August 6, 2010
Not fair to Chamber of Commerce

Fri, Aug 6, 2010

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves confirmed that government has decided not to renew the lease of the premises developed as car parks by the Chamber of Industry and Commerce.{{more}}

Our PM said the decision to hand over the parking lots to the Windward Islands Farmers’ Association (WINFA) and the National Labour Congress (NLC) was “only fair”, since the Chamber had had the benefit of running them for two five-year terms.

The Prime Minister said the parking lot is a state asset and given the problems being faced by the farmers and workers, they were favourably considered.

But is the decision fair to the Chamber? Surely the Chamber must be given credit for coming up with the idea; taking the risk; raising capital of $500,000; putting in the infrastructure and making the venture a success. Is ten years enough time for them to have benefitted fully from their investment? It must be borne in mind that the Chamber didn’t lease the car park from the government; they leased the land and developed a car park. In most cases where land is leased for infrastructural development, it is for much longer periods than ten years.

Also, now that it has been decided that the Chamber has to go, have they been given enough time to put their house in order to deal with the loss of gross annual income of $375,000?

The Prime Minister mentioned the problems being faced by farmers and workers. But what of the problems being faced by businesses? Don’t the businesses employ many of our workers? Don’t some of our businesses buy the farmers’ produce? Aren’t farmers businessmen who benefit from the programmes and interventions of the Chamber? The linkages among the three groups are too strong for lines of demarkation to be drawn.

Any assistance given by central government to NGOs is welcomed, but this should not be done at the expense of another NGO which worked hard to get to the point it is at today and which has been making an outstanding contribution, especially in the last year or two. From all indications, the Chamber has been a good tenant of the government, keeping the premises in very good condition and paying the lease on time.

The ULP administration has taken several policy decisions, including the lowering of corporate income tax to 32.5%, which are decidedly pro-business. However, the PM’s suggestion that the Chamber be financed mostly by the subscriptions of its members instead of being assisted by revenue from the parking lot would mean that membership fees in the Chamber would go up, making the organization accessible only to the handful of large or very profitable smaller businesses in our midst.

The Prime Minister, in explaining why the decision was taken, also mentioned that the workers’ organizations do not even have enough money to stage proper Labour Day celebrations. Does the prime minister seriously think that the lack of participation by workers in Labour Day celebrations in recent years has to do with lack of funding?

Ultimately, the government has the right to lease its property to whomever it pleases. However, wouldn’t it have been fairer to all concerned if the Chamber’s lease had been renewed for a further two or three years, with the clear understanding that at the end of the term, the lease of the parking lots would be put out to tender to civil society organizations, including the Chamber, who would not only have to tender on a financial basis, but would have to say just how the funds raised from the operation of the car parks will be put to use for the good of the wider society?