Governments should not be expected to create jobs; I think that’s one of our more popular misconceptions. People have been made to believe it’s the government’s responsibility to create jobs. What government must do is create the environment that will attract investment and boost employment.” That was Minister Felix talking with the STAR on Thursday, shortly after he had addressed attendants at the official launching of the TEPA-OECS Specialty Trade show.
Responding to my question in relation to complaints by restaurant and bar operators in the Rodney Bay area, the minister said: “People’s priorities have changed. Prices of goods are increasing and most consumers are looking at ways to save. Where some may in earlier times have gone out to dinner five times a week, today they eat out just once weekly.”
Additionally: “People have changed their shopping habits. More and more are shopping via the Internet and that has resulted in reduced spending at home. It’s not a case of limited spending power.”
Following my short interview with the commerce minister I challenged a Rodney Bay restaurateur and bar operator. He strongly disagreed with what Felix had told me. He insisted that it is the government’s responsibility to address the spending capabilities and confidence of working citizens and simply to cite a change of attitude on the part of shoppers was a cop-out.
He said: “Business people already know things are hard. I acknowledge that the government cannot be the country’s main employer but it has a duty nevertheless to do everything in its power to attract foreign investment, more visitors with money to spend and so on. Local entrepreneurs are further burdened with high taxes, the ever-increasing cost of imported raw materials, and uncontrolled violent criminal activity. Governments in denial have contributed greatly to the problems that confront the private sector. It costs the owners of restaurants, bars and other establishments to stay open. We must pay our staff even when we have had no customers. We have no other choice but to modify our opening hours—or face permanent closure.”
Another restaurant operator I spoke with revealed one branch of the Jade Terrace Restaurant in Gros Islet had gone out of business. Days ahead of the Prime Minister’s official Value Added Tax announcement, Felix’s advice to the business community was to “take stock of their businesses, identify what is not working and do what is necessary to meet the needs of the consumer.” He admitted during our conversation “it’s a very challenging business environment. The fittest will always survive. But you have to maintain a competitive edge.”
As for the VAT question, Felix told me: “I would not want to preempt the prime minister’s announcement on where we stand with VAT, he will make his announcement at the end of the month.” On Thursday the PM’s office announced that his much-anticipated address to the nation, during which he is expected to speak to his VAT-reduction pre-election promise, has been rescheduled to 7 November.