Commentary: Businesses Face Extortion Tax

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By Dr Neil Gosine

EXTORTION could be a multi-million-dollar criminal enterprise in Trinidad and Tobago. It’s not widely reported due to fear of repercussions, attacks on business owners’ lives, families and property and it has become a major blight to the brand sector.

Small and medium-sized businesses, neighbourhood parlours and contractors are all very scared and face this reality now. They face even more threats in the construction industry, both private and state contracts being at risk if they don’t pay hefty extortion charges. 

The construction sector is constantly being taxed millions of dollars per day, forcing the business owners’ cost to go up by 20% or more. Extortion or “tax” as the extorters like to call it, has been targeting business owners’ for some time now. The matter is rarely reported and businessmen usually pay extortion because of fear. Some businessmen just have no choice but to close down their businesses and move out of T&T while others have to face these criminals with no help from the authorities.

It’s widely known that businesses in St Joseph, St Helena, Diego Martin and Piarco are being targeted by criminals who make a living off extortion. Look at the recent fire bombing of businesses where they suffered millions of dollars in damages. Luckily no life was lost.

Some of the business owners claim that gangsters and corrupt police officers as well, come knocking to extort money from them. The business owners are afraid that if they went to the police, rogue officers within the service would tell the criminals.

Social media clips have come to light of alleged recordings showing conversation between extortioners and a businessman demanding money. In a particular clip, the businessman was pleading with a criminal not to hurt his family or target his life. We have heard that contractors that get state contracts ask for police presence through extra-duty officers and hiring them to safeguard a job site, but the money to pay police officers are also a high cost to them and hurt the business owners. 

The issue of extortion has been growing exponentially among the business community and the matter should be treated seriously now by the Minister of National Security and the Commissioner of Police (CoP). Their lack of action and accountability cannot be tolerated anymore. Setting up a special unit, to target this crime against businesses would go a long way in reducing the instances. It is important for us to say what is going on and get the police and the government to take this matter seriously and that it’s a serious problem. It’s important for businesses to speak up. If we had a proactive CoP and a competent Minister of National Security we would not be in this predicament. 

Elections can’t come too soon for the business sector. 

Neil Gosine is an insurance executive. He was appointed a temporary Opposition Senator and is also the treasurer of the UNC and a former chairman of the National Petroleum Marketing Company of Trinidad and Tobago. He holds a Doctorate in Business Administration, a Master’s in Business Administration MBA, BSC in Mathematics and a BA in Administrative Studies. The views and comments expressed in this column are not necessarily those of AZP News, a Division of Complete Image Limited.

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