By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
IT is too early to predict COVID-19's full impact on the business sector, according to Bahamas Chamber of Commerce CEO Jeffrey Beckles.
With more areas of the economy allowed to reopen on Monday - but many areas still closed - Mr Beckles said stakeholders need more data to determine if the commercial sector will fully rebound from protracted closures due to lockdown and reduced consumer spending.
Businesses owners have complained about the lack of revenue to sustain them and some have gone out of business, but apparently they have not all filed their closures with the Department of Inland Revenue so there is really no way for the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers' Confederation (BCCEC) to track those who have had to close permanently.
Speaking about the situation, Mr Beckles said: "It's difficult to do that because we won't know that until we get a couple more segments open. In addition to that, according to the Department of Inland Revenue, they have not recorded any information to suggest which businesses have closed.
"So it's very difficult to guess that until we try to get more business sectors open. We just reopened on Monday and since a lot of sectors are now coming on stream it will be almost premature to try to guess that. What you don't want to do is to put a number out there that is not factual."
Recently, US based "Main Street America" conducted an online survey to assess the impact of the COVID-19 on the approximately 300,000 small businesses in the United States. Specifically, this survey was designed to help US citizens understand small businesses' ability to withstand what may be several months of suppressed revenue and what kinds of support programmes will have the most impact.
These are the findings on the effects of COVID-19 on US small businesses: millions of small businesses will be at great risk of closing permanently if the crisis continues for several months. Of the US' approximately 30 million small businesses, nearly 7.5 million of them may be at risk of closing permanently over the coming five months, and 3.5 million are at risk of closure in the next two months.
COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on small businesses' revenue, and millions of Americans employed by the US' smallest businesses are at risk of unemployment as a result, the survey found. Approximately 35.7 million Americans employed by small businesses are at risk of unemployment as result of the COVID-19 crisis.
On the US predictions Mr Beckles said, "I think you can expect that in every jurisdiction, but you have to also remember that the US collects better data than we do. They are collecting data every day, so it's easy for them to make a projection. Our country does not collect data like that. In the case of the United States and other countries that do a better job at data collection it's easier then to make a projection.
"Up to today if you make a call to the Department of Inland Revenue and ask them how many businesses have gone out of business, they couldn't tell you one. You know why? No businesses have reported so. In fact records will show that the only business that has closed its doors permanently has been Lucianos. In the public, it's one thing to gripe and complain, but you have to respond to facts."
Mr Beckles said the Chamber will be in a better position to start looking at permanent closures after all business sectors have been opened by Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis.