Tuesday 27 October, 2020

Bar Association wants special TTPS unit to enforce COVID-19 guidelines

The Bar Association of Trinidad and Tobago (BOATT) held a press conference on Friday, in which the group issued a range of demands categorised into finance, health and security.

In a press release following the event, the association expressed concern over the current closure of their businesses amid COVID-19 regulations.

BOATT said its members don’t operate “rum shops” but entertainment centres catering to a vast cross section of the population.

This was in response to sentiments expressed by some government officials and private citizens. 

“Recent comments being made by Government officials and John public about bars and what bars do and attract are unjustified and discriminatory. The bar sector contributes to over 20K jobs and an annual revenue generator for the state of over one billion dollars.”

BOATT said since the restrictions in March, over 55 tax paying outlets have had to permanently close their doors which it believes amounts to a loss of one million dollars in state revenue.

“The industry nor the government can afford for this to continue. At present over 65% of outlets are closed because the ‘grab and go’ option stipulated by government is purely not feasible nor sustainable, if this continues it would no doubt increase the amount of businesses being closed permanently which will only cause more financial burden on an already strained economy.”

As such, the group called on the state to provide secured loans for the industry as the present format does not support their efforts.

“We can’t access the FCB or NEDCO loans, due tax compliance by banks, they refuse to give loans or even open bank accounts to bars who operate Amusement Gaming Machines. It’s a case of being tax compliant and being penalised for it.”

Furthermore, the BOATT defended itself against facts listed by qualified health officials that the hike in COVID-19 cases was attributed to the reopening of bars which were previously closed for 98 days.

“So were the beaches and rivers not forgetting general elections which are all in an uncontrolled environment as compared to bars which are in a totally controlled one. People are finding ways to entertain themselves now and they all in breach of health regulations and guidelines eg bayside party, girl who went on her “private” beach.”

Instead, the association chastised citizens whom they accused of acting irresponsibly.

“Illegal sales of alcohol at non licensed places are encouraging congregation and putting the country at risk. Bars has been operating under strict health guidelines on a daily basis before Covid and which has now been enhanced by being fully Covid compliant according to World health standards eg social distancing within the establishment, sneeze guards between staff and customers, temperature checks, contact tracing forms, mask and face shield wearing by staff.”

As such, BOATT urged the government to enforce the health guidelines.

“This can be achieved by adding already existing OJT’s to assist the public health inspectors.”

Furthermore, the association requested clarification on a Health Ministry release dated September 17 which sanctioned the reopening of clubs that support non-contact sports.

“These institutions are in possession of Liquor Licences and will be encouraging congregation, which is in direct conflict with the health ordinance regulations. Congregation being the reason for restrictions placed on bars and restaurants.”

However, today the Minister of Health said this exemption was made for tennis and referenced outdoor sports.

Meanwhile, BOATT called on the Minister to create a special TTPS unit with specific emphasis on enforcing COVID-19 regulations and guidelines.

“The association would like to make an open call to all the government stakeholders to meet and discuss with us ways in moving forward for the upliftment of all.”

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