the public.
“Unfortunately the message seems to have been either misinterpreted or misunderstood as being hostile… And [Noble Philip] says it is me that has ‘faux concerns’?…”
In the following Letter to the Editor, Peter George Jr, the owner of the Trent Restaurants Group which includes Trotters, responds to criticism of his own critiques on the government for a supposed lack of support to business in its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic:
The lockdown measures in Trinidad and Tobago have no doubt caused untold hardship to households and businesses alike.
In an attempt to mitigate the impact of these measures on incomes of those who have been affected, the government has instituted a number of support programmes—which although on the surface has assisted households and citizens; its scope was not nearly broad enough and whose distribution was inconsistent and protracted.
While some retail businesses have continued to perform well in the circumstances, unlike in larger developed economies, our government relief programmes have not been directed at businesses.
Many businesses have managed, quite deftly, to maintain payrolls that greatly exceed revenue levels as well as avoid layoffs in keeping with the demands of the situation. After eight months of severely reduced activity and weakened cash flows, however, these businesses—especially dine in restaurants and bars—have exhausted their reserves and now need financial assistance to survive.
If the fiscal capacity to render such assistance is not readily available to the state, then business restrictions need to be relaxed. That is a simple reality. We simply cannot continue like this without a massive fiscal intervention.
My interviews last week were designed to get this message over to the policy makers and to the public.
Unfortunately the message seems to have been either misinterpreted or misunderstood as being hostile. The fact now exists that restaurants, bars and a great many small businesses in the retail and service industries are now at the end of the line. These businesses are a major driver of our economy now and they depend on volume to survive.
Without ample throughput, closures will invariably be the next step. Even in other countries where governments have intervened to assist the business sector, the situation is similar; so imagine what is being faced here!
One such misguided response came from archetypal armchair critic, Mr Noble Philip. I have never met the man, but he seemed more concerned with verbose attacks on me while displaying a failure to understand the basic concept that current cash flow—not prior year profit—determines the survivability of a business in these challenging times.
Even if businesses were to furlough all staff, there would still be fixed expenses which require continuing cash outlay. And whilst glibly dismissing the Food and Beverage sector’s contribution of 1.7% to GDP as insignificant, he seemed violently unaware that it employs 11% of the labour force; many of whom are at the lower end of the spectrum and, sadly the ones being decimated.
These stakeholders have commitments as well, do they not? And he says it is me that has ‘faux concerns’? If Mr Philip set out to be well intentioned, he was certainly not very discerning or prepared to put a case forward.
He seems to have further ignored the cumulative impact of five years of recession. All of this while claiming that he is among the ‘less fortunate’—a laughable assertion. But enough on him, I digress.
CoV-19 measures have affected citizens at every level. Whilst it is true that some have more savings than others, it is also true that without increasing the level of throughput, the business sector will be very negatively compromised.
Businesses were already skating on thin ice with declining reserves, and the CoV lockdown measures have simply made a bad situation untenable and verging on calamitous.
In an effort to be compliant, businesses in my sector and beyond have adapted to social distancing measures as prescribed internationally. They have improved hygiene measures, installed plexiglass separators, rearranged dining rooms and strengthened protocols, as it is in everyone’s interest that we adapt to current challenges.
Other Caribbean economies have provided clear examples of the efficacy of these measures whilst concomitantly relaxing the lockdown measures on travel and restaurants. We need look no further than Barbados and St Lucia for demonstrable evidence of the success of this approach.
Our neighbours, like us, do not have the fiscal tools at their disposal; and as such couldn’t simply copy developed economies. They have understood the need to chart a course based on ‘nation specific’ needs—a basic matter of economic survival. Trinidad must do the same, and fast! That has been the core of my argument.
This is not about right and wrong nor is it about selfish agendas, it is about economic continuity and survival.
This entire country is considerably poorer than it was eight months ago. What we are all asking for, in light of the state’s inability to intervene, is the opportunity to survive this historic, generational challenge; and by doing so keep people employed and livelihoods intact—a critical mission!
Whether or not there is a resurgence of CoV is now irrelevant to Trinidad and Tobago. We must face this situation with courage and confidence and understand that we must learn to live with the virus in order to vanquish it.
That courage must come from the top and permeate right through to the core of this society, lest we collapse under our own weight. Time is of the absolute essence. Business is a critical partner and stands ready!
Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read the initial column which criticised the ‘sheer arrogance’ of Peter George Jr’s initial media interview; and HERE for Noble Philip’s response, as he accuses George Jr of gaslighting him.