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Davies must scrap bill, not redraft it

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

The draft Licensing of Businesses Bill, 2013, must be scrapped in its entirety instead of being merely redrafted, trade union Solidarity said today. Statements by Rob Davies, Minister of Trade and Industry, yesterday suggested that an obsession with control – that is, empowering the state to monitor all trade activities and even prohibiting transgressors from ever carrying on a business again – is what is at the heart of the bill.

Davies said yesterday that the current draft was too ‘blunt’ but that the revised draft would not differ significantly from the original.

According to the minister, the aim of the bill is not to damage businesses, but to penalise businesses that engage in illicit activities. The illicit activities referred to by the minister include, among others, illegal imports, trade in substandard products and VAT avoidance. However, such activities are already violations of existing acts – acts that could merely be enforced. It amounts to misdirection to justify a new act for these existing reasons. The solution for already illicit activities is, after all, not to outlaw it again with a draconian, counterproductive new act.

According to Piet le Roux, senior researcher at the Solidarity Research Institute, the bill would be detrimental for employees, employers and consumers and would pave the way for serious privacy violations and abuse of state power.

‘The real aim of the bill is not promoting, but restricting and hindering the right to freedom of trade, occupation and profession by subjecting it to harsh, arbitrary regulations,’ said Le Roux.

‘The bill attests to an obsession with control. Instead of simply prohibiting specific harmful activities, the minister is proposing that any business activity must first have government approval before it can be carried on. From this perspective it is no longer the case that any business activity is acceptable as long as it is not fraudulent or otherwise illicit. In terms of this approach, no business activity will be acceptable unless it is licensed,’ added Le Roux.

Le Roux said it is clear that in truth Davies regards the harmful aspects as the desired elements of the bill. ‘Redrafting the bill would therefore be futile and Solidarity maintains that the bill should be scrapped entirely.’

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