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UNC mourns death of former agriculture minister

Dom, 09/01/2022 - 07:31

Former United National Congress (UNC) government minister Dr Reeza Mohammed has died.

Mohammed served as Minister of Agriculture, Lands and Marine Resources in the former Basdeo Panday administration from 1995 to 2000.

In a statement on her Facebook page on Saturday, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar said she was saddened to learn of the passing of the former Member of Parliament for Princes Town.

She described Mohammed as "a true stalwart of the UNC and a committed servant to the people of our nation. I extend my sincerest condolences to the members of his family."

Princes Town MP Barry Padarath, in a separate Facebook post, said, “It is with deep sadness that we advise of the passing of former MP for Princes Town Reeza Mohammed. Our condolences to his family, well-wishers, friends and all who knew him.”

He described Mohammed as a distinguished some of the soil, who made a significant contribution to the development of Trinidad and Tobago.”

Padarath later told Sunday Newsday that Mohammed, who was in his late 70s, did not die from complications associated with covid19 but a heart ailment.

“I am advised it is not covid19-related. Dr Mohammed has been ailing for the past few months.”

He said although Mohammed was no longer an MP and government minister, he remained active in the politics in Princes Town both at the local government and general election levels.

“For the general election, he provided tremendous support both to myself and to MP Rodney Charles (Naparima). However, he health started getting the better of him about a year now and for the past few months I am advised by those who are closest to him that he had some heart ailments and he succumbed to those early this morning.”

Padarath said Mohammed’s funeral will likely take place on Monday.

“I know that he has children abroad so I think that are looking at the possibility of the children returning.”

Panday said he was shocked to learn of Mohammed’s death.

“I am sorry to hear that he has gone,” he told Sunday Newsday. “I wish to express my condolences to his friends and family and hope that they have the strength to endure this period of sadness.”

The former UNC leader described Mohammed as an intuitive, competent member of parliament and minister who, at the time, was wise beyond his years.

“We worked together. He was a very competent, hard-working person. He had lots of ideas – ideas which were far beyond the conditions under which we (UNC government) were working. He was a brilliant person, actually, very forward-looking ideas. But this did not go down well with his (Cabinet) colleagues because they were too far behind him.”

Panday said Mohammed was also charming and loved politics.

Former government minister Winston Dookeran said he was saddened to learn of Mohammed’s passing.

Like Panday, Dookeran remembers him as a bright man.

“I admired his ability to take those ideas and convert them eventually into policy. I see him, therefore, as a great loss to the world of ideas.”

He said he was not privy to Mohammed’s work within recent years “but I expect that he would have continued in his ideas.”

Dookeran recalled he had many conversations with Mohammed, particularly on his ideas for the agricultural development of TT.

He added he was particularly impressed by the fact that Mohammed “was not a person who went along with the normal situation.

“But I think he made his contribution in public life and he also was able to inspire many young people because he thought outside of the norm. This was my recollection of him and my conversations with him.

“So, I extend my deep sympathy to his family. I really didn’t expect such news.”

UNC deputy political leader Jearlean John described Mohammed as a “bright, hard-working, no-nonsense operator.

“Really and truly, he was a servant of the people and did his job without fear or favour. What I remember of this gentleman is that he went about his business and did his job.”

Outside of politics, Mohammed remained vocal as an environmental advocate.

In September 2020, as president of the TT Assembly of Hunting Associations, he called for a widening of the pool of honorary game wardens to include law enforcement officers.

At that time, Mohammed had complained that poaching was one of the association’s major concerns.

He recalled in 2018, the association had sent a plan to the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture that pro­pos­ed ap­point­ing mem­bers of the De­fence Force as game wardens. Mohammed believed that this would have saved the state mon­ey.

Mohammed was also a member of the Cabinet-appointed Hunting and Wildlife Committee established by Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat to review the economic value of wildlife hunting in TT.

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Speyside student, 15, wants to display collection: ‘I eat, dream art’

Dom, 09/01/2022 - 07:29

Speyside High School student Israel Melville, 15, just needs a paintbrush, paint and canvas to be happy. “I eat and dream art,” the form four student told Sunday Newsday. Last Monday, Melville, originally from Argyle, but currently residing at Delaford, had the distinction of presenting one of his paintings to THA Secretary for Education Zorisha Hackett. The painting is titled Caribbean Constellation. Hackett visited the school on Monday alongside Chief Secretary and representative for the area, Farley Augustine, as well as other education officials. Melville said his artistic inspiration began at age seven. He said his cousin Casey Daniel, who is an art teacher at the Roxborough Secondary School, had started a men’s boutique, near his home in Argyle, where she designed the fabrics for sale. “I was captivated by her work, and she began designing fabric for queen pageants. I was always around her, so I started drawing anything that came to my mind on paper.” Melville said he always knew art would be part of his future and he took that into consideration when writing his Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) examination. “I had the opportunity to further my artistic development when I entered secondary school. Speyside was my first choice for a secondary school because I knew of the reputation they had in art.” [caption id="attachment_933587" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Speyside High School student Israel Melville puts the finishing touches on a piece titled Compassion, at his school on Wednesday. - Photo by David Reid[/caption] Speyside High School has won six of the seven Chief Secretary Secondary Schools art competitions, from 2013-2019. Melville said his artistic side thrived in secondary school. “Attending Speyside was a blessing for me. "Miss Avion Orr, who is my art teacher, is my favourite art personality. She is always looking out for me, I like her personality and she always encourages me to try new things, and I always come first at exams in her class.” [caption id="attachment_933585" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Israel Melville of Delaford, a form four student of Speyside High School, with his artwork, Compassion. - Photo by David Reid[/caption] Melville said he loves abstract painting, but he is not a big fan of competitions. Nevertheless, he entered the Port Mall Christmas competition in 2020 with the piece – Traditional Bamboo Bursting, which placed second in the under-15 age category. Although art is his passion, Melville participates in a couple athletic events. "I do a little shot put and discus for the school, but my time is taken up in art. I am always putting my vibes and dreams on paper and thinking of my next artwork." He said painting offers an incomparable source of joy and relief. "Art is like a therapy session for me. It’s like a mental health programme. It helps to relax my mind, get away from life stress and delve into my creative energies.” Melville, who comes from a humble background, hopes to see his art collection at an exhibition in the near future. “I have done many paintings, and part of my ambition is to showcase my work in an exhibition, where people see and appreciate what I can do, and also sell some of my creations. But the problem is, I don’t have the money to buy the things I need to start.” Melville's close bond with his cousin and art teacher have shaped him tremendously, and he wants to follow in their footsteps. “My ambition is to be a teacher. I would like to help students who have the passion for art, to fulfil their goals. “It is also my way of giving back to society, as an appreciation of what was given to me, and it will allow me to do what I love." Orr beamed when asked to describe Melville as a student. She said, “Melville is blessed, art comes naturally to him, he loves everything in art. When he has a free period in school, he is always in the art room.” She said Melville is one of the most talented art students she has ever taught. “I have been a teacher at the school for 15 years, and I have interfaced with many talented art students, but you always have to push them towards their potential. “With Melville it is different, there is no static, he is always coming with ideas. He is most talented and willing. I will be pursuing a scholarship opportunity for him.” Orr said she did not think twice to assist Melville with material for his work. Alice Frith of Argyle, mother of Melville, told Sunday Newsday, “I am very proud of what my son has achieved, and I see he is getting better. [caption id="attachment_933586" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Art teacher Avion Orr and her student Israel Melville hold one of his paintings, Beauty in the eye of the beholder, at Speyside High School on Wednesday. - Photo by David Reid[/caption] "I observed his potential from four years old. When most children wanted toys, he was always interested in drawing books and crayon. So I always had to go by the bookstore to buy those things for him." She said she still assists whenever he asks for help for his art. She said she is 100 per cent in support of her son's artistic expression. Melville lives with his father Gerod Melville, who is employed as a mason in the works division of the Tobago House of Assembly, and is also a part-time fisherman. Gerod said, “Israel is my only child who take to art. He used to do a little thing in Belle Garden Primary School, but since he going Speyside, like his teacher see some potential in him and she really pushing him. “Of late we have been talking about going into the business aspect of it, because everybody who sees his work, they are surprised by the quality and tell me to encourage him. “I have seven children to see about, so things little hard, but me and his mother does do we best to give him what he wants to continue in the art, because I feel he could reach somewhere in it.”  

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Categorie: Trinidad e Tobago

Supermarket Association president: VAT removal no help to food bills

Dom, 09/01/2022 - 07:29

President of the Supermarket Association (SATT) said the removal of value-added tax (VAT) on basic food items would not make a difference in shoppers’ grocery bills given the latest round of price increases. His comments came after the National Flour Mills and Nutrimix announced flour price increases in December, effective this week. Also in December, Kiss Baking Co Ltd said prices will be raised on its products this month. Earlier this week, Carib Brewery and Nestle raised prices on certain products; while chicken and livestock producers and distributors are expected to implement price hikes from Monday. Wholesale prices over a range of food products have gone up by four-22 per cent. Diptee said, “From our perspective, and how that continues to impact prices on how we see them, it (VAT-removal) is not much help when you think about the core food basket. “We should be trying to protect a class of customers that are the most vulnerable, and as a heavily import nation, there is very little that we in the industry can do. Customers want to know about now because it is now that it has the most adverse effect on them.” On November 1, a list of food items became exempt from the 12.5 per cent VAT, as announced by Finance Minister Colm Imbert in the 2021-2022 budget presentation. Those items included a range of oils, cereals, coffee, teas, roti flour, milk, tinned meats and vegetables and juices. Many of these products face price increases, such as flour and milk-based products. For example, while roti skin is VAT-free, the prices of roti flour supplied by NFM have been increased. Also, Nestle’s range of products include cereals, condensed milk, juices, coffees and teas. The company, however, has said some of its brands, both imported and locally produced, will incur price increases by single-digit percentages. It said its objective is to minimise the impact on consumers. The Ministry of Finance in October sought to further clarify the VAT-free food list and stated that in the 2016 list the first broad category of food that was VAT free was “unprocessed food of a kind used for human consumption” and this classification allowed for all unprocessed vegetables, fruit, meat and fish to enter TT and be zero-rated. It also added that several basic food items that are “processed” were identified on the list on a stand-alone basis as being zero-rated for VAT and these included sardines, corned beef, bread, flour, pasteurized milk and rice. Diptee said supermarkets cannot replace fast-moving consumer goods with items that would stay for long periods, and as such TT would remain an import-dependent country. He pointed out that there were opportunities for the Government to assist the agricultural sector, farmers and end-users to move away from import products that were costly to local substitutes. “We have a lot of potential with arable lands, creation of our own industries, and agro-processing but we need to find the support,” Diptee said. President of the Chaguanas Chamber of Industry and Commerce Richie Sookhai said apart from a lack of foreign exchange for trade in goods, the system has been set up in such a way to protect importers and to prevent the establishment of an effective a functioning agriculture sector. Sookhai said, “There are some things that the Government should be able to put into place to protect the farmers and to protect the individuals who want to go into this industry. You have to think sometimes about if the system is set in such a way that it protects the importers for these foreign products that the local content can’t compete.” He questioned the extent of the seriousness of food security for TT from its stakeholders. The agriculture sector in the 2021-2022 budget was allocated $1.198 billion. Additionally, a $300 million stimulus package was announced, and other incentives included a guarantee that the State would buy local for state-funded programmes, like the School Feeding Programme and the provision of meals for public hospitals and the protective services; training and technical support for farmers to ensure international standards are maintained; and making local food more attractive. In 2020, the sector was allocated $0.708 billion and an additional $500 million stimulus package. VAT-free foods • vegetable/soya bean oil, coconut oil, canola oil, ghee, • peanut butter, black pepper and other spices, family cereal, cereals for children, • hot cereal oats, milk substitute, condensed milk, instant coffee, • ground coffee, steel-cut oats, black tea (3kg and under), • green tea (3kg and under), orange juice, apple juice, still water (bottled water), • seasoned meat, sausages (canned or otherwise packaged); • canned tuna, canned mackerel, canned peas, canned peas, canned beans, canned corn, canned mixed vegetables, mayonnaise, ketchup, • roti skin, soup (packaged), geera (crushed or ground), soya chunks, soya minced, ground dhal, • cheese slices, table butter, pigtail, ham slices, turkey slices, chicken lunch meats, bologna, fresh juice and biscuits and crackers.

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Caribbean soldier crab, the hermit that lives in forests

Dom, 09/01/2022 - 07:29

When you think about crabs, it’s not uncommon that crabs on a coastline or in freshwater ecosystems come to mind. But did you know there’s a species of crab that spends most of its time in the forest? Aquatic ecologist Dr Ryan Mohammed told Newsday Kids the Caribbean soldier crab ( Coenobita clypeatus) is one of only a few species of hermit crabs adapted to spending long periods on land. He explained, “Because they have a terrestrial component in their life cycle, they are able to venture far into the forest. It is very unique to see them going all the way into the forest. “This species has adapted to a terrestrial lifestyle to capitalise on land-based food resources.” While they spend a lot of time on land, these crabs do journey to the sea ever so often. Like all hermit crabs, Caribbean soldier crabs salvage and occupy the shells of other organisms. So, throughout their lifetime, these crabs search the coastline for loose shells to call their own when needed. For this reason, Mohammed is discouraging people from taking abandoned shells from beaches as they may be denying these crabs a suitable home. [caption id="attachment_933579" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Caribbean soldier crabs salvage and occupy the shells of other organisms. - Photo courtesy Steven Severinghaus[/caption] “They rely on gastropod shells, mollusc shells, and snail shells, for that extra protection of their soft outer bodies.” He added, “Like all decapod crustaceans, they also still need to come down to the edge of the water to reproduce and complete essential stages of their life cycle.” If you never see these crabs in the forest, there’s a chance you may hear them as they vibrate the appendages within their shells which makes a screeching sound. “Walking through the forest, you can actually hear this sound if you listen well. “They do form aggregations in the forest which is why they are sometimes easy to collect. When you find one crab, you’ll eventually find a lot. “They form these daytime aggregations in the forest vegetation when they are trying to get away from elevated temperatures and direct sunlight.” As omnivores, these crabs feed on food of both plant and animal origin but they are also scavengers which means they feed on corpses (bodies of dead animals). As a result of this, these crabs serve a vital ecological function in that they break down the corpses and ensure their nutrients are recycled. [caption id="attachment_933580" align="alignnone" width="993"] -[/caption] “In some islands, these crabs perform a major ecosystem function. Because they move nutrients from one form to the next, they provide that ecosystem stability. “That, in turn, supports other populations like seabirds when they are near the sea and some of the forest-dwelling organisms when they are in the forest. “They also help in the dispersal of many plants because they pick up the seeds when they eat and move them around.” Found in a wide range of colours, Mohammed said this is one reason why people often want to keep these crabs as pets. But even though they are sold in pet shops, that doesn’t mean you should buy them as Mohammed is warning people, they require a lot of care. “They do have some very vibrant colouration on their claws which is why they are in the ornamental pet trade. [caption id="attachment_933581" align="alignnone" width="768"] The Caribbean soldier crab can be found in lush forest such as the Tobago Main Ridge rainforest. - Photo by Anjani Ganase[/caption] “Several people collect hermit crabs, sell to pet shops and then the pet shops sell them to people that find hermit crabs cute. “But to care for these crabs can often become difficult. You have to make sure and maintain the right humidity and diet. “One of these crabs can also live until ten years old, so unless you’re prepared to take care of an animal that long and provide what it needs...you are going to kill it within a few months.”  

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Mighty Bomber’s legacy, making calypso lovers laugh

Dom, 09/01/2022 - 07:29

In a career that spanned over 70 years, Clifton Ryan, the Mighty Bomber, never bombed as a calypsonian. Singing social commentary about equality, peace, patriotism and honesty along with humorous calypsoes, which conjured up the memories and mannerisms of Theophilus Philip (Spoiler), Bomber evoked laughter in generations of calypso lovers. One rumour about Bomber and a famous calypso has become legendary. Calypso expert and UWI) professor emeritus Dr Gordon Rohlehr said, “There were all kinds of stories around Bomber. “One I heard from several calypsonians was that the calypso Portrait of Trinidad, sung by Sniper (Mervyn Hodge) was originally meant for Bomber. But Bomber could not sing ‘Trinidad, this lovely land of my birth,’ because he wasn’t born in Trinidad.” Born in St George’s, Grenada on January 30, 1928, Bomber always said he began singing at 12. He migrated to Trinidad in 1956 and stayed with his Grenadian friend Small Island Pride (Theophilus Woods). Lord Melody (Fitzroy Alexander) encouraged him to sing in calypso tents. Bomber’s calypsoes had timeless themes. From early in his career, he sang against racial discrimination, corruption, crime and violence. He did not mince his words. In The Motion, he sang that “worthless women and don’t-care men are a menace to Trinidad…send worthless women to jail and give don’t-care men strokes with cat o’nine tails.” In Old Man’s Darling, he sang about a young girl being “friendly” with a 72-year-old man. “It’s best to be an old man’s darling rather than a young boy’s slave,” he crooned. In Kiss of Fire he offered a picong about Melody’s kissing prowess. As his phrasing and mannerisms became more like Spoiler’s, Bomber sang My Unfortunate, which had an uncanny resemblance to Spoiler’s humour. It included an anecdote about losing an arm in a taxi car accident, a trip to the hospital’s casualty department and the charge of armed robbery. In the next verse, the person who saved him from drowning in the Normandie Hotel pool after a performance uses his underwear to wipe Bomber’s face and puts a rope around his neck to hang him out to dry. In 1964, Bomber won the Calypso King title with Bomber’s Dream and Joan and James. It was a remarkable and unusual feat to beat Sparrow (Slinger Francisco) at the height of his glory and win a calypso crown with two humorous calypsoes. In Bomber’s Dream, Bomber seeks Spoiler’s advice for a calypso-crown-winning song. Spoiler offers his strategy, which Bomber takes to heart using Spoiler-style absurdity to win the judges’ nod. Without crossing the line from humour into smut, Bomber sealed his win with Joan and James, a somewhat suggestive song about two children thinking of a game to play, and deciding to be Mummy and Daddy, with a baby to take care of. Although often ignored in competitions, like most calypsonians who delved into humour after Spoiler, Bomber stuck to his chosen path and mentored young calypsonians throughout his career. Neville “Bunny B” Brown knew Bomber since the time Brown was a young musician, when he wasn’t singing yet, but playing trombone in Sparrow’s Young Brigade in the 1980s. “Bomber was the stage manager, and he was a stickler for time. After intermission, when it was time to go on stage, musicians were scattered all about and Bomber rounded them up.” Bunny B said Bomber also served as a songwriter in the Young Brigade. “Bomber wrote for calypsonians who had sweet voices, but no songs. Bomber should be remembered as one of the few calypsonians who beat Sparrow in competition when Sparrow was at his best. Bomber and Dougla (Cletus Ali) have that distinction.” [caption id="attachment_933575" align="alignnone" width="826"] Bomber in a portrait from 1994. Photo by Mark Lyndersay. -[/caption] In many ways, Bomber was a word craftsman. “He had impeccable diction,” said Bunny B. “He always stressed word choice and phrasing. He sang at a moderate tempo to emphasise certain words. He helped calypsonians with presentation and always said, ‘You have to take your time and feel your words.’” Bomber was also known for his dandy style of dressing with a fedora, suit, tie and polished dress shoes. “Kitchener, Terror, Pretender, Bomber, Growling Tiger, Roaring Lion had a dress code. They held their clothes in high esteem. If a man like Growling Tiger could sing ‘When I dead, bury my clothes,’ it shows how much clothes meant to that generation of calypsonians,” said Bunny B. (Kitchener – Aldwyn Roberts, Terror – Fitzroy Henry, Pretender – Aldric Farell, Growling Tiger – Neville Marcano, Roaring Lion – Rafael de Leon, singers during the golden age of calypso, have all passed away.) Bomber’s last performances were in Weston “Cro Cro” Rawlins’s Icons calypso tent. “He sang with me for the last four years of his performance life,” said Cro Cro. “His eyesight was failing. He was in his 80s. “He loved Spoiler and believed in him. Bomber did that Spoiler style of calypso greater than anyone else since Spoiler.” Cro Cro felt Bomber’s prowess was never fully appreciated. “Bomber was a great calypsonian. It’s sad he couldn’t have won more competitions. As an older calypsonian, he didn’t get the respect he deserved.” Like Bunny B, he remembered Bomber as an “elegant” dresser. “I want to sing about how calypsonians – especially women – are dressing these days for attention. Bomber sang with a jacket and tie, let the lyrics work for him and mashed up the place.” Rohlehr described Bomber as “very witty. I always loved Bomber’s work. One of the calypsoes I haven’t heard mentioned much is Bomber’s Sister, an extremely witty, but grim calypso about a girl who runs away from school and becomes a vagrant.” Rohlehr considered Bomber a good teacher for the younger people coming into calypso. Bomber’s son Reagan Ryan said the family had a newspaper story about his dad being named father of the year in 1966. “My dad was a family-oriented man. There were eight of us, five boys and three girls. He adopted a ninth child. “Dad always played with his children. He flew kites, played spin the top and pitched marbles with us. We didn’t need anyone outside of our family to have fun,” said Ryan. Bomber supervised homework, ensured his children received the education he did not get and had encyclopedias and books in the house to support learning. “He opened the scriptures and read with us,” said Ryan. “Dad was just fun. We had our little challenges, but he made sure we had everything we needed – even if he had to go without.” Bomber was strict. “We had a particular time to reach home from school. He walked the distance and came up with a time range to reach home. If you went over that time, you had to answer, ‘Where were you?,’ and if you couldn’t answer, you had a cut-tail booked. He didn’t beat for many things, but we had to hold our hand out and count the lashes. He would say, ‘You count. I can’t count.’” Their house in Laventille was always filled with music. “Singing Francine (Edwards), Tobago Crusoe (Ortneil Bacchus) and Terror came to our home often.” Then Bomber gave up singing calypso to go to church. “It was challenging for him to break away from calypso,” said Ryan. “He began writing gospelypso.” Ryan remembered Bomber’s emphasis on language and pronunciation. “As a young man people used to say to me, ‘You think you are an Englishman?’ because of how I spoke with Dad’s teaching. Dad always spoke with clarity. He operated by words and gave clear instructions, so if you got punished, it was because you clearly broke rules that you had understood.” Bomber’s love for entertainment seeped into his home. He made sure all his children could sing. “We had training sessions on how to breathe while singing; how to stand and deliver a song; how to sing properly and hold a note. Dad was self-taught.” Most of all, Ryan remembers being nine years old and singing in Memorial Park with four of his brothers and sisters as his dad played guitar. “Every Sunday for two years we sang folk songs like Mangos, Johnny Grotto and Yellowbird from 2-5 pm. Many families went to Memorial Park in those days, and Dad felt they should have some family entertainment.” Bomber died of cardiovascular disease on January 1, 2022, just weeks before turning 94. “He lived a good, bright life,” said Rohlehr. “We’re losing these great ones of calypso, but it is inevitable.” All who knew Bomber will remember his gift for evoking laughter and his mission to keep Spoiler’s legacy alive. But he was also an original voice in his own right.  

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Categorie: Trinidad e Tobago

1,100 public servants vaxxed in one week

Dom, 09/01/2022 - 07:27

Just over 1,100 public servants have been vaccinated this week, as Government's works on a plan to create safe zones at public offices, and furlough unvaccinated employees. On Saturday, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said between Monday and Friday, 1,109 public servants accessed covid19 vaccines at the dedicated vaccination sites of the Government Plaza in Port of Spain, and the Southern Academy for the Performing Arts. However, he said other public servants could have gone elsewhere to get vaccinated. According to the Office of the Chief Personnel Office, there are 86,000 public servants monthly and daily-rated). As efforts continue to increase the vaccination rate, Deyalsingh, during the virtual covid19 update, also announced the start of the second month of the national covid19 booster programme. Those who received their second dose of the AstraZeneca or Sinopharm vaccines between July 1 to July 30, 2021, and Johnson and Johnson dose between November 7 and December 7, 2021, are scheduled to get their booster shots between January 8 and February 5. He said 674,197, or 48.2 per cent of the population, completed their vaccine schedule and were on their way to being fully vaccinated, while 88,083 people got their booster shots. Dr Kiran Suraj, head of the Adult Emergency Department at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex (EWMSC), joined with the minister in urging members of the public to get vaccinated. He said similar to the national statistics, that 86 per cent of patients admitted into hospital with the virus were are unvaccinated, so most of those presenting to the emergency department’s covid19 areas were not fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, the fully vaccinated typically had a milder case of the virus. He explained that one of the ways doctors gauged the severity of illness of a patient was by their oxygen requirements. So, on Saturday morning, the department calculated the average amount of oxygen used by non-intensive care unit (ICU) patients in the EWMSC’s covid19 areas. [caption id="attachment_933569" align="alignnone" width="1024"] -[/caption] “What we found is those who are unvaccinated have an average of 7.6 litres per minute of oxygen utilisation whilst the few that are vaccinated in our hot pathways that are not at ICU level, don’t require any supplemental oxygen.” He said the EWMSC had 71 oxygen tanks available for use and trained people to check patients’ oxygen levels, as well as the amount of oxygen in tanks on a regular basis. It also had eight oxygen concentrators which could generate low levels of oxygen to patients who did not need as much. Deyalsingh added that last year the ministry, through the Emergency Operations Centre, installed three Victank units – large gas storage tanks – at the Point Fortin Area Hospital, at the St James Medical Complex, and at another location. “We worked with our major oxygen supplier, Massy Gases to put in what is call Victanks, which is a big storage unit for oxygen, which is then piped automatically to the patients, reducing the need for manual intervention to monitor and switch over from tank to tank.” Suraj said a “significant proportion” of patients had severe disease and needed a lot of oxygen as well as some degree of mechanical ventilation. This was because many of them take too long to go to the hospital, while others were taking unapproved therapies such as hydroxychloroquine.  

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Still the stigma

Dom, 09/01/2022 - 07:27

Even though it had been building through the late seventies, the HIV/Aids epidemic has an official start date, thanks to published reports from the Centers for Disease Control in the US. It’s June 5, 1981.

By 1987, AZT (azidothymidine) was approved as the first treatment for HIV. That is the most profoundly successful coming together of science, activism, funding and the best qualities of humanity I can imagine.

Dr Jeffrey Lieberman, an American psychiatrist with a particular interest in schizophrenia, helped me connect those useful dots. In a talk he gave about the dream of a no-stigma world for mental health, he looked, naturally, at the most publicly marked groups in history.

It would have been a much less moving and effective talk if he’d stuck to the big red “A” from The Scarlet Letter (too literary) or the stars worn by Jews during the second world war (too obvious). But he got into how easy it was to stigmatise HIV/Aids patients who were already coming from easy-target groups in the early days: homosexuals and drug users.

But in six years – what must have been six gruelling, sleepless, exhausting, frustrating years – in six years, there was treatment. And hope.

We had madwomen in the attic and dangerous lunatics long before Aids. Instead of throwing all kinds of funding into research, we threw them into mental institutions or jail. Or killed them. The history of the treatment of those of unsound mind is more or less one gothic horror story after another.

Today, in a time known as now, things may look a bit different but not overwhelmingly so. And the hideous misunderstandings that underpin prejudices and beliefs about mental illnesses have changed so very little.

The stigma of mental illness keeps far too many of us from seeking help. It’s not just the way the general public views the ones suffering, it’s also self-inflicted. Self-stigmatisation is real.

They’ll say I’m: mad/crazy/bananas. In turn, that makes me: weak/unreliable/dangerous.

Language – stigma’s most malevolent weapon – really goes unchecked. We use it intentionally to ostracise the most vulnerable. “He’s crazy, you can’t trust what he says.” And casually, just to hurt others. “You must be mad to think of going out with someone like her.”

Look at the compounding of the cruelty. It’s undesirable to be crazy and we’ll say so.

But even if you are not suspected of having a mental disorder, we can insult you by suggesting you do.

If “mad” is just about the worst thing you can be – worse than being narrow-minded, unkind, selfish, judgemental – why would anyone go out of their way to find out if something is wrong with them?

A long time ago there was an old woman who lived a fairly ordinary life, in a fairly ordinary neighbourhood, with her fairly ordinary family. She had one not so ordinary thing in her life: she had one very troubled daughter.

The girl was nervous and didn’t sleep well. She always had a stomachache. She tried to make plans to do ordinary things but would always cancel them. She was, to be honest, rather like a dark cloud on a string that the poor woman dragged from doctor to doctor, but no one knew what was wrong with the girl.

One day, the family’s faithful GP suggested the old woman take her cloud-balloon of a child to a psychiatrist. Growing children go through things, he said. Sometimes they need someone to talk to.

Other people had offered suggestions and advice over the years, but the old woman had ignored them. She had been told her child was possessed. That she was cursed. What she needed were priests and prayers. Failing that, a good obeahman.

Cloud-girl finally met a doctor who was not confused by her. She was depressed and had anxiety-related issues. She was put on medication.

And then the most surprising thing of all: things started to get better. The doctor helped. The medication helped.

But what helped most of all, the daughter felt, was her mother’s reaction to the news that her child had wonky brain wiring. “It’s like any other sickness,” she remembers her mother saying.

Never, the girl said, did her mother allow her to feel ashamed or embarrassed by her condition. Just like any other sickness.

By accepting her daughter’s diagnosis with understanding and enormous compassion, the old woman helped more than all the treatment in the world.

Remember to talk to your doctor or therapist if you want to know more about what you read here. In many cases, there’s no single solution or diagnosis to a mental health concern. Many people suffer from more than one condition.

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Categorie: Trinidad e Tobago

Having your cake and eating it

Dom, 09/01/2022 - 07:27

Novak Djokovic, the world number one lawn tennis pro, spent part of last week as the guest of the Australian immigration authorities instead of the Australian tennis fraternity, which is hosting the Australian Open championship that he has won nine times and was expecting to defend for another world record. It is an interesting story in that it is about money, ambition and the preparedness of people, who should know better, to exploit a situation. Simply told, Djokovic, a Serbian national, is famously anti-vaccination and refuses to reveal his vaccination status. Australia has a notoriously uncompromising stance on unvaccinated citizens and non-citizens entering the country. The government was as resolute as ours in locking out its own citizens during the worst period of the pandemic last year and it has a strict double vaccination policy, which it enforces. Notwithstanding that, the star managed to procure a medical exemption (for unspecified reasons) from being vaccinated, which enabled him to secure an entry visa. Djokovic must be one of the fittest people on the planet and treats his body like a well-oiled machine. One, therefore, cannot but raise an eyebrow over his having any medical condition that would prevent him being vaccinated. For sure there was incredulity and a quiet backlash brewing among some Aussies and also a few peeved, fully vaxxed international competitors who felt the star lives by another set of rules, because when he turned up at Melbourne airport, he was detained for an error on his visa. Exactly what the detail might be is still unknown as I write, but the matter quickly escalated into a national embarrassment for the Australian government, and even into an international incident, with the Australian Prime Minister and the Serbian President both making bold, uncompromising statements to the world’s media. The former may be on the losing side, since he has an election coming up and the situation appears to have been badly mishandled. Even if, despite what has been described as an extremely rigorous process, Djokovic is suspected of having been dishonest in procuring the medical exemption, as has also been suggested by what must be another wing of Australian officialdom, it remains the case that the visa was granted by the Australian government and the question arises, how efficient is that government when its immigration policies and procedures are so haphazard? Can the government disregard the fact that independent medical panels were appointed by Tennis Australia, which organises the championship, and the state of Victoria gave the concession? [caption id="attachment_933565" align="alignnone" width="683"] -[/caption] Maybe the provincial government was deliberately rattling the cage of the federal government for purely political reasons; maybe it is correct that Tennis Australia ignored Australia Border Force rules for entry and withheld advice from Victoria State. For his part, the Prime Minister saw an opportunity to make border control and foreigners the usual election time bobolee, and it might just come back to bite him. Certainly, it all is yet another cause of division in a time defined by schisms and polarisation, and by selfishness and unreason. The source is just one person wanting to have his cake and eat it. Devoutly unvaccinated people may prove to have been right in the long run if they were lucky enough not to contract the virus, and they are free to live according to their beliefs, but there are consequences for our decisions and those must be accepted. Djokovic has not accepted the logic of his ideological stance and his desire to make a world record is so powerful that he sought to enter a country fabled for its hostility to the unvaccinated. However, Djokovic is not the only person at fault, Tennis Australia should not have been prepared to facilitate and accept an exemption from an internationally acknowledged non-vaxxer when it could lead to mayhem, which it has done. They probably were blindsided by the prospect of profit margins shrinking if the world-record holder was not there to attract the maximum audiences for his matches. The whole matter is rife with people making bad judgements. The pandemic has revealed that our worst instincts as human beings are fully intact regardless of how advanced our science becomes. In TT, the dishonesty is quite staggering with regard to beating the pandemic rules and exploiting others. I mislaid my original vaccination card and eventually sought the help of someone who knew someone in the Health Ministry to expedite its replacement. It was a slow, annoying process that included reporting the card lost to the police, but I had not appreciated that there is a lucrative trade in the issuance of false vaccination cards – a non-vaxxed person could get one for $2,000. People are falsifying PCR test results, medical staff circulate in full knowledge that they are infectious, people are selling exorbitantly-priced oxygen equipment for home treatment and fake medication, and a litany of other rule infringements exist. But perhaps the source of greatest sadness is our union leaders, who appear to be exploiting workers instead of trying to educate them.  

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Agricultural Society predicts hike in livestock prices

Dom, 09/01/2022 - 07:27

LOCAL livestock prices are set to increase by next week, says president of the Agricultural Society of TT (ASTT) Darryl Rampersad. Speaking with Sunday Newsday on Thursday, Rampersad said international commodity prices continued to show an upward trend and coupled with the cost of livestock healthcare, farmers were unable to hold off any further. He said farmers were anticipating another 15-25 per cent increase in feed prices soon. “Of course, there would be an increase. In the early part of February last year, the increase was because of a price increase in wheat middling. Animal healthcare products have already increased between 75-100 per cent on products. This is a cost the farmers tried to absorb as well as maintain the meat prices. “There is a sure indicated increase in international prices and members of the poultry industry have indicated that they will be increasing the processed items. In the next week, or so, we can see that happening,” Rampersad said. In February and July last year, the sector was hit with increases in livestock feed from its major suppliers – National Flour Mills, Mastermix and Nutrimix – owing to high international grain prices, demand and supply trends and climate conditions. Sunday Newsday tried to contact the three suppliers about further increases but only NFM responded. [caption id="attachment_933562" align="alignnone" width="1024"] A tractor operator transports tanner grass from the Mon Jaloux Forage Development Centre in Cunupia for use by farmers oon March 26, 2021. - FILE PHOTO/ROGER JACOB[/caption] Its CEO Ian Mitchell said via Whatsapp message that, “We continually monitor the cost inputs for our feed products. There is always the possibility that we will have to make an adjustment.” Rampersad said while it would not be a permanent fix to the price pressure, a local feed mill or forage facility would be an asset, help livestock farmers, and in the end the consumer. “We have been asking for a feed mill to produce local high protein forages that can be substituted into some of the feed ingredients. In the past, the Sugarcane Feed Centre used to work on research, such as this. We need to revisit these things. The Mon Jaloux facility which was earmarked as forage bank is abandoned,” he said. Last March, Sunday Newsday reported that illegal farmers had taken over almost a third of the 366-acre Mon Jaloux forage development centre in Cunupia. Food security, Rampersad said, should be a priority for the government, but farmers continued to struggle for basic amenities to run their farms. He pointed out that there were many dilapidated farm access roads, drainage, bridges, and other shortfalls infrastructure that were forcing farmers out of the industry. Rampersad said, “The livestock sector is one that is limping right now because we have minimum assistance from the government. There are no support services. The livestock sector is one that is left behind because agriculture in TT is focused on vegetables, root crops and other plant produce.” He said the association has been trying for some time to meet with the Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries Clarence Rambharat on the matter, but all their requests have been turned down. Veterinary surgeon Dr Tariq Ackbar said the commercial cost for animal healthcare has increased due to several input factors over the past couple of years. He told Sunday Newsday that apart from medication, a lack of government veterinarians has raised the cost of the care of animals, as farmers must now engage the services of private veterinarians, which were costly. “Since covid19 started there was a gradual loss of the government vet services. The government vet services charge very little to the farmers. So having lost a lot of the reliability of the government service there is a drastic increase in the cost of paying for the vet service. “There have been increases in medication and supplies. Overall increased prices in fuel, vehicle maintenance and other services, contributed to the service fees for the visits of vets.” Ackbar said a lack of investment and funding by the ministry to the government-provided veterinary service were some of the reasons for a steady decline and failed service to livestock farmers. “The Government has not been able to financially afford that service, and, because of that, they can’t hire enough vets to run the service adequately. The few vets that are available have to be stretched out and this depreciates the reliability of the service. “It has been a problem for a while but lately it has gotten worse. It is supposed to be one vet per county. There have been cases where the animal health assistant is going out, on behalf of the vet, to do some of the work, and try to help the situation. That has caused some trouble in terms of the quality of service provided. So, now there is a cut back on the health assistants going out. Minister in agriculture ministry Avinash Singh told Sunday Newsday it continued to monitor the global prices, which the ministry had no control over, but pointed out that there were many incentives for farmers to access, once registered. Singh said, “We continue to monitor the costs associated with farming. It is a worldwide challenge and not something targeted at TT. The ministry continues to provide heavy incentives and subsidies such as the $100,000 grant that all livestock farmers are entitled to. “The Mon Jaloux facility has been providing free forage to farmers for some time. There is always going to be talk that more could be done, and I agree but the facility continues to activity and contributing to the livestock producers.” He added that in the matter of the government veterinarian service, there have been challenges that are being looked at by the permanent secretary. “We had issues in terms of manpower in that division – Animal, Health and Production Division and the permanent secretary is aware of it, and I’m sure she is looking into it. I don’t have many facts and information about it and would have to find out more,” Singh said.  

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The psychology of tipping

Dom, 09/01/2022 - 07:27

That news story about postal delivery workers planting envelopes for gifts or tips in your mailboxes raised eyebrows. Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales called it “illegal and reprehensible.” Postal Workers' Union president David Forbes said it was a “sweetheart relationship” – part of the psychology of tipping for service. In the first place, it is well defined that a “tip” is given for service, for example, in a restaurant, airport or taxi, because you have been satisfied with the service given. Now the waiter, maid, porter or taxi driver is presumably already being paid a salary by the employer. And the tip is therefore discretionary. The taxi driver has the mileage register or an already-agreed charge for the trip. This tipping matter, while expressing gratitude, could cause unnecessary trouble and disappointment. Why, for example, should you give the maid a tip if you find your hotel bedsheet or bathroom towel have not been changed for three days? Why should you give the waiter a tip who carelessly spills coffee on your dress? Or serves several others while you were waiting longer? Or the taxi driver who takes the wrong way so far that your fare gets doubled in the meter? Well, with a soft heart for the working class, you may still tip them. In fact, the Trinidad and Tobago Postal Workers' Union has a banner with the slogan “Born from Struggle.” For three years now, claiming a “high absenteeism rate and worker burnout,” the union has been asking for more staff and increased salaries. But tipping is a different thing. The worker is hired by an employer, who pays him or her an agreed-upon salary or wage. And this salary is expected to be fair and reasonable. In fact, this, in addition to other industrial relations conditions, is by law. [caption id="attachment_868861" align="alignnone" width="433"] -[/caption] Tipping is more a psychological, conditional obligation than a law. If it is that employers pay service workers less than a standard rate, telling workers that “tips” will cover the rest, that is asking for trouble or disappointment. There are at least five psychological principles related to tipping in a restaurant: 1. As gratitude for good service. 2. As encouragement for better service. 3. Giving tips, big ones, to “show off,” to appear a “big spender,” especially if among friends. 4. As an investment for future service. 5. As a duty to help the poor. Of course, waiters should be smart enough to increase customer motivation to tip. When a waiter introduces himself or herself and makes the customer feel “somebody special,” the tip, especially with the wife’s prodding, is almost guaranteed. Tipping, as defined earlier, is an act of making a small present of money for a service given (Oxford Concise Dictionary). Not everybody may afford a tip. Now, it seems standard practice to include “gratuity” in the restaurant bill. “Gratuity” means “money given in recognition for services.” It is usually around 15 per cent of your final bill. But where did this idea come from? From the “International Council of Restaurateurs” after customer consultations? Is it a substitute for “tip?” Well, okay, people pay gratuity quietly, mainly because they wish to look “respectable,” but why then expect another “tip” to be given? Look, from the psychological pressure of the moment, I always pay gratuity and the tip happily when the service is good. But I must admit, I wonder. It is the compulsory part I don’t like. It looks like bullying sometimes. Some places put in both gratuity and tip without asking you anything, regardless of the quality of service or food. I have seen signs at the doors of some overseas restaurants and bars which tell you “tipping of 25 per cent or more is compulsory here.” In dealing with the postal workers’ Christmas envelope venture, the Public Utilities Minister is trying to be a disciplined minister. He feels as employees of a government service agency, it doesn’t look good for workers to put white envelopes in citizens’ mailboxes. Cut it out, he said, much to the objection of union secretary general Clyde Elder. Now, if, as Mr Elder argues, these postal workers sometimes pay the bills, run errands etc, for some citizens, well then, such citizens are obliged “to give a small present for good service rendered.” But to put the envelope in all mailboxes will likely lead to worker disappointments, especially from poor citizens at a time of existing hardships for all.  

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Take them out of our hands now

Dom, 09/01/2022 - 07:27

At the crack of dawn, she dragged the dismembered body to the roadside, with utmost care. This was someone’s loved one. Someone was grieving somewhere, wondering if their companion or family member was lost...dead...alive. Many people all over Trinidad and Tobago were undoubtedly grieving similarly. That body was not the only one my friend and her companions (who had formed a small search/rescue team) encountered on January 1. Several other corpses littered their route along the East-West Corridor. Some, reduced to heaps of bloody entrails, were, at first glance, barely recognisable as dogs. In one instance, a piece of the car that had slammed into the animal lay nearby, a souvenir of the impact. At what speed were those drivers going? At least the dogs, running in terror and confusion from the cacophony of fireworks, must have died instantly. Nothing that is literally cut in half (to the extent that, at first, in a photograph, it looks like two rather than one of its kind) would have had a chance to suffer. An awareness video, edited from footage shot by the small search/rescue party, was uploaded to Facebook with the heart-rending consideration: “What if the owners of dead dogs see their pets in the video? How will they feel?” This is exactly what happened, as one family, upon viewing the video, identified their dog, for whom they had been searching in the aftermath of the Old Year’s night "warfare." At least the heartbreaking confirmation gave them closure. Would we feel any better if sellers of fireworks vowed to come out the day after the carnage and help rescue the countless injured and lost animals...collect and respectfully dispose of the dead...inject some of their multi-millions into the high veterinary bills that animal rescuers and caring members of the public pay from their pockets, in most cases for animals that we do not even know? One dog, rescued by the search/rescue team after being hit by a vehicle, was rushed to a vet clinic which, thankfully, opened in the pre-dawn hours to accept the emergency case. Her demeanour and appearance hinted that she could be someone’s beloved pet. X-rays were done and the dog was kept at the clinic for some days, under observation. [caption id="attachment_933554" align="alignnone" width="541"] -[/caption] Fireworks suppliers and vendors...will you pay the bill, which is in the thousands? No, you won’t. Strangers who have nothing to do with this dog, but care about her wellbeing after seeing her case featured on social media, have kindly donated to cover the cost. On December 31, 2021, when her neighbour’s incessant fireworks kept hitting the guttering of her home/guest house, terrorising her and her dog and putting her property in danger, a friend in Tobago called the police. A female officer answered with a cheery “Happy New Year!” However, upon receiving my friend’s report of the neighbour’s illegal use of fireworks and the resulting fire hazard, the officer sucked her teeth and promptly hung up the phone. My friend, who has a strict "no fireworks, no explosives" policy at her property was left incensed, frustrated and helpless. That very night, several home-dwellers in Port of Spain, Trinidad, were not so fortunate. Those victims are calling for a ban on fireworks after their homes were ravaged by fire which, according to an eyewitness, was caused by a fire lantern (a kind of firework) that had landed on the roof of one building. The draft bill seeking to regulate the use of fireworks is currently up for public consultation. However, unless there is enforcement of the law (and not steupsing of police officers), no legal amendments re fireworks will amount to anything... just as amendments to the laws against animal cruelty have, thus far, amounted to nothing. As it stands, the draft fireworks bill is unacceptable (view it here: https://tinyurl.com/fireworks-bill and e-mail your feedback to events@ag.gov.tt by January 26). According to one source, the draft sounds like it was written by the sellers of fireworks themselves. Barring a complete ban on fireworks (which will probably never happen in TT), Minister Stuart Young’s call for a ban on the sale of fireworks to members of the public will be, for many (and hopefully most) of us, the only acceptable amendment to the legislation. We must agree to nothing less.  

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Don't tell us, show us

Dom, 09/01/2022 - 07:25

Acting Police Commissioner McDonald Jacob seemed to be following an old and ineffective playbook for police leadership in announcing new crime-fighting plans.

The only mercy that's been shown to a population weary of such announcements is that these efforts at crime control no longer sport outlandish operational names.

It's unclear why the police should feel moved to notify the public that they are doing their job – in this case, responding to ten murders in a year that is only now entering its second week.

It's one thing to notify the public of specific operations that might limit access or create traffic, and quite another to offer vague promises to deal with crime.

Mr Jacob is in the unusual position of acting in a job for which he was, to be blunt, the eligible candidate who was available.

That's pretty far from being chosen to do a job, but it's also no reason not to take the opportunity to push his officers to do their jobs with greater, more visible efficiency.

And the Acting Police Commissioner has more than just the challenge of crime to deal with.

The Police Welfare Association is keen for him to address the promotion of more than 2,700 officers to the ranks of corporal or sergeant.

He is also managing an under-vaccinated Police Service that is being called on to face down an under-vaccinated population in an environment of widespread covid19 infection. His officers in the field are facing frustrated citizens willing to flout health regulations.

It's not as if he isn't aware. The covid19 toll among police officers reached 29 last week, with four dying in that week alone.

"My officers are dying as a result of the people who are choosing to go and organise all these little parties," Mr Jacob said.

In his frustration with the situation, he called, somewhat unfairly, on the media to "be a little tougher on people in society who are organising these things."

Supporting his officers in the field is even more critical at this time and the acting CoP must mount a more effective internal campaign within the police corps to encourage wider acceptance of vaccination. It simply isn't enough settle for encouraging officers to be vaccinated or to adhere to all protocols for sanitising.

The temptation to defend his officers is understandable, but the police service must do more to protect and serve its own.

Mr Jacob should not be tempted to talk about the work he is expected or planning to do; he should use his time in office to advocate for the rule of law in the face of restriction fatigue, and use more effective communications methods to encourage his officers to do more to defend themselves against covid19.

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Xtra Foods 'heroes' captures people’s choice supermarket chain award

Dom, 09/01/2022 - 07:25

Despite the challenges supermarkets and their workers faced over the past two years, the Supermarket Association (SATT) president Rajiv Diptee said their dedication should not go unnoticed and unrewarded.

He made the comment on Saturday at the formal presentation to Xtra Foods Supermarket with the SATT people’s choice supermarket chain of the year 2021 award, at Xtra Foods Endeavour, Chaguanas branch.

Diptee said the SATT members have and continued to risk their lives in the pandemic to ensure that food items were made available to the population, and the workers should be classified as heroes.

“The members off SATT have been serving you tirelessly, risking their lives as frontliners and giving back to the nation to ensure that you have been fed and you have been taken care of during the pandemic.

“We are very grateful to the heroes, and make no mistake, I call them heroes, because they have been here since the initial lockdown in March 2020, risking their lives before vaccines were available,” Diptee said.

The SATT awards is in its 27th year and the people’s choice supermarket chain of the year 2021 award was a new addition to the slate. Another sub-award under the people’s choice award was the independent supermarket of the year award 2021, in which the Price Club Supermarket won in the Trinidad category and the Viewport Supermarket for the Tobago category.

Diptee said the people’s choice was created to recognise the efforts of the workers who continued to deliver consistently on standards and excellence.

Diptee said, “Today, we recognise Xtra Foods people’s choice supermarket chain of the year 2021 and we recognise they have consistently done these standards of excellence and services.”

Xtra Foods has five branches — Chaguanas Main Road, Endeavour, Grand Bazaar, Arima and Sangre Grande.

President of the Chaguanas Chamber of Industry and Commerce Richie Sookhai said Xtra Foods has shown resilience and growth, expanding from a supermarket on Chaguanas Main Road to a major supermarket franchise.

“It is a proud day not just for Xtra Foods, but Chaguanas and the business community as a whole. They have grown into a mega food giant in the food supply industry. We are proud to see how they have grown and how they have helped the communities uplift the areas in which they have gone into,” Sookhai said.

He added that SATT continued to invest and uphold the country’s interest, especially in a pandemic, through its vaccination drives and outreach.

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Categorie: Trinidad e Tobago

Laventille footballer Ronaldo Jacob excels on and off the field

Dom, 09/01/2022 - 07:22

IT HAS been an eventful two years for Ronaldo Jacob. A month after Trinidad and Tobago recorded its first covid19 case in 2020, he left to begin a new chapter of his life at Lyon College, Arkansas, United States. Jacob, 22, visited TT for Christmas break and spoke about his experiences abroad and expectations for the future at a friend's Laventille home on Wednesday. Despite being a relatively recent addition to the student roster, Jacob said he had no problems settling into campus life, beginning pre-season football training two weeks after registering. He's on an athletic scholarship, and plays left back and centre back at the college. In addition to competing against some of the best student athletes in the southern US, Jacob must also find time to keep up with a demanding course schedule and his job in the campus cafeteria. He says while the fast pace of the campus environment can be overwhelming, he has adjusted well, crediting his organisational skills and work ethic to lessons he learned in TT. "I've had this dream my entire life, so it's not to say I'm worried or panicking. My entire life I've been pushing hard, so it's not to say that this is too much stress. "The one thing the university ensures is that without a proper GPA they put you out, because you must maintain a certain GPA to maintain your eligibility so they push you academically as well. So that's what helps. "By the time I got up there, everything went smoothly. I know what I was preparing for – I watched enough movies and enough football programmes to know it's a lot of work and you just have to get to work immediately." Jacob's day begins at 6 am, giving him enough time to go to the gym for an hour-long workout before getting ready for class at 8 am. Class time continues to 2 pm, when he begins his job at the cafeteria before football training at 4.30 pm. He says training usually lasts for two hours before he gets home and begins studying, which can take him to 11 pm. While this rigid routine has worked well, Jacob admits he had some difficulty getting used to the change in climate and air quality, but says his passion for the game was a main factor in keeping him focused. "It was a little difficult at the beginning, because the air is a lot different over there, it's a lot thinner. But my body eventually got accustomed to it and I started to enjoy training a lot more because I felt I had to push my body more." For this reason Jacob has spent more time on strength and conditioning while abroad and joked that even his father noticed his increase in size when he returned to Trinidad. [caption id="attachment_933546" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Ronaldo Jacob, left and his father Simon Jacob Sr during his visit to Trinidad - Shane Superville[/caption] Meanwhile, Lyon College moved up six spots in the US schools soccer programme to number 19, the highest they have ever been ranked outperforming long-time rivals Columbia College. Even with this dedication to football, staying on top of his academics remains a top priority. Jacob originally planned to study business, but changed to English after reflecting on his personal plans and career goals. He says other young people should carefully consider their options before starting a degree programme, and not just go on their parents' advice. "It's a good degree programme, but it's not something I would enjoy doing for the rest of my life. I love English, and there are so much options with it in writing, journalism and all that. So I thought I should give it a try, and so far I felt like I made the right choice. It's a lot of writing, but I like to do it, so I don't really feel stressed... "Initially when everyone is growing up their parents might want them to be a doctor or a scientist. Obviously not everyone can be a doctor or a scientist, everyone has to go into different fields to let the world turn properly. "Yes it's good to push yourself to the limit and do your best, but find something that you enjoy doing, because if you don't enjoy it you'll only go after it half-heartedly." The change has worked out well for Jacob, as his GPA was high enough for him to make the honour roll, placing him among the top students at the university. He says while he worked hard at completing assignments, he was still surprised to hear about his achievement. "I got a message from my coach telling me I made the honour roll. I was shocked. It was myself and about three or four other guys. "Even when they were doing some recent recruitment drives, they used me and the other athletes as examples. He said. 'These three guys, yes, they are soccer players, but they pushed their GPA even beyond the base requirement'. He said these are the things teachers like, because it shows the programme is going well." [caption id="attachment_933540" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Ronaldo Jacob, left, in action against players from Central Baptist College.
PHOTO COURTESY RONALDO JACOB - PHOTO COURTESY RONALDO JACOB[/caption] While he is proud of these achievements, Jacob says he is wary of becoming too comfortable in success and maintains the same hunger and passion as he did when he was a star player for Trinity College, Maraval. He aims to be an All-American, an honorary title given to outstanding student athletes, and become captain of his school's football team. With such high ambitions and a heavy schedule, Jacob says he still finds time to enjoy the sights of Arkansas and enjoys new experiences with his friends. "I have some friends over there, we go to the river or something, or go hiking, because where our school is located is in the rural US. There are a lot of nice hiking spots where you can go to relax. There are a lot of hammock spots." He also enjoys spending time with his new friends and sharing parts of TT culture, recalling their attempts to imitate pelau in the cafeteria. "I gave them the recipe and a video to watch on instructions, because I cook as well, but I let them give it a try because they were the ones in control of the International Food Tasting event. So they tried to do the pelau – and it didn't come out anything like what I thought it would be. "It was a funny experience and a few people actually enjoyed it. "But I know that's not what it's supposed to be." Jacob has also introduced his friends to TT cooking, as he prepared curry chicken, cottage cheese spinach and rice for an event which he said was an overwhelming success, as he used curry powder bought in Trinidad. He says cooking is another passion of his and has considered investing in a small restaurant once he is finished with his studies. "One of my goals is to open up a business like that –a very small fast food place. It could start off small, but who knows, it could blossom into a franchise. I had that idea a while but I'm taking it one step at a time." Newsday also spoke to Jacob's father, Simon Jacob Sr, who is very proud of his son and said while it was difficult having him away from home this long, they were in constant communication. Jacob's family includes his mother Leslie-Ann Jacob, and three siblings – Simon Jacob Jnr, Tricia Jacob-Benjamin and Malcolm Jacob. "I was worried for a while because this is the first time he's been away for so long – 11 months and 15 days – so it was a bit of a strain mentally, because we're always together," said his father. "When I heard the pandemic escalating in the US I called him and told him to wear his mask. He was actually the first one in the family to get vaccinated. Sometimes he might call me on the phone and I might hear someone passing near him and I would remind him to wear his mask." The elder Jacob is also proud that his lessons of resilience and consistency stayed with his son, and advised other parents to maintain a presence in the lives of their children. Jacob's former coach and long-time mentor Michael Paul also said he was proud of his accomplishments and thanked him for continuing to take pride in Laventille as his hometown. He also said there was potential for other young men to excel once they were given the opportunities and encouragement to be their best. "I have a joy in my heart for everything he has done. I've known him since he was six years old, being able to see all the work he did with the help of his father. "Anyone can reach this point, but it's important for the family to give them that support. All the potential in the world won't be enough if children aren't encouraged." Family friend and football enthusiast Gregory Pierre also praised Jacob and urged the young athlete to continue doing his best and empower others to push themselves. With two more years left in his degree programme, Jacob is determined to leave his mark on a university far from the country and neighbourhood where he grew up. He has grown to be a better athlete and thinker, but his passion and drive for success remain the same.  

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Cool Cat cage birds in Sian’s Gold Sprint

Dom, 09/01/2022 - 07:20

COOL CAT swept past the pair of birds, Lady Bird and Super Bird, to win the Sian’s Gold Sprint on Saturday, at the Santa Rosa Park, Arima.

This was the feature race in the Arima Race Club (ARC) 2022 season’s opener.

Lady Bird, ridden by Nigel Flavenney, moved ahead of her six rivals from the off, in this 1,100-metre race on the turf track. Super Bird, with Brian Boodramsingh aboard, kept pace, but pre-race favourite General JN was struggling to keep up, under sunny conditions at Arima.

Lady Bird managed to keep a handy lead heading into the final bend, but Cool Cat and Super Bird decided to put Lady Bird to the test.

Cool Cat, ridden by Kiran Razack, waited until 100 metres to go before he decided to increase the tempo, and he slid in between the leaders and coolly cruised past the finish line, in a time of one minute 4.4 seconds.

Super Bird and Lady Bird were second and third respectively, followed by Signal Note, Early Bird, General JN and Khaleesi.

The top jockey on Saturday was Ronald ‘Tiger’ Ali with two victories, while trainer Michael Lutchman also registered a pair of wins on the day.

The ARC 2022 Race Day Two is set for January 22, with the Midsummer Classic, pushed back from 2021, expected to be staged.

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Mayaro MP urges govt to help pay for funerals of covid19 victims

Dom, 09/01/2022 - 07:20

Opposition Mayaro PM Rushton Paray has called on the Government to help pay for the funerals of covid19 victims.

In a media release on Saturday, Paray said: "The $7,500 funeral grant offered by the national insurance scheme has not been increased in eight years despite higher burial and cremation costs, especially during the current covid19 crisis."

Paray’s concerns about the high costs of indoor cremations arose in light of the increasing amount of covid19 deaths, as well as the Government’s decision to ban open-pyre funerals as a precaution to prevent the spread of the virus.

He charged that several constituents have lost more than one relative to the virus and have been unable to afford the steep funeral charges.

Paray said for Hindus, the Government’s "illogical banning" of open-pyre cremations has led to an almost five-fold increase in funeral costs.

"The situation is dire, and government should immediately provide a funeral grant through the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services, to deserving applicants," Paray said.

"Those seeking to access the grant should be subjected to rigorous criteria to ensure there are no irregularities."

Only a few days ago, the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) wrote to funeral homes asking for disclosure on the cost of indoor cremations.

In Friday's Newsday, acting general secretary Vijay Maharaj said the Maha Sabha had learned that the cost for indoor cremations normally ranged between $10,000-$15,000 but have increased for covid19 bodies from $27,000-$50,000.

Paray said the Mayaro community has been an economic backbone to the country through the lucrative hydrocarbon sector for more than a generation.

"Despite their vast contributions to the nation’s welfare, residents continue to endure rural neglect. Now they are pleading for the Government to provide social welfare assistance so they could afford funeral costs and avoid the agony of having to beg for community support."

The management of covid19 deaths includes the storage of bodies. The Association of Funeral Professionals has been looking for a mass storage facility to hold bodies and a statement will be made on this matter next week, its president Keith Belgrove told Newsday this week. Belgrove stressed that funeral homes were not overwhelmed and had the capacity to cremate bodies but those with covid19 were building up because their relatives were in quarantine and could not claim them or arrange a funeral.

On Saturday, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said regional health authorities (RHAs) cannot hold on to bodies indefinitely, which is why the Ministry of Health and the funeral homes have planned for the mass storage site, even though morgues are not at critical capacity.

At the virtual covid19 update, Deyalsingh said, “Resources and capacities are finite so we can’t hold on to bodies indefinitely as much as we’d like to. So that is why we have to treat all of this with a degree of dignity and have the funeral homes store bodies.”

He, therefore, urged families to claim the bodies of their loved ones as soon as possible and take them to a funeral home. He added that, even before the pandemic, some RHAs had arrangements with funeral homes to outsource storage.

During a previous briefing, Deyalsingh said, "The position at our morgues at this time is not critical, in this case. But we are always engaging in contingency planning with the private sector via Mr Belgrove."

Belgrove has said his organisation was searching for a new site after protests by residents and Couva South MP Rudranath Indarsingh moved the organisation to stop plans to have the site at Beaucarro Road, Freeport.

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Minister Cox: Food support programme under review

Dom, 09/01/2022 - 07:20

Owing to irregularities, the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services is investigating the Food Support programme.

A media statement from the ministry on Friday assured that the programme has not been suspended. It said the investigation is to ensure that the beneficiaries are those eligible and in need of the support. The ministry believes that several policies, procedural, and other changes must be made to effectively manage the programme and its related expenditure. The statement said the programme addresses food insecurity via a cash transfer, a card or cheque, to reduce poverty. It provides nutritional food support to many vulnerable households.

The ministry said one-three people per household get $510, four-five people per household get $650, and six-plus people per household get $800. It said, "All recipients of the Food Support Grant must be assessed regularly to ensure that they remain eligible for the grants paid by the ministry, in accordance with the legislation and policy and procedures."

It quoted line minister Donna Cox as saying the ministry has considered reviewing all clients receiving food support to ensure the eligibility status and that the necessary approvals, and authority to make payment, are in place.

"The ministry took this approach with a view to ensuring that only those clients who meet the eligible criteria receive the food support," Cox said.

The ministry’s Social Welfare Division was instructed to take the new applications and refer these to the Central Office repository.

Given that new applicants will be impacted, the ministry said it is making every effort to provide temporary support to those in need by issuing temporary food cards and food vouchers, where necessary.

Some of the irregularities were beneficiaries being employed and never reporting their status change or indicating that they no longer require support.

The ministry found that some clients were simultaneously receiving multiple grants like senior citizens' pension, public assistance and disability assistance grants.

Some beneficiaries are housed at community care facilities, and the ministry pays the full cost of their upkeep, including all meals. The ministry also found that some beneficiaries live abroad. Some use the food cards to buy items like alcohol and cigarettes, but not food.

People also use food cards in exchange for cash. People also apply for cards to feed their children in the household, but the children did not benefit from the grant. The ministry reassures the public that none of the existing clients have been removed. Removal will only be done based on a proper assessment of each case.

The statement said, "Clients on the programme are also guaranteed that they can continue to use their card and cheques provided to acquire food for their household."

Responding to the ministry’s decision to review the programme, UNC’s public relations officer Dr Kirk Meighoo, criticised the minister, saying she feels she can decide who is "needy or greedy" during this severe economic and food crisis.

On Saturday, in a release, Meighoo questioned the expenditure on social assistance during the pandemic.

"Where has the $5 billion or $20 billion in covid relief gone? The UNC repeats its is call for a forensic investigation," Meighoo said. "...Citizens are ready to vote them out and remove them for good."

Couva North MP Ravi Ratiram, commenting on the issue, queried a report his office got that the National Agricultural Marketing and Development Corporation’s (Namdevco) food hamper support programme had been stopped.

In a statement on Friday, he said his office got a phone call from staffers at Namdevco advising them about the temporary discontinuation of its food box programme.

“In light of the continued escalation of food prices, this Food Box Programme would have provided much-needed relief to our most vulnerable in society,” his statement said.

Ratiram called on Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat called on Rambharat and the Government to "show compassion and consideration" to the less fortunate who desperately need the monthly food box.

The opposition MP said, “This programme should continue, at least until sustainable job opportunities can be created and the Government is able to lift this country out of the economic rut that they have thrown us (citizens) in.”

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ICC ready to stage first-ever Under-19 World Cup in West Indies

Dom, 09/01/2022 - 07:20

CRICKET’S world governing body is ready to deliver the Caribbean’s first-ever staging of the International Cricket Council (ICC) Under-19 World Cup. The tournament’s 14th edition bowls off on Friday with 2016 winners and hosts West Indies up against three-time champions Australia at the Guyana National Stadium, Providence, Guyana. Altogether, 16 teams will feature in 48 matches across four countries – Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, St Kitts and Antigua. ICC head of events Chris Tetley said the travelling nations have already touched down in the Caribbean and are comfortably acclimatising to their respective bio-secure bubbles. Tetley anticipates a high-intensity tourney and believes the 2022 edition serves, like prior Under-19 World Cups, as an integral stepping stone to guide young players through this crucial transitional stage of their careers. The World Cup will feature the next generation of cricket’s rising stars. “It’s a complex tournament to run, one that we’re delighted to be staging in the Caribbean for the first time. We’re excited to see the cricket that will be played. “Many of the current and past international captains come through the U-19 World Cup. Virat Kohli recently spoke about how significant this event was for him when he captained the Indian side in 2008 when they won the tournament. “He found that experience extremely formative in his career. So you can see the value in which the players hold this event which is very high, and for that reason, we take the organisation of it very seriously,” Tetley said. He affirmed the pandemic did and still poses some challenges. However, Tetley remains confident the ICC’s countermeasures and guidelines, once fully adhered to, would play an important role in restricting the spread of covid19. Months of detailed planning, he said, have gone into staging the large competition across four host nations. “The safety and bio-security of all participants is of primary significance to us in organising the event," Tetley noted. [caption id="attachment_933530" align="alignnone" width="355"] Chris Tetley -[/caption] “A lot of work has gone in to creating a plan that will provide safety and a safe environment for the participants, but equally, for the host countries in which we’re staging the event. “It’s a two-way process. We’ve been operating the plan now for about a week or so, since teams arrived. “We’re pleased with the way it’s going but it’s something that we need to keep maintaining and keep aware of situations in each of our host countries because the dynamics in each country are slightly different,” he added. TT will host ten matches, inclusive of group stage, plate tournament and Super League fixtures, at three venues – Brian Lara Cricket Academy (Tarouba), Queen’s Park Oval (St Clair) and Diego Martin Sporting Complex. Last week, Minister of Sport and Community Development Shamfa Cudjoe said that no fans will be allowed to attend matches to curb the spread of covid19. Other host nations however, have permitted entrance to a limited number of fully vaccinated fans. Tetley said the ICC respects the decisions of each government and must abide by their guidelines to host the event safely. “Vaccinated fans, to certain numbers, will be possible in other territories. We understand the position of the TT government and we operate within any parameters that they require us to. “But we’ve got great partnerships with host governments through Cricket West Indies (CWI) so we’re confident the plans we got in place will enable us to keep everyone safe and secure and to enjoy the tournament. “We’re very appreciative of the support of CWI and the work their staff has put in. And the four host governments, without whose support and involvement, the event would not be possible. We rely on government support to be able to put on events like this,” he said. In the end, Tetley said, the U-19 World Cup will provide young players with a great chance to showcase their talent at a top-flight international competition, after such a lengthy downtime, owing to the pandemic. “We use it (World Cup) as a finishing-school experience for young cricketers to get, what for some, might be their first opportunity to play in a large scale tournament format. “We run the event in a similar way as the senior World Cups that we run to give the best possible experience to help their cricketing education. “It’s an event that gives the cricket world an opportunity to structure youth programmes globally. It’s the largest tournament that we run. “In doing that, moving any number of people around the world, and around four countries in this case, it’s a significant logistical exercise. It’s no small undertaking. “This event is a long time in the making. We’re in a good space. Teams have started preparations. We’re very confident that we’re ready to enable to young starts of the future to put on a great show,” Tetley closed. Bangladesh are the reigning U-19 World Cup champions. The tournament will be televised via ESPN Caribbean.  

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AG: Govt open to more talks on public sector vaccine policy

Dom, 09/01/2022 - 07:19

Legislation that would transform government agencies into quasi-safe zones is still being drafted as the Attorney General (AG) is still considering submissions from stakeholders.

Speaking to Sunday Newsday in a telephone interview, AG Faris Al-Rawi said he is open to suggestions and the Cabinet has to consider further drafts. Therefore, a date is not yet set for the legislation to go to Parliament.

Al-Rawi said the December 18 announcement by the Prime Minister that public servants had to be vaccinated by mid-January to work was a warning to the public that the step was being considered rather than a mandate.

“The fact is, it is only a law that will guide this process. This isn’t even a mandate. The Prime Minister provided the government policy and, in December, gave people the heads up or the notice that this is what was being considered. And then I engaged in the consultative process. This will not be implemented or regulated by any other method than by way of an act of Parliament that must be passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate.

“In the Prime Minister’s announcement, it was important to bear in mind you have to give people forewarning of where you stand. This was done in the context of the covid surges demonstrating a near 100 per cent bed occupancy in the high dependency and intensive care units. So it isn’t as is being portrayed.”

He said the people in TT were in a difficult situation as people were getting sick but could not be placed in hospital beds because of lack of space, people were dying, and some people held heartfelt beliefs for or against vaccination.

He stressed that the government did not want to cause people discomfort but it had to make policy decisions.

Al-Rawi repeated the call for members of the public and organisations to bring submissions as he and his team continue to draft legislation to amend the public health ordinance.

He expressed disappointment with trade unions who said they were not against vaccination but had not provided the authorities with useful information on promoting the use of vaccines and encouraging their members to get vaccinated.

On Friday, he sent a 15-page letter to the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) in response to a December 29 letter from the union, which he received on January 3. In it, he said he answered all of their questions and showed data that the country’s difficulties in treating people were mostly occurring around the unvaccinated.

“The JTUM group has not given any submissions. What they have said is, ‘Withdraw and provide medical, statistical, scientific evidence that said that the covid19 vaccine would result in no infections or transmissions,’ and I have responded to that. But we did receive a number of very useful submissions from a number of other entities.”

In the letter, he responded to the group’s question on why the recommendations by Industrial Relations Advisory Committee (IRAC) were not fully implemented, and why the committee was not recalled if there were challenges with its recommendations.

He noted that the recommendations in the paper, Covid19 Vaccination in Workplaces of TT, were made from deliberations during March–July 2021, before the third wave of the virus. Even so, the report recognised covid19 vaccines were, to date, the only available long-term option out of the pandemic.

It added, “There are sound legal arguments and growing precedent establishing that mandatory covid19 vaccination through legislation is appropriate and lawful, whether assessed from constitutional, human rights or labour law. While industrial relations law remains silent on vaccination in the workplace, employers through its workplace policies can consider mandatory vaccination at minimum for high-risk employees in the public interest, which currently, is weighing more heavily than individual interests.”

He said because of the rapid spread of the virus, it was not feasible to take the time to redo the process as time costs lives.

“That short answer is that we are now in a whole different ball game where daily deaths are not abating, the voluntary vaccination programme has not resulted in an adequate level of uptake, and the vast preponderance of persons hospitalised and dying are not fully vaccinated. It is therefore now imperative that the next logical step of mandatory vaccinations be taken.”

He also noted the cost of the pandemic to the government saying the Ministry of Health spent $822,471,134 on the covid19 response – including $666,958,137.31 for the Regional Health Authority (RHA) response, $12,687,395.37 for the RHA vaccination programme and $142,825,601.32 for vaccine procurement.

He also responded to the unions' question of who would do the work “when the Government removes all these public sector workers” from their jobs?

He said the law would be drafted to allow workers time to get vaccinated if they wished. It will also include provisions for workers to get medical exemptions and deferrals. In addition, the government believed “good sense will prevail” and they would realise remaining unvaccinated put their lives in danger.

Al-Rawi told Sunday Newsday he met with the chief medical officer and others at the Ministry of Health on Tuesday to go through the details of the proposed legislation and discuss issues raised by stakeholders.

“I can confirm that we discussed the permutations and combinations on a number of matters. They include the vaccination regime when it is deemed to be started when it is deemed to be legitimately interrupted when it is deemed to be completed. Those will fall under what we call transitional provisions in the law.”

They also worked on the liability of the state if someone gets sick from the vaccine and how the initiative would be rolled out and other concerns.

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Major fast-food outlets hold out on price increase of menus

Dom, 09/01/2022 - 07:19

Major fast-food franchises – Prestige Holdings and Global Brands Group of Companies – have not made any decisions as yet to restructure their menu or prices in light of an increase in prices of poultry, flour and other raw materials.

Speaking with Sunday Newsday, director of Global Brands Group director Anthony Sabga-Aboud said there have been dramatic price increases from all areas, which has had a significant impact on its operations.

Several companies announced price changes. The National Flour Mills and Nutrimix announced flour price increased earlier this week Carib Brewery, Kiss Baking Co. Ltd and Nestle raised prices on certain products, and chicken and livestock producers and distributors implement price hikes from Monday.

Sabga-Aboud said by the end of January, the company would be in a better position to give details about any pricing changes.

“The price oil has gone up, the price of flour has gone up, the price of packaging and input costs have gone up across the board and it has not been small increases. In fact, it is very, very big.

“Our local suppliers are also passing on the cost as well. So, with that in mind we are reviewing our menu, menu costing and we are committed to offering all our customers as much value as possible,” he explained.

Global Brands Limited owns Pizza Boys, Church's Chicken, Rituals Coffee House, Wok 'n Roll and Donut Boys.

Simon Hardy, Prestige Holdings CEO, said they were not rushing into any knee-jerk reactions to increase prices but were evaluating the current market before a decision is made.

“No decisions have been taken. We are constantly reviewing our prices that we receive from our suppliers. If there is something we need to adjust to, we will look carefully, balancing both the needs of the consumer and the needs of our shareholders. At this stage, no decisions have been taken.”

Prestige Holdings brands included TGI Fridays, KFC, Subway, Pizza Hut, Starbucks.

In July last year, KFC raised prices by just over $2 and adjusted its menu with items like the Boss Meal moving up from $40 to $42, and the Big Deal, increasing as well by $2.05 from $29.95 to $32.

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