By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A prominent businessman yesterday warned his companies have “no more headroom” to keep staff on payroll if the government imposes another full lockdown, adding: “We’ve spent out goodwill money.”
Robert Myers, chief executive of Caribbean Group Bahamas, told Tribune Business that reimposing more restrictive measures to contain COVID-19’s spread will place many businesses “at risk of failure or closure” given the already-depressed economy.
Acknowledging that the private sector and workers were “paying the price” for a combination of personal irresponsibility and travel regulations that were not tight enough, he said returning to the measures imposed back in April would have a “devastating” impact on the Bahamian economy.
“I just don’t know what the hell to expect any more,” Mr Myers said after the government last week implemented measures to restrict travel in and out of The Bahamas, as well as other restrictions designed to curb COVID-19’s spread. “As the financial markets would tell you, uncertainty is the worst thing you can have in markets and business.
“That’s where we sit. I’m not blaming anybody. These are very uncertain times. You don’t know what’s to happen, but clearly allowing Bahamians to go to Florida and come back without a negative COVID-19 PCR test has proven to be a mistake.
“Now we’re going to pay for it. I don’t know what level we’re going back to - whether it is one, two, three? As long as we can keep some of the economy moving, it’s not good but it’s not terrible.”
Cautioning the Government against a return to the full national lockdown imposed in late March and early April, Mr Myers told Tribune Business: “Anything you do now to business puts them at further risk - risk of failure or closure.
“We don’t have any headroom now. We’ve spent that headroom. The next time round, if they force a closure, we’re going to have to lay-off employees until the situation is resolved. Where we were putting people on half salaries or half pay, and kept that burden, we cannot do that any more. We’ve spent our goodwill money. Next time it’s going to hurt.
“In some cases we took it [the first lockdown] as an opportunity to improve our systems through IT integration. We kept the management on full pay and did that integration in the absence of any distractions. We took all of that downtime, but now that will not be the case. We’re done. We’re going to have to send people home,” he continued.
“The Government has to be mindful of doing things that are going to hamper employment and shut down the local economy that we desperately need. Whatever part of the economic engine we can keep going, we must keep going.”
Mr Myers said the Government’s initial COVID-19 travel protocols, especially allowing Bahamians who had travelled abroad for 72 hours or less to return home without having to produce a negative CIVID-19 PCR test had proven “a recipe for disaster”.
“There’s a massive degree of irresponsibility in that and we’re paying the price for it,” he told Tribune Business. “If you make it difficult, and put the onus on responsibility to make sure they’ve been tested, it puts the responsibility on the individual.
“If you waive that responsibility and allow people to go over willy nilly and come back without testing, it allows irresponsibility to creep in. That’s just my opinion. That 72-hour loophole in the protocols was the problem. If you go over you need to have a negative test before you come back. That’s what will keep the rest of the economy alive.”