Trade officers with the Department of Commerce and Investment have issued warnings to 36 unlicensed businesses who operate on public land.
Minister for Commerce Wayne Panton confirmed that 14 of those businesses will have until Tuesday to obtain their licenses and approvals or they could be fined.
Responding to questions in Finance Committee, Mr. Panton said government does “not want to be in a position of fining businesses” but rather “facilitate” to ensure that vendors on public beaches and other businesses comply with the new Trade and Business Licensing Law.
Department of Commerce and Investment officers have so far focused on businesses in areas where the department received complaints from the public, such as the Seven Mile Beach and West Bay public beaches. Most of the vendors, who sell anything from beach chairs to coconut water, have operated in those areas without a license for years.
The new law came into force on Jan. 1 and gives trade officers more enforcement powers. Additional staff members have also allowed the department to better police unlicensed vendors. The law contains two sets of enforcement notices for unlicensed businesses, giving them 14 days each time to apply for a license. After these warnings have been issued and at least 28 days have passed, trade officers are allowed to issue ticket fines.
Talks with the unlicensed vendors are still ongoing, the minister confirmed.
The new law also demands additional information and confirmation from businesses for the renewal and grant of business licenses. In particular, businesses need to demonstrate that their employees have a pension and health insurance.
Minister Panton admitted that the changes caused some issues with applicants who had not been able to show that they are in compliance with the National Pensions Law and health insurance requirements.
“There were some issues initially in the first several months. Our numbers indicate that there were around 20 applications which were being deferred on a weekly basis as a result of these issues. That number has declined significantly now to around five,” Mr. Panton said.
The new Trade and Business Licensing Law, he explained, attempts to create a culture of compliance and a level playing field in terms of all businesses bearing the same costs.
The law, however, has been criticized for bringing additional layers of red tape. MLA Alva Suckoo said he receives “almost daily complaints that the process is too bureaucratic.”
Minister Panton responded that the department is active on social media and in radio ads asking licensees to come forward with any problems they experience.
“We are aware from social media that there are certain people who have had some issues.”
A tremendous amount of effort was made to ensure there was as much education as possible about the changes in the law, he added.
“We have interacted directly with the Chamber and the Small Business Association, specifically asking what their members are experiencing and if they have any issues they want to raise.
“By and large the interaction and experience of most applicants and licensees has been very positive and we have had some positive feedback.”
Nevertheless, the minister said, the department wants to know if there are customer service or education issues or problems with the specific requirements.
Other criticism of the new licensing rules related to pension and health insurance providers charging small businesses fees, as high as $75, for issuing letters confirming that a business is compliant for licensing purposes.
The minister said that he is aware that some but not all pension administrators are charging those fees. “That is not something that makes me happy,” Mr. Panton said. “I would encourage them to reexamine their policy in respect to that.”
In terms of reducing red tape, the minister noted, the department has taken some action by introducing a self-certification confirmation process for businesses that do not have any employees.