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Friday, October 26, 2012


There’s a measure of anxiety among many “Ti Boutique” operators in Choiseul. Whether tis anxiety is founded or unfounded, I don’t know but they believe that their days are numbered and they blame it on VAT.

They claim that with the introduction of VAT, the cost price of “VAT-able” items may exceed the selling price; and because they are not VAT certified, they may not be able to recuperate their losses and that may spell disaster for their business.

So, in those circumstances, they ask: what do we do? Will we be forced to close down? Of course, although these are largely theoretical, their anxieties may be legitimate!


Choiseul is unique and known for its exquisite geographical layout – starting from the Forest Reserve, the 12.1 square mile piece of earth slopes moderately and rolls westward into the Caribbean Sea, spreading out gradually at an angle of roughly 30 degrees; but it’s not the “spread” or the “slope” of the landscape that makes it unique. It is the ridges and their gorgeous “anatomical configuration” which perhaps makes Choiseul a sight to behold.

If we have had the opportunity to look at Choiseul from any angle, we may perhaps realize that it can compete with the Grand Canyon, the Great Wall of China and even the hanging gardens of Babylon and herein its hidden tourism potential. A thought that Dunstan St. Omer and perhaps Derek Walcott may well agree with.

The 17 ridges which make up (what hard-core patriots refer to as) the “smallest continent in the world” spread out like a voluptuous “perspective” into the Caribbean Sea.  An aerial or hilltop view makes the sight not just even breath-taking but equally therapeutic, capturing the velvety green canopy of vegetation which makes the configuration look as nearly as beautiful and as sexy as lady Tulisa.

But despite all those heavenly characteristics, crunch time may now be approaching! What will be the fate of the Ti Boutique sector in (what a son of a patriotic son of the soil and lawyer Huggins Neal Nicholas once described as) “nature’s seventh heaven”?

With an unenviable Basic Needs index of 13.1, the district’s poverty ranking paints a sorry picture of our socio-economic conditions on the ground; and although we are a people living on a landscape approaching a heavenly bliss (as suggested by Nicholas), we nonetheless remain a quintessentially poor people searching for a better way of life; and the statistical projection is things are on course to become even worse for the Ti Boutique sector!

Ti Boutique: a major commercial feature

Because of the district’s geographic and demographic configuration, the proliferation of the Ti Boutiques across the ridges has become a permanent economic feature of Choiseul. These small shops offer a variety of essential grocery items and credit to their clients. They are partly tradition; but they are also absolutely necessary “commercial” units and are particularly indispensable in the remote hinterland communities (such as of Derriere Morne (Franciou), Ravineau, Bois d’Inde, Delcer, Industry, La Pointe, Mongouge, Morne Sion, Martin and Fiette).

Moreover, they have proven to be vital in times of extreme weather and when natural disaster strikes the western communities are cut out from “civilization” because of the overflowing Trou Marc, Sabre Wisha and Trou Barbay rivers; and the Victoria and Belle Vue landslides which render any passage out impossible.

It is under those circumstances that the Ti Boutique – just like the health centres, schools and cooking gas outlets - becomes absolutely indispensable in ensuring at least “temporary survival” of the natives.

In that context, the Ti Boutiques form an indispensable part of any disaster preparedness and vulnerability-reduction strategy for the district; and in the same way that the post-colonial authorities saw the relevance of “decentralized” essential services like health, education and energy to those vulnerable communities, our government should move in and do the same for the post-VAT survival of the Ti Boutique.

The case of the Ti Boutique operators

VAT is a tax on business transactions; it is not a tax on profits. VAT is charged at 15% on most supplies, though some are either zero-rated or exempt. VAT is levied at two stages: Input and Output.  Any VAT paid by businesses on their purchases is called 'input VAT'. The VAT charged by VAT-registered businesses is called 'output VAT'.

 If the Output Tax (on sales) is greater than the Input Tax (on purchases), then the difference must be paid to Inland Revenue Department or Customs. On the other hand, if Input Tax exceeds Output Tax, then Inland Revenue Department or Customs will make a refund of VAT to the business.

Therefore, while VAT-registered businesses are able to reclaim the VAT that has been charged by other businesses as ‘input tax’, the non-registered small shops can’t and that may have implications for the latter’s survival.

The big questions are: Will the statutory configuration of VAT displace and ultimately wipe out the Ti Boutiques in Choiseul? And if that were to become a reality, then what will be the social and economic implications? What will eventually become of that sector? Has government considered them as potentially vulnerable and what policies have been put in place for their sustainability or survival?

From the look of things, it appears – at least theoretically – that the Ti Boutique sector may have a case.

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately you have not factored voluntary registration in your analysis that would afford the small proprietors the avenue to reclaim the input tax. The VAT that an unregistered retailer pays becomes a business expense and the retailer will need to incrementally increase selling prices to cover this expense.

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