One lesson I learnt at GRTU is to deliver the message as it comes from the heart of business owners, undiluted.
The message that comes loud and strong from the heart of many business owners today is clear: "Don't kick me when I'm down".
It is a message that thousands of small business owners want Ministers to hear. The business community is tired of all the cut and paste exercises where one Ministry after another simply downloads all the nice phrases from numerous EU documents proposing solutions to SME's business problems without implementing the means to turn words into action. Business owners today take most such statements with a pinch of salt, they consider them as nothing but “teatrin". They know that Ministers in practice will either do nothing or worst still do the opposite. Business is not expecting much from government but they don't expect, and definitely do not deserve, punishment.
There are worse things that a government can do besides imposing unfair taxes and making businessmen collect the taxes themselves to the detriment of their own business and the threat of prison terms if they fail to comply. And that is to kick businessmen when they are down.
Coerce them. Squeeze them dry. Waste their time. Threaten them.
Drag them to court. Call them names. But when they are down, decency tells you, don't kick them.
That's what this government is perceived to be doing with the amendments endorsed by Parliament prior to the summer recess. Three unscrupulous amendments to the 1988 VAT Act were deleted out of the government proposed Bill as a result of GRTU pressure and lobbying. These amendments would have made life extremely difficult for many businesses that find themselves in economic trouble brought about by the economic recession.
The economy is not growing. Call it recession, call it what you may to avoid being called partisan, the truth, however, is that the economy is not growing. Every businessman knows that this is the truth. Consumer confidence is low. Exports are not growing. Imports are not growing. Tourism is at a dead end. The result is that business balances are in the red.
Something has to give. You pay the rents and the electricity. You have to pay for all the purchase of supplies needed to trade. You pay your wages, cover telephone bills, licenses and a hundred other charges. Something has to give. If you're not earning enough to pay all your bills you don't throw your loyal employees out and forget your creditors and vanish. Oh no! The serious business owner strives on, engages in cost-cutting, tries out better marketing techniques and new pricing policies. Anything to get him/her over the bad spell and optimistically plan for a better future hoping that government will finally introduce the much-needed measure to boost the economy. An individual enterprise owner can only expect government to act. He cannot by himself cause the economy to move out of recession.
The least that government can do is to be patient with genuine entrepreneurs who in spite of all the efforts fail to meet all their obligations. Business people believe that the government has lost the plot. They also believe that Ministers have lost all patience. For government, it is a matter of money NOW at all costs. This is the message the government has sent to all business owners when it hastily passed the VAT Act amendments prior to the Parliament's summer recess. Even as it stands now, the VAT Amendment Act is a dirty piece of legislation. It's anti-business. It is a threat to all businesses that find themselves in difficulties and strive to push on rather then close and throw everybody out. It is an insensitive Act that shows that government is becoming an expert in saying one thing and doing another.
Business owners see this government as having one fixation above all else: to get the money from whoever and however. Yes, even at the cost of closing down businesses and forcing people out of jobs.
This is what business owners tell me. This is what I'm reporting.
The author is director general GRTU and this article appeared in the August issue of the organisation’s newsletter Newstring