Finance Minister Colm Imbert needs to be more equitable in granting as­sistance! In a press conference recently, he said he plans to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with soft loans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But loans – soft or hard – have to be repaid with or without in­terest. At the moment, most of these SMEs (including micro-enterprises) have no income stream due to the national lock-down. They still have to pay their current loans, mortgages, rent, utilities and all taxes owed to Government.
They are already indebted. Why dig deeper into a dark hole? Minister Imbert should instead give financial relief grants to reg­istered SMEs (including micro-enterprises) just as he is giving to Caribbean Airlines ($442 mil­lion), Tobago hoteliers ($50 mil­lion) and maxi-taxi owners ($6 million).
Some of these SMEs would not benefit from Government’s Value Added Tax (VAT) refunds because they are not VAT-regis­tered since they do not meet the threshold of selling goods or ser­vices worth $500,000. or more in a twelve-month period.
Examples of SMEs include fit­ness and recreation centres, beau­ty salons, bars, food outlets, legal and accounting offices, printeries, and retail stores such as those selling books, computers and cell phones.
Imbert has $21 BILLION at his disposal for COVID-19 relief to help poor and struggling indi­viduals, families, organisations and businesses. Some of it should also be granted to SMEs and mi­cro-enterprises as a life-line and kick-start.
It is these micro-enterprises that produce services and goods that use local raw materials and, therefore, do not drain the coun­try of its foreign exchange. They drive innovation and competition in many economic sectors.
According to the Oxford Busi­ness Group Country Report (2020), SMEs comprise “a vital part of the Trinidad and Tobago economy.” The T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce (TTCIC) recorded that there were more than 20,000 SMEs operating in the country in 2011, employing around 200,000 workers and rep­resenting approximately 30% of the nation’s GDP.
If Imbert does not give finan­cial grants to SMEs and micro-en­terprises, most of them would die after the COVID-19 pandemic, creating more retrenchment and unemployment in the country.
If the Finance Minister is inter­ested in economic stability and growth, he should be equitable. But that would require him to think outside of the box.

Dr Kumar Mahabir,
San Juan, Trinidad and
WhatsApp 756 4961