Haider Al Lawati –
No one can argue with the fact that fees and taxes on businesses in any country are legitimate for regulating and legalising the work of those institutions whose grades vary from “excellent” and “global” to lower grades, namely first, second, third and fourth, as is the case in Oman.
Increasing the fees to achieve temporary goals has a direct effect on the activities of small and medium enterprises, as many young Omanis are starting to establish their own small businesses based on the recommendations of conferences and seminars that called for the presence of Omanis in business.
Today there are many calls to review these fees to keep the businesses of young Omani entrepreneurs up and running, and not allow these newly-announced fees to discourage them from abandoning their dreams and closing their businesses and start looking for jobs alongside other job-seekers, which will increase the number of job-seekers recorded with the Ministry of Manpower.
There is unease not only among new and young entrepreneurs, but also veteran Omani businessmen who started their businesses over four decades ago and own shops, and cannot afford to pay these high fees.
Meanwhile, small markets and shops suffer from recession due to the competition from large shopping malls and centres that sell all goods, products and commodities that the consumer needs.
There are calls from businessmen to address this issue and reconsider the decisions of imposing fees by government institutions on businesses.
Several days ago, a statement was issued by the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI) confirming its pursuit — under its responsibility to care for the private sector — to identify the challenges facing the growth and development of businesses in the framework of the tripartite partnership with the government, the private sector and the community.
OCCI also stressed it follows with special attention the issue of the new fees imposed on the private sector, especially municipal fees, without prior coordination with OCCI as the official representative of the private sector.
It appears from OCCI’s statement that many calls and complaints have been received from SME owners demanding its intervention and action towards the private sector and its businesses.
This confirms that if this policy is continued, it will be difficult for SMEs run by Omanis to go on. It will force them to sell their shops and businesses to expatriates who control the Omani market, thus increasing the volume of hidden trade in the country, as well as annual remittances abroad.
Everyone is aware of the crises currently faced by GCC governments and nationals from the decline in global oil prices and the large deficits in the annual financial balance, which prompt governments to take several financial measures, including the imposition of taxes and fees on businesses, to mitigate the crisis of this decline in terms of financial revenues.
Meanwhile, it can fix things and offer more flexibility and facilities to push more citizens to go into business and reduce the number of businesses managed by hidden trade.
These new tax policies will increase the suffering of citizens and their small businesses and lead to their cessation or even total abolition. Such issues require attention and justice so that they do not affect businesses.
It is, therefore, necessary to find a common ground with the OCCI and review any decision regarding economic affairs, especially that the current period requires knowledge of the challenges and difficulties facing companies and institutions across various governorates of Oman.
The increase in fees is likely to alienate Omanis and investors in the sustainability of trade. Thus, government agencies must assess all of these commitments at a time when they seek to facilitate procedures for all citizens to start their own businesses and establish national funds to support these trends and enable Omanis to venture into self-employment.