January 26, 2007
Chairman of the Anguilla Chamber of Commerce and Industry - Mr John Benjamin, Executive Director – Mr Calvin Bartlett, Members of the Board, Ladies and Gentlemen – good evening. I am grateful for the opportunity to address this gathering this afternoon. As you know my portfolio includes responsibility for Finance, Economic Development, Investment and Commerce. However, it is not too often that I get the opportunity to speak of the Commerce aspect of my portfolio. So as I mentioned I am grateful for the opportunity to address the Chamber’s Annual General Meeting to share my views on Commerce in Anguilla and the role that the Chamber can play in its development.
I note that the Chairman in his preface to the Chamber’s 2006 Annual Report indicates that commerce activity in Anguilla is currently undergoing a sea of change. This is indeed true. In the Ministry we have seen a marked increase in the number of business licence applications in the past two years in particular. This has been in response to the two large tourism development projects currently under construction – the St. Regis project at Merrywing and the Viceroy Project at Barnes Bay. As they build out, these two projects are generating many first, second and third round demands which the local business community is responding to with gusto. So we have seen businesses that hitherto operated at the margins apply for business licences in addition to new business formation.
In speaking to those who are now formalizing their business activity we often get the comment that “those projects won’t touch us unless we have a business licence”. I think it is therefore safe to say that the local business community is beginning to get the picture that in this new era of globalization which has found its way to Anguilla, “it cannot be business as usual”. Failure to meet the criteria which international business demands means that the local business community will be locked out of the opportunities which are being created. That is not what we as a Government stand for. As we have indicated on many an occasion we as a Government are about the empowerment of our people so that they obtain their fair share of the opportunities and benefits that are being created in Anguilla.
The question which therefore obtains is how can local business and commerce development be facilitated? Chambers of Commerce for time immemorial have been instrumental in furthering the development of businesses all over the world. This being the case, we in Anguilla should try to replicate that experience. We all know the challenges which the Chamber has faced since its inception in the 1970s in recruiting members and demonstrating that it can be of relevance to the business community. It has been a bit of a “Catch 22” in that businesses have been unwilling to join until that they are convinced that the Chamber has something of value to offer. However, with a small membership base and little revenue from membership dues it has meant that there has been little that the Chamber could do to demonstrate its usefulness to the business community.
That being the case, in 2005 representatives of the Chamber’s Board approached Government with an idea which has been examined before to allocate a portion of the revenue collected from business licence fees to the Chamber on an annual basis. The argument that was advocated was that in doing so the Chamber could have a meaningful source of revenue with which to fund its activities and at the same time all holders of business licences would automatically become members of the Chamber. We considered the Chamber’s proposal and eventually arrived at an agreement for Government to grant the Chamber a subvention equivalent to but not exceeding 15% of the annual revenue realized from business licences or 80% of the Chamber’s Budget, whichever is lower. On this basis EC$167,617 was granted to the Chamber in 2006. This represents a vast improvement over what was previously provided to the Chamber by Government. The funding arrangement is the cornerstone of an overall Cooperation Agreement which Government hopes to shortly conclude with the Chamber.
Of course now the Chamber has to demonstrate that it can deliver. It has to demonstrate that it is:
1. The voice of Anguilla business;
2. The partner of first choice for information and guidance;
3. The natural choice for business support.
In the business environment which currently obtains I believe there is the appetite among small business owners in particular for guidance and support about how to organize and operate their businesses to take advantage of the opportunities that are coming to fore. I therefore believe there are opportunities for the Chamber to carve out a meaningful role for itself in the Anguillian community. The funds that Government will provide will not be enough and the Chamber will have to be creative in raising revenue through the services it provides to ensure that its operations are sustainable.
In closing I will state that Anguillians are perhaps some of the most entrepreneurial people that you will ever come across. Our environ and history has meant that we as a people have had to survive by our wits. So we are self-starters and risk-takers. This new era of development which has reached our shores requires new skills and expertise of us if we are to survive, to flourish, to prosper. I therefore urge all businesses in Anguilla, and the local businesses in particular, to support the Chamber in its endeavours and all the expertise that it can offer. At the end of the day it is your Chamber and it will only be as strong as your support allows it to be.
Ladies and gentlemen I thank you for listening.
Government of Anguilla
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