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Business still hard due to sea bridge woes

Bank moves on Patinos again

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Friday, March 9, 2018

Commercial banks have once again moved to put properties of business owners in Tobago up for sale, after a six-month reprieve to allow them to meet mortgage commitments. But with continued problems on the sea bridge, at least one business owner is again pleading with the banks for a “moratorium.”

Marcia Patino, whose family owns the Enchanted Waters and Patino’s Restaurant, told Guardian Media “it has been a struggle to survive with no boat.

“How could you survive when there is no boat and you depending on the boat to bring everything?” a frustrated Patino asked.

The Patino’s business was put up for sale last year by the bank, but shortly after Guardian Media published their story the decision was reversed following a meeting between the Bankers’ Association and head of the Inter-island Transport Committee of the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Commerce’s Tobago Division Diane Hadad.

Last weekend, the Patino’s Diego Martin property was advertised for sale. They had hoped to sell it to help pay off some of the bills they owed on their Tobago property, but the sale never happened.

Patino said since April last year, with the departure of the Super Fast Galicia, things have gone progressively from “bad to worse.” “I am not going to say they have a boat on a shelf they could buy, I am talking about how we going to survive, how hard it’s been to survive and we still not angry.”

She said all they want was “some understanding from the banks.”

The 80-year-old, her husband Kenneth Patino, 85, and son Roger, 50, have virtually taken on the roles of chief cook and bottle washer to keep their 23-year-old business going as they have had to send home the majority of their staff.

But for the past six to eight months the guests have been declining.

Reflecting on the last year, she said with the unreliable sea bridge, business has had no hope of surviving.

“We lost July and August, peak travel periods for local tourists from Trinidad, Christmas and Carnival and Easter will be bad. We also talking about the island if you don’t have people on the island then business is very, very poor, it is depleted.”

While she did not want to “bash anybody,” she said in the past year it’s been a “real struggle to survive.” Marcia is pleading for some understanding from the banks.

“We need a moratorium that is what we need, the banks are foreclosing on all the properties, but we did not put ourselves in that position,” she said, adding Tobagonians are “hard working people and all we want is for the banks to be fair to us as business people but instead they are rude when they talk to you.”

Another businessman Kelvin Parker, who owned and operated the Bismarkia Apartments, said the banks had “literally taken away my life” when they took his property. He said he now has no income and had lost his family.

“My wife has gone to Africa and working there and my daughter has left Canada and gone to Africa to live with her mother,” he confessed.

All alone in Tobago and having lost his business to the bank two years ago, he said he struggles to make “ends meet.” Parker said “from time to time I sell a piece of art work, my furniture and my plants.”

Parker recalled that under the former government there was a loan guarantee programme to assist the people in the tourism sector, but he said in recent times the banks have refused to honour the guarantee.

“So if the government is guaranteeing a loan of $250 million and the banks decide they not taking part in that where do we go? We found out we not going anywhere we dying a slow death,” Parker said.

Parker said he did not know what the outcome of what is happening in Tobago would be, not just for himself but for the business community on the island. He said “it looks to me like the banks and the government have decided to sacrifice Tobago, to what end I do not know!”

Many other business owners, he said, had lost their properties, but unlike the Patinos and himself don’t want to tell their stories.