TOBAGO Chamber of Industry and Commerce chairman Diane Hadad on Monday urged Government to reopen the island’s economy.
In the chamber’s response to the 2021 budget, Hadad said the presentation was silent on strategies to reopen Tobago’s tourism-based economy, post covid19.
With the borders still closed to the international market and the restrictions imposed on domestic travel, she stressed businessmen and average Tobagonians are struggling to survive. “You cannot continue to suffer this economy anymore,” she said.
“It is at its lowest ebb and nobody can sit and continue as they have been living through their bankers calling them every morning asking them about their accounts. This cannot continue. There needs to be a reopening of the Tobago economy.”
Tobago got $2.134 billion in the $49 billion package, some $149 million less than last year’s allocation. Of the sum, $1.196 billion has been set aside for recurrent expenditure. Hadad said the business community will now be dependent on this expenditure “because we are basically locked into this space.
“So, I can’t say that we got anything that makes much sense to us. It is very disturbing that there seems to be no sensible direction, nothing sounding concrete, nothing looking concrete.” Noting Tobago’s beaches are among its major attractions, Hadad said: “We have a lot of bars, businesses, beaches that are closed. A beach for Trinidad is a party place. A beach for Tobago is a job for a Tobagonian.”
She said Trinidadians should at least be able to enjoy the island’s beaches if they so desire. Hadad said the air bridge plays a critical role in this regard. “We cannot continue with one flight a day in the morning, one in the afternoon bringing across 34 people each. We have literally locked Tobago down.”
She wondered whose idea it was to limit the number of flights to Tobago. “If this was an idea or request of the THA, we want you to get back to the drawing board quickly because whilst your salaries are all secured through the coffers of the tax payers of this country, the business community and the private sector people that they employ are suffering and dying though the process.”
Hadad also said the salary relief and rental assistance grants that are still being paid to Tobagonians who were asked to stay at home during the national lockdown in March “are not doing anything substantial.”
She said: “It is about time we get down to some serious business in terms of how this island moves forward. We need Caribbean Airlines to get on board and do what has to be done.
“And if, at this stage, if its the THA or the Government giving a mandate, whichever it is the game in the middle needs to be over. We need to get it right.” Hadad said while the chamber welcomes the addition of two new fast ferries to the sea bridge “whenever they arrive,” an avenue must be created for domestic tourism to thrive.
“For mental health reasons, the people of Trinidad needs to exhale. For financial reasons the people of the island needs them to exhale in Tobago.” Hadad also had some advice for business people.
“Our business community needs to be very clear about when they reopen and how they manage and control the level of energy they allow in these bars so that there are control measures in place for what we have to do.” The Prime Minister is expected to review the Government’s covid19 restrictions for beaches, bars and food establishments on Saturday.
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