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Business owners rush to beat business license deadline

The March 31 deadline for businesses to be licensed under the Business Licence Act 2010 met many scrambling yesterday to get licenced and avoid the penalties under the act.

By late afternoon it was nearly impossible to get a call through to the Business Licence Unit(BLU)andGuardian Businesslearned that long lines cued at the unit’s office on Frederick Street. State Minister for Finance Zhivargo Laing told this newspaper that the BLU had been given instructions to try to accommodate as many people as possible during the last minute rush.

“[The business license unit is]doing the necessary work to bolster[its]crew to try to process these last-minute people in pursuit thereof,”Laing said. He added that hundreds of business owners had taken advantage of the time since the act was implemented last year to properly license their businesses.

Much of the urgency to license yesterday may have come as some business owners began to take stock of the penalties under the act, with much talk made of a hefty fine prescribed for unlicenced business operators.

According to the act,”Any person who in any year without lawful excuse carries on a business in respect of which there is no licence issued under this act in force commits an offense and shall be liable on summary conviction for that offense(i)to a fine of five thousand dollars;(ii)in addition to any fine, to a sum of one hundred dollars for each day the offense continues subsequent to the date to which the conviction relates.”

Under the act, other offenses such as intentionally making false statements or keeping false records could result in imprisonment for up to two years on summary conviction.

So business owners and people with entrepreneurial aspirations would do well to be familiar with the 2010 Act.

Unfortunately, certain business owners may not be the only last-minute offenders.Guardian Businesschecked www.bahamas.gov.bs for an electronic copy of the act, but could only find the bill posted. The site’s link to the nation’s statutes up to yesterday would have led users to the old act–Chapter 329–with its references to business size and profitability levels for fee assesments.

The act passed in the House of Assembly last year and came into effect on January 1 of this year, with certain amendments debated and passed that month. A number of town hall meetings were held last year to introduce the business community to what is now the Business Licence Act 2010. Those meetings subsequently resulted in a revision to businesses taxes that wiped out about$2 million dollars in projected revenue. Laing toldGuardian Businessat the time that the intention of the new act was to be essentially tax neutral.

According to a notice issued by the Ministry of Finance and on that website up to yesterday, business owners had 90 days from January 1, or until March 31 to bring their businesses into compliance with the act, submit an application form and pay their due taxes for the current year’s business license. It further said that owners not compliant by the said date may be published.

Businesses operating at the time the act came into force with outstanding fees could enter into a written agreement to pay those fees and still receive their license, according to the notice.

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