If any sector in Anguilla has shown a rapid and uncontrolled increase in recent years, it is the supermarket business. But the Government has now moved to halt that proliferation before it backfires on the business community and customers. In short, the thinking is that it doesn’t make economic sense in a small-populated island.
The intention, according to Chief Minister, Mr. Victor Banks and Member for District 4, is to protect businesses in general, in Anguilla, without aiming at any particular person or group of persons. At the same time, also, it is to protect the interest of customers and the economy.
This has come with the presentation, debate and passage of a Bill for a Business Licence Moratorium Act 2019 on Wednesday, February 20, in the Anguilla House of Assembly where members on the Government’s side said the measure had come too late. It was rushed through the House to meet the March 1 deadline for the commencement of a year-long moratorium on the establishment of all further businesses in the supermarket sector.
Mr. Banks, who is also the Minister of Finance, Commerce and Industry, (not to mention Tourism, another sector of growth but not covered by the legislation), told the House of Assembly: “The Bill begins a process of review of the Trades, Businesses, Occupations and Professions Licencing Act that would be carried on during the period from March 1st, when this Bill will come into being, until October 2019.”
Mr. Banks continued: “We have been looking at the proliferation of supermarkets, and we felt that the time has come to take a close look at that proliferation and ensure that we do something to review it and make sure that certain interests in Anguilla were protected in moving this forward. When you walk around Anguilla, Mr. Speaker, a lot of persons make statements that there are too many of this kind and that kind of supermarket. All the supermarkets in Anguilla are Anguillian supermarkets so, if we are to put a moratorium on supermarkets, it cannot be in a discriminatory manner based on place of origin. It has to be done across the board. So, as a consequence, this moratorium does not only apply to supermarkets owned by persons of a particular origin or ethnic background but all supermarkets.
“In doing so, this legislation covers any sector of business or industry that the Government feels needs to be looked at, or need a moratorium in place to ensure the protection of, first of all, its citizens -and in many cases the protection of the industry itself because sometimes we can overcrowd an industry with licensing a number of businesses and everybody suffers.
“The whole idea of taking this forward, as members would have pointed out, and I want to reiterate, is that [the Act] is not to simply and subjectively protect a particular business or particular ethnic group or person. It is to protect businesses in general. Businesses in Anguilla pop up simply because they see the other person [or business] doing well – they figure if I open a business I will do well too. If one business is serving a hundred customers it means that if a second business comes in it will serve a part of that hundred customers – but the customer base will not necessarily increase.”
Mr. Banks, who was speaking after the legislation had passed through committee stage and just before its approval, added: “The other important point that was made is that in the proliferation of businesses, those that are successful are successful because they have the support of the Anguillian community…Even as we try to provide some support and protection to businesses in every sector, they should know as well that they have to provide an efficient and effective service to their customers.”
During the debate, Mr. Evans Rogers, Member for District 3, was even more explicit in his comments. He stated: “Mr. Speaker, there is no doubt that there is a lot of chatter throughout Anguilla with respect to Chinese, other Asian and Arab businesses and so forth; and comparisons are made with respect to the indigenous Anguillian businesses that have existed over a period of time. One would have to be very cognizant of the definition of an Anguillian or a non-Belonger. One of the reasons I am supporting this Bill is because it is absolutely clear that is for a moratorium on a particular sector. We have to be honest with ourselves, Mr. Speaker. When you look around at the proliferation of the supermarket business, there is no doubt that the Chinese are here to stay. We can go on and discuss how they arrived here, how they got belongership and acquired Anguillian passports and citizenship, but they have it.
“I am saying to the general public, and I use myself as an example. I was a United States citizen and the only thing I couldn’t do was to run for the President of the United States. I was entitled to everything else as a US citizen. The point I am making is that these individuals, even though they don’t look like us, they have their documents to prove that they are here legally. So if we were to put a moratorium on a particular sector, you cannot say you are putting a moratorium on Chinese businesses as a number of people approached me saying you have to stop the Chinese. When you explain to them that the Chinese have an Anguillian Passport and a European Passport, just like I have, it is then a different conversation.
“The majority of those Chinese are naturalized Anguillians, just like I was a naturalized United States citizen. The place of birth cannot, and will never, change but at the end of the day you have a legitimized document of naturalization, so they [the Chinese] are Anguillians even though they don’t look physically like us.”
Mr. Rogers said further: “Mr. Speaker, the land they are occupying or purchased is here in Anguilla with us – and for the most part, either directly or indirectly, they would have purchased the property from local Anguillians … Some of the individuals on the various talk shows are bashing the Chinese but are the first ones that are supporting the Chinese…There is not enough Chinese in Anguilla to support a Chinese business and to make it successful. In other words, I don’t know if I should use the word hypocritical, but we are the ones who are supporting them, and those Chinese have legitimately acquired citizenship of our beloved Anguilla.”
Earlier, Mr. Curtis Richardson, Member for District 6, also registered his support for the moratorium legislation. He said in part: “I happy to support this because there are some businesses in Anguilla, even though their doors are open, they are feeling the pinch; and need not have any more competition for the money circulating in Anguilla…This concept needs to be extrapolated in every single business in Anguilla. I have already seen in the not-too-distant future that we will have to bring a moratorium in certain communities. For example, that there will be no more bars in The Valley area and there will be no more beach bars in Sandy Ground. We will have to put our brain in gear and make policies to affect our way of life in Anguilla.”
Speaking specifically about the legislation, Mr. Richardson added: “This is a very late Bill…but it is better to be late than never, and this is almost never because the pain out there in the business community in Anguilla is excruciating. There are a lot of people, out of shame and face value, still operating their businesses in Anguilla…It pains me, when I go to certain establishments, to see how they are undermined because we, who suppose to be the keepers of the watch, have been extremely careless. But in sounding that note, Mr. Speaker, there is still some caution that must be exercised. There are some people in Anguilla who came here in the early 70s, who don’t look like Anguillians, but they suffered with us. They made the journey through hardship with us; they paid the price and time to establish their businesses.
“The people I am getting at are the ‘fly-by nighters’ – those who see the opportunity now after we have labored and toiled to give Anguilla a name, and to make it a place fit for human habitation. But I am cautioning that there are people who don’t look like us, and are of different ethnicities, breeds and class, but they have paid the price to have the right to do business in Anguilla because they came at a time when nothing was going on here…This Bill is late but I am glad it is here.”
Newcomer to the Anguilla House of Assembly and First Nominated Member, Mr. Jose Vanterpool, took the opportunity of the moratorium legislation to make his debut in the debate in the House. “I rise to support this Bill as it aims to strengthen and modernize legislation that is already in place,” he stated. “This Bill is important as it will ultimately lead to the protection of local businesses in sectors that are currently being saturated.
“I would like to thank the Honourable Chief Minister for clarifying that business licenses may continue to be granted during the year-long period of the moratorium – by the discretion of the Minister – allowing for business as usual in other sectors and those being focused on.
“The public sector consultation that will take place will highlight a lot of the weaknesses in the current legislation that we follow. This is why the moratorium being put in place is critical, and we need to do it as soon as possible. This is to ensure that we avoid exploitation of the very same legislation we aim to strengthen during the period that the Trades Businesses, Occupations and Professions Licensing Act is under review. Once again, Honourable Speaker, I want to affirm my support of the Bill.”
Ministerial Assistant and Member for District 5, Mrs. Evalie Bradley, said: “I wish to join my colleagues in supporting the passage of this Bill. As it says, it seeks to impose a moratorium on the issuance of licences under the Trades, Businesses, Occupations and Professions Licencing Act to carry on any trade, business or profession, and to give discretion to the policy reasons in the meantime to the Permanent Secretary after consultation with the Ministry of Finance.
Mrs. Bradley, who said the legislation was long in coming, was of the view that the Government had a right to ensure some form of protection for indigenous businesses; and that it provided an opportunity for Government to review the licencing of businesses under the parent Act.
Parliamentary Secretary, Mr. Cardigan Connor, District 7, said that the Bill, although late, “was something we will take and run with”. He stressed, among other things, that it did not make economic sense to swamp the business market. “It is a case of understanding how it really works,” he went on. “As Government, it is expected of us to lay the foundation – but our people have to work on that foundation. I am hoping that with the passing of this Bill our people will be drawn a lot closer together, and that it is us as people who make it work.”
The Bill for the Business Licences Act 2019 was passed in the absence of three other Members of the House who were off island at the time. They were the Minister of Home Affairs, Mrs. Cora Richardson-Hodge, District 2; Leader of the Opposition, Ms. Palmavon Webster, District 1; and Second Nominated Member, Mr. Paul Harrigan.
The Chief Minister thanked the Leader of the Opposition for appreciating the urgency of the legislation, and understanding that the House would proceed with it in her absence. He said she had ample time to look at the Bill before it was presented in the House, having been given its first reading the previous week.
Source: The Anguillian