Wheatley’s comments were made in the House of Assembly (HOA) recently as legislators debated the Business Licensing, Act 2020 that has now passed.
While making reference to a clause in the new legislation which says a license can be revoked if not activated within 90 days, the former minister said he suspected what the origin of that clause might be.
“I call them trade license hoarders. There are a lot of persons with 15, 20, 25 trade licenses but only may be one active,” Wheatley said.
He noted that those trade license holders often don’t pay for their licenses on an annual basis, as required.
“Only for some reason they may need that license, at that point in time, then they go to activate the license and maybe at that point they may pay the back fees,” he explained.
“I think if you’re going to be a trade license hoarder, it should cost you something – this is kind of a bit far if you ask me – but persons shouldn’t be allowed to have trade license to say they have them,“ Wheatley stated.
Wheatley said these persons often brag about the amount of trade licenses they have, but when checks are made they are only active in a book or on paper.
According to the former minister, attempts were made to address this issue in the past, but these faced ‘tremendous resistance’ and were ultimately pulled back.
“Some persons just don’t intend to do good business, or sometimes they simply can’t afford to do good business. Well, if you can’t afford to be in business, doing good business, then maybe you should be doing something else,“ he argued.
In the meantime, Opposition Leader Julian Fraser offered some pushback on the term ‘trade license hoarders’.
Fraser suggested that the concept of multiple trade licenses emerged after changes were made to the law, forcing persons to acquire multiple licenses when they weren’t needed previously.
“That became a part of the culture of the Virgin Islands,“ Fraser said. “And it still exists to some extent. Right now, as we speak, it still exists.”
He offered the example of a person doing a trucking business that may end up with five trade licenses for doing construction, water delivery and other businesses.
According to Fraser, persons were damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
“I’m hearing now, where there are some people who are advocating that you refer to those people as ‘hoarders’ of trade licenses. But that’s the cost of doing business,” the Opposition Leader argued.
He continued: “I couldn’t do all the things I was doing if the law you impose on me was not accessible to me; which is I have to get five trade licenses.”