Struggle of SMEs

A view of Suva's central business district. Picture: MONIKA SINGH/FILE

The opening of the local and international border has not brought the economic uptake for SME business owners as expected.

According to Fiji SME Business Owners Network founder Kim Beddoes, the perception with the reopening was that economic activity would pick up and the problems for SME owners would disappear.

“It has been nothing of that sort,” she said.

Mr Beddoes clarified that while most tourists coming into Fiji were families there was a huge struggle for all SMEs around reopening time.

“On October 4, the biggest struggle that we face there on top of cash flow, of course being number one was compliance.

“And it’s not just compliance, it’s compliance with the huge and over the top list of penalties of tens of thousands of dollars of financial penalties and threats have of being put in jail.

“That was something we could have done without.”

She said the stress a business owner went through, particularly a small business owner, was already significant.

“We didn’t need the ginormous list of penalties and threats of jail time to add to our already existing stressful situations we’re in.

“So it’s been a hard yard in the reopening on October 4. We thought things would be better when the international borders open on the December 1, but when they opened, so did too the arrival of Omicron.”

She said once the news broke out in all the international press and media and local media it definitely had an effect on bookings.

Ms Beddoes said for some SME business owners business activity had been fluctuating as they were all gearing up and trying to be positive to better days.

“First quarter is always traditionally slow but we had to deal with Omicom, which had a definite big effect on business.

“Then there was the positive of Omicom third wave coming to an end.

“We then participated in a meeting with MCTTT and that was facilitated by the ILO, we very clearly communicated a huge impact that not only the protocols but that all the time restrictions we’re having on businesses, particularly in food and beverage events, entertainment and creative industries.

“And about one or two weeks after that big meeting we had with MCTTT, the much anticipated announcement and dropping of all the protocols happened.”

Ms Beddoes said across the board, all SME business owners definitely experienced an uptake of activity.

“And then things were just starting to get better than the Ukrainian war.

“And it feels and sounds weird to think that a war on the other side of the world unrelated to our little country, Fiji, unrelated to little SMEs in this country but it’s had an effect, it’s definitely had an effect.”

SMEs which Ms Beddoes spoke to noticed a definite pulling back. However businesses had to take into account the increasing prices in fuel and in the cost of almost every aspect of life.

Ms Beddoes said on top of all this they had the change of tax.

“And this is at a time of the year that most businesses have already set their pricing for the year.

“This is a time of the year after two years of locked down and close borders, with the international borders on all the tourism operators have already sent out their pricing for this year.”

She said that it was an understatement to say SMEs, were in the trenches, still trying to get back on their feet.

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