AFTER facing several lockdowns over the past two years to curb the spread of Covid-19, San Fernando’s business community now faces an escalation in murder and robbery.
Speaking to Express Business last weekend, Greater San Fernando Chamber of Commerce President Kiran Singh said there was a time, not too long ago, when the world of Business confidently boasted of relatively low crime rates in and around San Fernando. That has changed dramatically in recent months, he said.
“Statistics prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that members of the business community are targeted by criminals. There is growing concern among the business community, which is publicly ventilated, that we are falling prey to criminals.
“One of the last was a businessman from Chaguanas. In addition, a retired businessman was murdered in Cipero Street a few weeks ago. Two brothers, owners of computer equipment, were recently brutally murdered,” Singh said.
He pointed out that many business owners have reported an increase in theft, which he says is not always highlighted in the mainstream media, so the statistics go unnoticed.
“The murder rate through Sunday was 192, down from 119 for the same period a year ago. This is an unacceptable and astronomical figure for a small population of 1.4 million.
In terms of recommendations to help curb the criminal situation which affects the security of the business community and its revenues, Singh said the House continues to advocate for greater police presence and also joint patrols by the police and the army, especially in city centers. Joint police and army patrols should include both foot and vehicle patrols.
“The announcement by the Minister for Rural Development and Local Government to increase the number of municipal police officers across the country to assist in the prevention and detection of crime is welcomed by the House.”
He said a curfew would not help stem or control the tide of criminal activity and would only hamper the business community, which is recovering from pandemic-related restrictions.
So how has the crime situation affected business longevity? Singh said that unfortunately some of the smaller establishments in the micro, small and medium enterprise (MSME) sector have signaled their intention to close permanently.
“In addition to concerns for personal and family safety, pandemic-related economic factors mattered significantly, from supply chain issues to increased shipping costs and the war in Russia had a negative impact on the business survival in these tumultuous times. Speculation is rife about closures and different opportunities for landlords. True numbers to quantity is difficult right now. It will literally be a wait-and-see approach as we move forward,” said he points out.
Singh, who works in real estate, property development and property leasing, said businessmen in the South feel very upset because they always have to look around.
“Personal security can be both subjective and objective. For example, not visiting so-called hotspots adds a certain comfort and sense of security. However, when you are literally minding your own business and your business is violently robbed and law-abiding citizens are killed on your premises, that warrants an extreme response of depression and concern,” he lamented. .
To ensure his personal safety, the chamber speaker said he has stepped up security measures, including additional staff, security cameras and earlier closing times.
“Members of the House have also put in place similar measures to protect themselves and their premises. This is our sad reality.
More protection in place
A more effective CCTV system is needed to aid investigations, Singh said, as detection rates are woefully insufficient for many serious and heinous crimes.
The justice system needs more staff and infrastructure, especially in the South.
“This will improve the flow of criminals brought to justice. For example, in San Fernando, court facilities are shared between the magistrate and the high courts. The pandemic has further exacerbated long delays in court cases. »
He noted that the House met with Acting Police Commissioner McDonald Jacob following the robbery and murder in downtown San Fernando recently.
“The Mayor has been instrumental in ensuring that regular meetings are held with all stakeholders to resolve relevant issues that affect us in San Fernando. These include but are not limited to crime, police, traffic, street vending and parking,” he said.
Less foot traffic was seen in various stores and malls, the businessman pointed out.
“Generally, there has been an overall decrease in the number of shoppers and window shoppers in Downtown San Fernando and the Mega Malls. Again, these realities can be attributed not only to the fear of the criminal element, but also to the cost of living. Inflationary pressures are felt by the whole of society.
It should be noted that Singh said there was an encouraging sign ahead of Mother’s Day that brought near-normal pre-pandemic retail activity back to stores.
Survive the pandemic
According to Singh, several months of confinement following the pandemic have crippled many businesses.
“My business, being property rentals, has taken a vicious hit. No extensions or deferrals were granted for any of the utilities.
Banks have given no consideration to companies in the MSME sector. The money was spent on all utility bills, insurance premiums, cleaners and security services, although rent collection has stopped,” he said.
The chamber speaker said his business, like many others, had suffered considerable losses with the closures.
“Many tenants still have rent arrears since confinement. We are struggling…trying very hard…to recover financially in an economy that has seen negative growth and inflationary trends,” Singh added.