Recognizing that businesses are threatening to leave the Old Capital and indeed other municipalities because they believe they are being unfairly squeezed and soaked by the City and Town Halls for money, the nine municipalities led by the Belize City Council and officials of the Caribbean Local Economic Development Program (CARILED) met today to discuss further reforms in trade licensing, tied to general perceived corruption. Mayor of Belize City Darrell Bradley has proposed to cut fees by 50% to 12.5% of revenue based on volume of business no matter what size. He told us today that this is only a first option while other issues with the system are being resolved.
“Well one of the things that we’ve looked at is, I think that is an initial and very powerful first step; but in terms of wanting to promote the kind of business climate in Belize City, it has to be much more comprehensive. We have to look at if you pay trade license at a reduced rate, 12%; what do you get in terms of value for that? Are we meeting our obligations in terms of infrastructure? Many of consultations in terms of our going and approaching people who pay trade licenses say that they are reasonable satisfied that the municipality is delivering a basic level of service, streets, sanitation. You see in terms of the cementing of roads and so forth. They are kind of satisfied, but one of the things that they have said is that they rates is arbitrary in terms of how it is prescribed and also that the physical rate is too high, 25% is too high. So I think as an initial first step, not looking at the whole comprehensive review that needs to take place. We need to cut the rate to a figure that is acceptable and a figure that encourages people to come into Belize City and to start a business. And I think that, that rate is 50%, half of what it is currently.”
But contrary to what the Mayor told us last week when he said that the Chamber of Commerce was ‘on board’ and in agreement with this proposal, Chamber president Arturo Vasquez is not sure a reduction in rates is enough. In addition to other proposed reforms, Vasquez says the Chamber’s members would prefer a structured system where each business pays according to its size. He told us more.
Artuo Vasquez – President, BCCI
“I heard that I think the same time you heard that. I think he’s trying to look at the way of maybe reducing the cost so to speak, while the whole regulation is looked after. Just in this session here the consultant here was not too happy with that decision either. She thought that, that was just reducing a cost of a procedure that is still not the best one. While that may reduce the cost for some people, it is still not the best solution. I am not sure what the mayor plans to do with that one; when he plans to implement it or whether it will just be a consideration that he had.
“What in your opinion would be the fix or do you have an idea of a fix for this issue?”
“Well I can speak from the part of the chamber. I think that what we had try to do over the last couple of years is to gather as much information as we can with businesses and revenues and company sizes. And I think the best thing for us would have been to put businesses in different categories and also having to do with sizes and then you create tarry for a tier that businesses would pay a trade license based on their size and the type of business they operate rather than looking at the size of preparation that you do it. “
Leidi Urbina, CARILED National Coordinator from Orange Walk, says that in the end it is all about ease of doing business.
“How can municipalities create an enabling environment, create an environment where businesses and entrepreneurs can come for support, really come to the municpality and get the support that they need and get guidance as to where they can go for financing and access to financing was also another issue that came up. If you have a help desk, you have a person whose responsibility is to support entrepreneurs. Looking at things as guidance to financing, guidance to starting a business, guidance on how to apply for a trade license and really to shorten the length of time it takes to get a trade license. You know, when you get a trade license, you have to go to all the different bodies before you can get your license aproved. With a help desk, the person at the help desk would approve as a liaison with the different departments so that the process is less tedious and is really done in a shorter time.”
No time line has been given for any planned implementation.