By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A well-known businessman has told his retail staff to begin looking for new jobs before the business closes by mid-2014, blasting: “We are not doing VAT.”
Ethric Bowe, proprietor of ATEL Outlet, said the company had already started the process of winding down its inventory levels, telling Tribune Business: “The decision has been taken. We’re not going to go any more.”
Mr Bowe said he and his wife, who runs ATEL Outlet, had “had enough”, citing general disillusionment with the overall business environment in the Bahamas and implying that VAT’s impending arrival on July 1 is the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’.
While only three staff will be impacted, the concern for the wider Bahamian economy and society is how many other entrepreneurs are contemplating following Mr Bowe - either by shutting their businesses altogether or downsizing employee numbers.
In an e-mail sent to other members of the Bahamian private sector, Mr Bowe said VAT was merely the latest in a long string of negatives that had been heaped on businesses/entrepreneurs in recent years.
“We operate a small retail business. The general economy hit us hard. The roads hit us hard. The docks hit us hard,” he told his fellow businessmen.
“If VAT comes, we have taken the decision to close our doors. We are not doing VAT. I spoke with the employees today to inform them to look for other opportunities between now and July. We will begin winding out our inventory.
“I am sure we will find something new to do. I am thinking book-keeping might be in high demand,” Mr Bowe said jokingly.
His e-mail, though, notes the cumulative toll the 2008-2009 recession, coupled with setbacks such as the New Providence Road Improvement Project, has taken on many businesses and the confidence of their owners. This has been further exacerbated by the concerns many harbour about VAT’s likely impact on consumers and the private sector.
“It’s just not worth the effort,” Mr Bowe said of ATEL Outlet’s impending closure. “You’re working harder for less and less. My wife is key in the running of that business, but she’s had enough and is not going to go any more.
“I can’t go run it. I’m trying to do less, not more.”
Mr Bowe, who has been among VAT’s prominent critics, then lashed out at the overall business climate facing the country’s private sector.
“We’re just dragging, dragging, dragging,” he told Tribune Business. “This country could be so much better, but it seems the only way to prosper in the Bahamas is to be a criminal. They’re doing fantastically well. But try to do things the right way, and they give you the run around.”
To illustrate this, Mr Bowe recalled a recent incident where they gave a client a cheque to enable him to clear a debt to the Public Treasury. The reaction from officials was that they “can’t accept cheques, particularly our cheque”, even though Mr Bowe’s businesses had made numerous such tax payments to the Government.
“We pay by cheque all the time,” he added. “This is why they [the Government] can’t get the money. People in the Government are doing foolishness, and there’s no accountability. We had to speak to the minister responsible. It’s no good speaking to the supervisor; the phone just rings and rings.”
Mr Bowe then cited his efforts to get an apartment he owned registered with the Government’s Valuation Office for real property tax purposes.
“We can’t get it registered to pay it,” he told Tribune Business. “We want to pay. We aren’t running from anything. We are literally trying to pay it to help the country’s running, and they don’t want to take it.
“I don’t know what’s going on in this country. If I was a public servant, I’d be trying to get in as much money as possible to help pay my salary.
“It’s not the system; it’s the people. We’ve taught people not to work, but to expect to get paid. We have a system of dependency. Your MP gets you a job, and when the trough runs dry they just take more money from other people.”
Mr Bowe added: “When you look at the whole picture in the country, it’s not good. We have serious productivity problems, serious human resources problems, and no one is addressing it.
“Everything is just declining, declining, declining, and we accept it and say it’s OK. We have to keep wondering..... are we meant to suffer?”
ATEL Outlet is the successor to Mr Bowe’s Advanced Technical Enterprises business, which he started in 1994 - almost two decades ago.
Emphasising that this is his sole business interest to be impacted, Mr Bowe said of ATEL Outlet’s pending closure: “You can’’t just sit and do nothing. It doesn’t happen in an instant. You have to start winding down your inventory and not develop it.
“We’ve evolved it [ATEL Outlet]. It’s a brand. A lot of what we do has Advanced Technical Enterprises built into it. We’ve evolved the name, evolved the brand, and done a lot of things with it, so there’s a lot of attachment.
“We’ve just decided we’re not going to do that. I’m feeling tired and uninspired. We don’t have any terrible feelings about it,” Mr Bowe said.
“Before the flood, we said let’s make the decision, not let someone else make the decision for us. It’s very real and has consequences for everyone. The unfortunate thing is some of the people working for us are not very young, so it will be more difficult for them to find employment.”