With only one trade inspector, the Department of Trade, Investment Promotion and Consumer Affairs is struggling to crack down on businesses operating illegally, Director Karia Christopher told legislators during the recent deliberations of the Standing Finance Committee.
Speaking in response to questions from Junior Minister of Trade and Economic Development Sharie de Castro, Ms. Christopher said when her agency learns of a business operating without a trade licence, a staff member accompanied by police delivers a cease-and-desist letter.
However, she went on to say that the trouble in enforcing the letter is the department’s lack of the manpower required to follow up, as there is only one trade inspector for the entire Virgin Islands, according to a report on the June 12 SFC meeting.
“They now ask the police to follow up on the department’s behalf,” the report continued.
Deputy Speaker Neville Smith later pushed Ms. Christopher on this point, asking why the department does not shut down businesses operating without a trade licence, to which she responded that the agency cannot revoke something that does not exist and can only issue a cease-and-desist letter.
Officials also discussed the number of trade licences approved recently.
Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration Minister Vincent Wheatley asked Ms. Christopher if she kept a database of the number and locations of trade licences, citing a concern over people located in the same area with similar businesses.
Ms. Christopher said that there is an “unwritten rule” that any Virgin Islander or belonger should be able to receive a trade licence in any field.
She added that while the department shares Mr. Wheatley’s concern over the number of licences approved for certain small businesses such as car rental agencies and beauty salons, “until the premier of the day says otherwise, the department cannot make a decision on its own,” according to the report.