The Office of the Attorney General sought to block the continued operations of web shops despite an order from Senior Supreme Court Justice Jon Isaacs in January to prevent a shutdown of the businesses, alleges an affidavit filed recently.
The affidavit filed by attorney Claude Hanna of Munroe & Associates said a group of web shop bosses faced significant delays in trying to get business licenses renewed and some owners have still not yet received licenses.
Hanna said the government, through the Business Licence and Evaluation Section of the Ministry of Finance has sought to adversely affect the business of the web shop owners by delaying licenses.
He said this was an attempt to circumvent the conservatory order issued by Justice Isaacs for the businesses to remain in operation pending the outcome of a substantive court challenge.
The owners filed court action after a majority of people who voted in a referendum voted against the regularization and taxation of web shops and the establishment of a national lottery. They contend that their businesses are operating legally.
Justice Isaacs granted the order the morning after Prime Minister Perry Christie ordered an end to web shop gaming.
Hanna said that in the past, the process of issuing licenses involved submitting an application, paying the required fees and the Business Licence Unit would issue the license in a matter of days.
The longest period of delay in the past has been a week, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit said that this year the web shop owners and or their agents were informed by “servants of the Business Licence Unit” that the Office of the Attorney General (the defendant) has advised the Ministry of Finance to put a halt to licenses being issued to web cafes.
According to Hanna, the matter had to be addressed by Chief Finance and Revenue Officer Joseph Mullings, who circulated a minute paper on March 15, 2013 to all staff about the issuance and renewal of business licenses to web shops.
A copy of the minute paper was filed in court.
It said, “Effective immediately, you can issue new and renewal business licenses to web shops. The only license description will be Internet cafe and Internet related services.”
According to the affidavit, the process of getting licenses has been “riddled with hurdles”.
The affidavit said Pete Deveaux of Percy Web Cafe reported that after submitting the business license application, paying fees in full and satisfying all other requirements, his company was told by Mullings that he could not issue the license because they were awaiting written confirmation from the Office of the Attorney General.
“It was only after insistent calling that [Deveaux] received the business license on March 27,” the affidavit said, adding that some of the other plaintiffs also received licenses last week.
“This has represented a delay that in most cases has been at least three to four times the usual delay in the process.”
The affidavit said Whatfall and Asue Draw were still awaiting licenses.
It said, “The plaintiffs (web shop owners) have a history of being fully compliant with all laws and regulations governing their businesses.”
By Candia Dames
Guardian News Editor