That is how two officials have classified Government’s treatment of the micro, small and medium-sized enterprise sector as businesses continue to struggle to stay afloat.
Both Democratic Labour Party (DLP) spokesman on business Ryan Walters and Chief Executive Officer of the Small Business Association (SBA) Senator Dr Lynette Holder have expressed grave disappointment at what they call a lack of communication and transparency and a lack of urgency from at least two state agencies.
They both contended that FundAccess, which was mandated to provide wage support for qualifying businesses from a $20 million stimulus during May and June, has been holding back while businesses continue to close.
They are equally concerned that there has been no information forthcoming from the Barbados Trust Loan Fund Ltd. on the $10 million that was provided for that fund to assist the sector.
A supplemental for $6 million each was also recently voted on for both funds for the purposes of on-lending.
Holder told Barbados TODAY she was disappointed that although being capitalised to help struggling businesses, it was taking an inordinately long time for officials of the funds to communicate and those in charge of administering the funds were taking a blasé approach when it came to the needs of the sector.
She said over the last three months while waiting to access the funds “many businesses have closed”, and she feared a lot more could go out of operation before Christmas.
Dr Holder believed the funds in FundAccess that have not yet been used for wage support could be repurposed.
“In my view that is a simple decision. I don’t know it would take an inordinately long time to repurpose those funds. But you have those funds sitting there and that project closed off some time in early July,” she said.
By the middle of June, General Manager of FundAccess Esther Lord-Graham had reported that approximately $452,000 in loans were processed and disbursed.
The $20 million wage assistance scheme was established for firms considered too small to be eligible for Value Added Tax (VAT) refund.
Firms would be able to get up to $2,500 per month for two months to assist with payment of wages up to five people each month, once they commit to maintaining at least 75 per cent of staff and is registered with the SBA, the Barbados Revenue Authority and the National Insurance Scheme
Barbados TODAY understands there was an extension for businesses to access the fund.
However, repeated attempts by this newspaper to get an update proved futile, with Lord-Graham only confirming that the fund was still open for applicants and that she would provide an update via a press release.
But the SBA head said she was especially disappointed that “small businesses are suffering” while “technocrats and bureaucrats” were showing a “lack of care” for the sector.
“I will not cast aspersions on them and say they are deliberate, but I would say that their lack of care for the sector is hurting the sector even more so,” complained Holder, as she made reference to one firm who missed the last quarter of NIS payments but was being denied the benefit.
“They tell you they have got to follow the rule of the law, but this is not a rule of the law issue. You can look at a situation and within the parameters of overall arrangements and protocols you can use some leverage and flexibility in order to benefit the sector. The money is already voted for. What is the use of having these huge balances on your sheet while the sector is hurting?” said an upset Holder.
She said the situation has now become very frustrating.
“I have to deal with scores of small businesses every week who are having a hell of a time getting support from our agencies that are established to help them.”
Holder recommended that if businesses did not want assistance with wage relief, the funds should make the necessary adjustments and provide the needed assistance to the firms.
Meanwhile, Walters, the DLP spokesman again accused Government of side-lining the small business sector, saying there was a lack of a “clear strategy” to ensure the businesses’ survival.
He argued that a sector that represented just over 90 per cent of formal businesses and about 60 per cent of employment in the private sector “should not be side-lined and left to fend for itself”.
Pleading with Government for a strategy to better help the sector, Walters said in a statement that he was yet to see adequate support being provided.
“If there was a clear vision for this sector, we would see a reduction in the number of small businesses closing, we would see less persons being laid off, we would see more customers coming through the doors of small businesses, we would see more opportunity for Government to earn tax revenue at the port and through the sale of goods by way of VAT, we would recognize some revenue going into the NIS and there are more benefits,” he explained.
Walters demanded that the authorities be more transparent about the funds provided to the Trust Loan Fund and FundAccess to assist businesses.
“The treatment that is being meted out to this sector is unacceptable,” he said, adding that the administrators of the two funds were taking “a tight-lipped approach” to how the $30 million will be distributed.
Trust Loan Fund officials recently disclosed that companies were accessing top-up loans, but have not disclosed to date how much of the $10 million has been used up.
Walters said he was not satisfied that authorities were being transparent enough about the funding.
“There seems to be an apparent lack of communication and dialogue with major players in this sector and the average business owner on how the funds can be accessed.
“The Democratic Labour Party is asking once more like it did more than a month ago, how will the $20 million to FundAccess and the $10 million to the Trust loan fund be used to assist small businesses? What financial instruments will be available to business owners who need assistance? Will there be low-interest bearing loans? Will there be grants or will there be a combination of both? What is the qualifying criteria for businesses to be approved and is there a timeline for applications to be submitted by?” asked Walters.