by JC Jan
The recent ugly development between Andall supermarket and the government has forced one to become an importer of the African proverb, “When two elephants fight, the grasses suffer.”
The two ended 2019 and entered 2020 with a seemingly tax tussle that has an aroma of the more you look, the less you see. There is a perceived lack of seriousness from both parties which is giving the temptation to suggest that the whole story is stage-managed. Manufactured for public consumption in a blame game fashion.
Are we going to see a repeat of 8 December 2019 from Andall supermarket management? Another closure without prior notice? “The government has made it impossible for the company to operate as a business entity. The company has therefore decided to close its operations with immediate effect.” For the game to continue, are we going to hear that, the government had no intention of shutting down the supermarket, but the law provides for action to be taken against noncompliant taxpayers which could have provided difficulties for the company? This whole thing looks like an arrogant disregard of both workers and consumers who were surely negatively affected by the decision. Aside from the consumers who may go through the pain of moving farther out to explore other options for their groceries, the workers who were suddenly disengaged suffered the most, considering the timing of the unexpected closure. Our Independence celebration is around the corner, God forbid another sudden closure.
Whether the fight is real or not, whether the blame game will continue or not, our imported proverb from the knowledge pool of ancient Africa aptly captures the implications of the ongoing seemingly tax tussle between Mr Peter Andall and Mr Michael Stephen – those who are getting hit are the employees and the members of the public.
Without any doubt these two gentlemen are highly experienced, and yet one does not agree that one should pay taxes and on time too, and the other does not think it is necessary to play well the role of tax collector by using every reasonable measure to collect what is due for the government, not just collecting but collecting on time. Whatever happens, come 31 January 2020, these two gentlemen got nothing to lose. This suffices one to say they will never beg for bread. The employees got everything to lose if the so-called talks break down. The members of the public got a lot to lose, more importantly, the people of Grenada will still be unsure how, when, or even whether they will ever get that percentage of their revenue back.
However, the issue of taxes is not a trivial matter that could just be waved aside, hence it is understandable when government makes it impossible for tax evaders to operate, but the effort of the government here is too little, too late. “The taxes due and owing have accumulated over the years, and once it was drawn to the attention of the government that the company’s building in the heart of the city was sold, his department approached the owner with a view to settling or significantly reducing the outstanding taxes.” There is nothing wrong with this kind of treatment as long as every Grenadian business owner is receiving the same treatment. If not, everything is wrong with it.
What is the understanding here? That as long as one is operating a business, one should not worry about paying one’s taxes? It does not matter how many years – the government will only come after one when one of one’s business assets is sold. When the government finally comes for the taxes due, threaten them with the possibility of turning employment into unemployment without prior notice and with immediate effect. Making the employees vulnerable by using them as leverage is absolutely unbelievable.
The giant supermarket admitted that they owe the taxes including VAT already collected from the customers over the years and made little or no effort to pay. The government has no intention of closing down the supermarket, which is interesting, but the management of the said supermarket can. The workers and the customers are still in a dilemma. Uncertainty is still biting, while the game is still on. The two elephants still “fighting” the grasses still suffering.
Where do we go from here? Well, both parties should at least pretend to be serious and find suitable grounds for settlement where the game would not escalate to massive proportions and the employees/customers get hurt again.
The management of Andall supermarket should join the club of happy taxpayers. Not that they are being asked to raise money from the skies and pay a debt they did not owe. However, inasmuch as the government reserves every right to take measures in getting them to pay, they should approach the matter in a civil way so that Andall supermarket does not get to shut down abruptly and relieve the staff members of their source of income, while inconveniencing customers to look for other supermarkets to get items they need to see their daily living.
In conclusion, if both parties keep disagreeing and if muscles keep flexing in this blame game fashion, the government, in distancing itself from the perceived stage-managed blame game should explore taking over the day-to-day running of the supermarket legitimately. In other words, make it state-owned and save the workers from the vulnerability of losing their jobs, save them from the impending uncertainties and embarrassment. This is one of the common grounds for a peaceful resolution on this issue.