Applying for a trade licence may get easier next month if government is able to launch an online “gateway” designed to help ad- dress longstanding challenges faced by the Department of Trade, Investment Promotion and Consumer Affairs, Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley said last month during the closed-door Standing Finance Committee deliberations.
The premier’s statement came after the SFC heard about such challenges from department Director Karia Christopher and Junior Minister of Trade and Economic Development Shereen Flax-Charles, according to a report on the Dec. 1-7 SFC proceedings.
Ms. Flax-Charles said the agency has faced a gradual but significant decrease in staff over several years until no technical staff remained, the report stated.
Ms. Christopher spoke similarly, noting that she had received more than 40 letters and emails regarding staffing issues, according to the report.
She also told the SFC that she had pleaded for more staff in the previous SFC meeting and was promised more team members in January 2022 but never received them.
Explaining that she took on several roles while the department faced staffing issues, Ms. Christopher also told the SFC that she was planning to resign from her position this year, according to the SFC report.
Mould has also been an issue in the Sebastian Building where the department is currently housed, and staff have expressed concerns about respiratory illness, according to Ms. Christopher. On some days, she told the SFC, only six employees show up for work in the entire department — a 75 percent decrease from regular numbers.
Although three positions were filled in recent months, none were for the business development roles needed to help process trade licences, she added.
Mr. Christopher also said that “she has never seen a revenue-earning department without sufficient staffing to ensure revenue continues to build,” according to the SFC report. The challenge of obtaining trade licences has also affected the public’s willingness to apply for them, thereby affecting more potential revenue, Ms. Flax- Charles said.
Asked by Ninth District Representative Vincent Wheat- ley whether a digitised process would be put into place, Ms. Christopher responded by saying that the pandemic has propelled the department to improve in certain areas.
The public is now able to make payments via telephone rather than by paying in person, she added.
However, in terms of digitising the application process, she said she had learned that her department was not on the priority list for the Department of Information Technology.
After reaching out to the DOIT, she said she was told the department would try to “get that process sped up,” according to the SFC report.
Ms. Christopher also noted that the recent Commission of Inquiry had “caused a lot of stress and nervousness” about processing documents and licences, which has slowed down the process, the report stated.
Dr. Wheatley noted that he was aware of the challenges and that he hoped to provide an update on the matter soon, according to the SFC report.
Attempts this week to reach officials at the department willing to comment were not successful.