Teron Mohan

PROTEST: Barkeepers and Owners Association interim president Teron Mohan, centre, speaks to reporters during the protest opposite Whitehall in Port of Spain yesterday. —Photo: JERMAINE CRUICKSHANK

BAR owners are brimming over with frustration.

They say they are losing 50 to 70 per cent of their revenue because of reduced operating hours amid Covid-19 restrictions and they have had enough of the Government’s decision to reduce their operating hours.

Members of the Barkeepers and Owners Association of T&T (BOATT) yesterday protested opposite the Prime Minister’s Whitehall office yesterday morning calling on the authorities to return them to full operating hours.

On June 29, National Security Minister Stuart Young announced a reduction in the operating hours of bars from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., about a week after reopening.

Bar owners were being allowed to open to 10 p.m. until social media videos showed several bars and hundreds of patrons not adhering to Covid-19 physical distancing measures.

They also wanted to let Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi know that his time to respond to their pre-action protocol letter expired yesterday and they will be heading to court over the issue.

Interim BOATT president Teron Mohan said that over 300 bar owners wanted to protest but due to Covid-19 crowd restrictions only 25 persons were given permission to demonstrate by the police and were allotted an hour-and-a-half to highlight their plight.

Mohan called on authorities to sit down with the association, as he said it had not received any response to correspondence it had sent to various ministries to date.

“While the Chief Medical Officer’s office had acknowledged receipt of the proposals for following the public health regulations with respect to bars reopening, no consultation was held, he said.

He said he had not sent official correspondence to the Health Ministry or the CMO but had attempted to reach out to the Minister and the CMO through “various means”.

Errant bar owners

Mohan called on the police to arrest and reprimand errant bar owners whose actions caused the majority of operators to lose hours from their operating time.

“If the bar owners were given back their full operating hours, I can guarantee the members of the association would abide by the regulations. The TTPS also needs to increase patrolling and surveillance which they had stated they would do to make sure those who broke the law were held accountable.”

Mohan complained that workers in many bars have not received Government’s Salary Relief Grant to help those who were temporarily out of a job due to the lockdown orders.

He said: “The Government is not understanding how the 8 p.m. closure is affecting owners, as they have to be operating at 50 per cent capacity, which means the other staff remain home without an income and no grant to help them through to pay their bills. Some bar owners not even making enough money to cover the day’s operations. I would say anywhere from as much as 50 to 75 per cent losses on a daily basis.”

He said: We praised this administration for how they handled the pandemic but we have no new cases and the economy needs to open back. I do not understand the logic in closing the bars at 8 p.m. as there is no immediate threat.”

Heading to court

Mohan noted that the renewal of bar licences and payment of taxes are due in August and it is unfair for Government to expect owners to pay taxes for a year when they were not making money for the last three to four months.

He explained that bar licences cost between $1,800 and $4,500 while gaming taxes were $6,000 for wall machines and $120,000 per roulette machine. Mohan said if the association had not received a response from the Attorney General to its pre-action protocol letter by yesterday, then it would head to the courts.

AG Al-Rawi could not be reached by phone or WhatsApp yesterday for comment.

Also speaking to reporters at the protest opposite Whitehall yesterday was vice president of BOATT, Satesh Moonasar, who argued that it was unfair that restaurants with bars attached were able to open until 10 p.m.

BOATT member Sheldon Nurse, owner of Loyalty Bar in Arima, said he felt Government did not regard bars as businesses.

“We are law abiding citizens just trying to make an honest living. We cannot make money after three months’ lockdown with this 8 p.m. closure as the bills are piling up. This is a serious battle and we intend to fight to the end,” Nurse said.