President of the Point Fortin South Western Chamber of Industry and Commerce Nigel Minors says the economic growth of the T&T can be severely compromised if the state of emergency extends beyond 15 days. "We are hoping that the curfew lasts no longer than the 15 days because we see the entire exercise as something that must be done forcefully and swiftly enough for the required results," he said in a telephone interview with the Sunday Guardian. Minors added: "I tend to see it (a state of emergency) as something that should be a surgical strike-very clean, targeted and within 15 days time because when you past that, then the question is, when will you stop?
"And I think it's going to put too much of a downward pressure on business and overall economic activity in the country, the longer you maintain that state of emergency." He said too that while the Chamber supported and was fully "cognisant of the reasoning put forward by the government" for the imposition of this national state of emergency, it hoped for "a resolution" in the earliest possible time. He said while it was "pretty much, business as usual" in Point Fortin by virtue of the area not being identified as a "hot spot," there were "a few places that would close about an hour earlier" because of the military lockdown. "Police patrols have stepped up in the area and I think people are understanding that although there is no curfew (in Point Fortin), that does not mean that you would not be stopped and searched, so it has taken a little toll," Minors said.
Asked what were some of the major concerns of the Chamber in regard to the current state of emergency, the Chamber president said commuters had expressed some degree of apprehension and there was also concern about the possibility of criminal penetration in the south western borough. "One of the key issues that I've heard being raised is how late can you leave Point Fortin to get to Port-of-Spain and similarly, how early can you get out of the nation's capital in order to get home in time. "Even more importantly, a major concern is the perceived threat of the migration of the negative elements from some of the hot spots into areas like Point Fortin and La Brea where they may feel they have a little more space to run around."
Minors said, though the Chamber was not in a position to comment on the necessity of a state of emergency at this time, he agreed that "some of the areas covered" by the Defence Force, "can only be done under such circumstances" and he hoped that there would be "no abuse of the State's authority" in the exercise of their duties.
Unions capable of making a dent
Asked if he felt the trade unions were capable of mobilising enough support to constitute a national strike as proclaimed by the respective industrial leaders, Minors said it was indeed possible. "It may not be as huge as it might have been a year or two ago, but the turnout could be significant enough to make people sit up and watch, especially based on the current economic situation and the concern of the people," he said. Minors said if the trade unions were to have a strike of such magnitude (national level) "there would be a negative impact on the business community in the area" and he hoped that the parties "follow process (negotiations) and find some way to prevent it."
He said the conflict between the government and the trade union body could be averted from what appears to be a "realm of misunderstanding and miscommunication. "If the unions see this five per cent wage cap as something they can move forward with since the government has indicated that there is no such restriction, then that might be a good start. "I think when the statement was made for them (unions) to start from zero per cent, that had caused some negative fallout," the Chamber president added. Minors emphasised the importance of the government allowing the management of the various negotiating bodies "some leeway" and not prejudice the process.
He said: "It's like telling someone, you cannot cross a certain boundary, so let's talk about other things, when that boundary is at the centre of the discussions." On that note, Minors added that while "it was doubtful" as to whether the government could afford a wage increase in excess of five per cent, given "the current situation," he did not "want to pronounce on something that delicate without having seen the books" himself.
Minors commended the efforts and commitment of Works and Infrastructure Minister Jack Warner for the very timely roadworks that have commenced in Point Fortin and its environs recently (South Oropouche and La Brea), amid protest action which recently plagued the area. He said the community was "tolerant of whatever disruptions" they had to experience in order to facilitate such roadworks acknowledging that there were great "benefits" to be derived from such a venture. "Point Fortin is a major cog in the whole energy engine in T&T and to imagine any business person or worker wanting to use that roadway (prior to the roadworks) for anything, was indeed, a terrible thought," Minors added.