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Opening Hours 'Fix' Is Top Requirement

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Jeffrey Beckles

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Chamber of Commerce's chief executive yesterday predicted that any discrepancies in business opening hours were likely to be addressed "very quickly", adding: "What's important is we fix it."

Jeffrey Beckles, speaking after it was revealed that the Myers Group's fast-food and other restaurant franchises have been given permission to remain open until 9pm, while virtually all other businesses have to shutter by 8pm, said the government would move rapidly to address any anomalies.

"I believe you'll find a decision will be made very quickly to achieve what some may refer to as greater equity with that issue, and enable other businesses to be open until 9pm also," he told Tribune Business.

"I don't think it will stay as peculiar as announced. I think you'll find that addressed very quickly. How some of these things come about, they come about, and what's important is we fix it. That'll be adjusted very quickly."

The permission granted to the Myers Group, and its Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King, Dunkin Donuts and Anthony's Caribbean Grill brands, to remain open until 9 pm sparked Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) accusations of preferential treatment and double standards by the government over how long businesses can remain open prior to the 10pm curfew.

David Davis, the permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, signed a letter dated July 9, 2020 addressed to Mr Myers, as chairman and chief executive of the Myers Group, which said: "I refer to your letter dated 3 July, 2020, and in which you requested permission for your restaurant group to remain open until 9pm. Please be advised that the 'competent authority', the Most Hon Prime Minister, has approved your request."

This newspaper understands that many businesses are currently closing at 8pm to give their staff sufficient time to "cash out" and get home before the 10pm curfew starts.

Tribune Business has received numerous complaints and accusations from businesses throughout the period of the COVID-19 emergency lockdown restrictions that rivals were gaining a competitive advantage through being allowed to open more segments of their operation or stay open for longer.

Inconsistencies have been a feature of the government's re-opening of the Bahamian economy, and its treatment of particular industries and businesses within those sectors, but Mr Beckles yesterday said the most important achievement was that most are now back in business to various extents.

"I don't think it's fair to say you can open everybody at the same time," he argued. "I think the most important thing is we finally got them open. We only have so much capacity. While we would have liked to have hit a button and opened them all up.....

"We've worked to get these sectors open, and now they're open we have to get to it. They're working, and working well. This may be the time we wish we had another 150,000 to 200,000 people in The Bahamas, but getting them open was the key. That's where to put the focus right now. Them being open is more important than anything else that has been done."

The entertainment sector, which includes the likes of Fusion Superplex, Galleria Cinemas, Mario's Bowling and Entertainment, bars and nightclubs, is the last to remain fully shut at present although informed sources suggested it may be given the go-ahead to re-open before month's end.

"It's only a matter of time before they get open," he added. "Almost every other sector is open. Post-Dorian and COVID has given us cause to look at what we do, and make ourselves a lot better than we were. We've got to pay closer attention to customer service, closer attention to how we deal with the public.

"Customers have access to online purchasing in other jurisdictions. Let's mind customer service, mind our phones and take care of our customers because now we need them more than ever."

Mr Beckles said the Chamber was also working with individual businesses to help them understand the measures they need to take to survive the post-COVID re-emergence, as he warned: "Some are saying they will not last another six months."

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