The Minister of Finance and Economic Management, Johnny Koanapo, has revealed in Parliament yesterday that a total of 5,100 applications were received from businesses that applied for access to the stimulus package rolled out by the Government.
However, Mr Koanapo told Parliament that less than 1,500 businesses were registered under the Valued Added Tax (VAT) but the majority of the 5,100 businesses that applied were not registered.
The total number of businesses registered under VAT is broken down into 441 small business, 655 medium businesses, 221 large businesses and 28 very large businesses.
Minister Koanapo revealed this during the debate yesterday on the Bill for the Small Business Development that was tabled by Minister of Trades, James Bule.
Members of the Opposition cautioned about sections of the new legislation that were seen to be not conducive for small businesses sustainability and growth.
But Koanapo said the policy intention of the government is to help businesses.
“There’re a lot of businesses that are not registered.
“We are not talking about the mamas at 20 vatu (food) market that are involved in businesses, they are charging customers.
“We are talking about kava bars, they are also involved in businesses but quite a number of them are not registered,” the Finance Minister said.
He said these figures are given to understand that it is important that when the country enters a difficult time, and the government begins to roll out incentives to businesses there is a proper registry that exists.
Mr Koanapo said 21% of the national budget is currently directed at the productive and business sectors.
“It is refreshing to sit and listen to colleagues on the other side talk in support of this paper (Bill).
“It is also important for our people, among the 5,000-plus, those that applied need to know that the government has created this not only to collect funds but also because there comes a time when they require the services of the government for their businesses to grow, now is that time,” the Minister of Finance said.
Leader of Opposition, Ralph Regenvanu and members of the Opposition had raised the issue on the business requirement under Section 20 (5)(6) of the Bill that penalizes a person that obstructs the Director or an officer from carrying out their duties under the law, which carries a fine of VT500,000.
Regenvanu said the fine was imposed was unnecessary, especially when the new law is to help local small businesses then includes a penalty of not exceeding VT500,000.
But Prime Minister Bob Loughman said the Bill is good for monitoring businesses through a registry.
Loughman said the VT500,000 mentioned does not mean that is the figure for the fine as fines as low as VT10,000 can be imposed.
The head of government said if there are issues with the new law in the future based concerns raised then it can always be brought back to parliaments for changes to be made.
Minister James Bule, who tabled the Bill, said the VT500,000 was the threshold and not the set figure for fines as the fines imposed can be lesser.
The Bill was debated in the morning and was passed in the afternoon yesterday through a bi-partisan support from members of parliament.
The Bill for the Small Business Development Act provides for a legal framework to assist in the registration and development of small businesses in Vanuatu.
It defines a small business as one that employs not more than 5 persons and has a gross annual revenue of not less than VT1 million and not more than VT10 million.
The legal framework provides for the setting up of a Small Business Development Council that consists of the Director of the Department, General Manager of the Chamber of Commerce, Chief Executive Officer of Malvatumauri National Council of Chiefs, representatives of the departments of Local Authorities, Department of Industry, Department of Customs and a representative of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Forestry, Fisheries and Biosecurity nominated by the Director General.
The Council is to meet at least two times a year and are entitled to a sitting allowance of an amount not exceeding VT20,000.
The function of the Council is to advise the Minister on matters which are of concern to small businesses and make recommendations relating to distribution of resources, which includes funds.