A Motion designed to chisel away mounting business license penalties for locally-owned cruise industry enterprises was laid on the table in the House of Assembly by Finance Minister Hon. E. Jay Saunders, during a session on Monday.
The finance minister stated that the waiver has become necessary citing the hardships Grand Turk businesses have been experiencing to renew their business licenses due to the piling up of monthly penalties after many of them lost ground due to COVID-19, when the industry shuttered.
Saunders told the House that many of those businesses faced an additional hardship, as their outstanding business license renewal restricted them from applying for the Cruise Tourism Sector Assistance Programme, which was launched in November, since one of the stipulations is to have an up-to-date business license.
“In November, our government, the people’s government, launched, what we called the ‘Cruise Tourism Sector Assistance Programme’. We did this because we recognize that the tourism sector here in the nation’s capital needs economic assistance, as a result of it being severely impacted due to the cruise port being shut down, due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. This was not their fault. And our government feels their pain,” the finance minister stated.
He said as a result, government approved what he termed a ‘limited stimulus’, to maintain the industry, and to help existing vendors prepare for the revival of the cruise-ship industry, pointing out that the main qualifying quality was that the applicant must be a Turks and Caicos Islander or British Overseas Territory Citizen, or the business must be majority-owned by Turks and Caicos Islanders.
He said the stimulus programme was launched on November 15, and ran to November 26, with applicants having until December 13, 2021 to submit all outstanding documentation.
“I want to say that, out of the 135 applications received, only 12 or 9% were declined, with 74 or 55% having already received their approvals. That’s money in the bank for those businesses,” Saunders crowed.
He pointed out however that while many businesses were able to offset their outstanding business license arrears, many could not.
“In looking at the Programme, it was found that while many businesses were able to pay up their business license fees, unfortunately, a significant number of businesses were and are still unable to do so.
“As a result, penalties have been accruing on a monthly basis at a rate of 10 percent for each month, or part of each month, business license fees remain not paid up.
“In addition, those businesses faced an additional hardship, as their outstanding business license renewal restricted them from applying for the Cruise Tourism Sector Assistance Programme, due to one of the criteria being that businesses show proof that their licenses were paid up.
“To help these businesses, and it is the right thing to do, the people’s government, our government has seen it fit to wave the business license fee penalties,” Saunders bragged.
He added: “Before a Bill or Motion, in this case, makes its way to this Honorable House for debate, it must pass through Cabinet, and before it gets to Cabinet, it is sent out for comments from various Heads of Departments. I would like to read one of the comments, which states that:
“‘There is a burden that comes with insurmountable debt, particularly during times of financial struggles. If approved, the write off can serve as an incentive to businesses and afford them the opportunity to start afresh’.”
“I agree with that sentiment wholeheartedly. By bringing this Motion to this Honorable House today, our caring Government, the People’s Government, is giving businesses a fresh start, which as Minister of Finance, I am honoured and am happy to do. As the guardian of the Public’s Purse, it is also my moral obligation to always look out for the people of the Turks & Caicos Islands.”