Patria-Kaye Aarons | Companies Office nightmare
I want to publicly thank the Companies Office of Jamaica for preparing me and others out there for hell. After going through the business registration process that you put us through, we've been conditioned to face the toughest future of entrepreneurial trials and hardships.
I've made many new friends over the five occasions I was forced to visit you in the last two weeks. They include the parking attendant next door who is only too happy to take my money, other frustrated business owners whose butts have grown numb sitting in your waiting chairs, and that helpful receptionist whose answer to everything is, "It's on our website."
Readers, let me share with you my five-visit ordeal.
March 9 - Registration
I had previously registered my company as a sole trader. For several reasons, that designation no longer met my business needs and I wanted to change to a limited structure. I was given what looked like a directory to fill out, but I can read. No worries.
I arrive at Companies Office, join a line, get number A51, and sit and wait.
The countdown is slow and painful, and after nearly two hours, the speaker announces, "A50 at Counter No. 10."
Fifteen minutes later, it is still saying over and over, "A50 at Counter No. 10."
It seems as if No. 10 really wants to see Customer A50 ... and hasn't got the hint that A50 has already got through, got pissed and left, or died waiting.
Another 10 minutes and many angry customers later, the recording finally announces, "A51 at Counter No. 1."
My agent pleasantly apologises for the long delay and meticulously goes through the documents I filled out. He instructs that I return in five days to collect the certificate. I leave near closing time to the soundtrack of a Caucasian lady cursing "this backward, God-awful place". So ends Thursday.
March 10 - Paying for Express
Paying is a breeze. Funny how nobody seems to have an issue taking my money. It's Friday and I am told my certificate will be ready on Monday.
A LITTLE CRAZY
March 14 - Collection ... or so I thought
Monday was a little crazy. I never got a chance to collect the document, so Companies Office got an extra day. I join a line, this time collected a 'B-number' and go upstairs to wait.
"Sign here," I'm told. I'm handed back my application, told it was rejected, and that I have to go back downstairs, rejoin the first line, get an 'A-number' and wait for it to be called.
According to the rejection letter, the name of my company secretary doesn't match the TRN. But it does. I change nothing, but instead rewrite her name above the first, this time in script. I submit the document and leave, reminding the agent I had paid for express.
Day 4 - Actual collection day ... not!
By now, I know the drill, and I collect my 'B-number' and head straight upstairs.
Another rejection letter - for the same reason. The agent tells me I'm going to have to take an 'A-number' and wait to be called - again.
As she's giving me the instructions, she sees my face morph into Lucifer. She knows I'm about to blow. She suggests I speak to the person who rejected it.
That person let me know the first time that an 'A' in the name was illegible. This time, the name doesn't match what's in her database. She has 'Maria' but I wrote 'Maria Maria'.
I literally drew a line through the cursive Maria, and handed the document back to the receptionist. Royal waste of my time.
Day 5 - I say a prayer
Now I'm a regular. The parking lady greets me as a friend.
Upstairs, I hear a man give out, "Father, give me strength!" I can relate.
I wait for my 'B-number' to be called and approach the counter.
"This not ready yet, Miss." I contort into my gremlin again, and the scared lady behind the counter runs off to a Staff Only glass door.
As I sit, I start to canvass everyone in the hall waiting to collect a business certificate. I want to find out if my having to repeatedly come back was customary, or if smaddy obeah me. Every single person in the hall, bar one gentleman, had been previously advised to return.
One lady is an accountant. She opens companies for a living and she still can't do it right. A handsome Rastaman tells me this is his fourth trip. I think up a new business idea; selling 'I survived Companies Office' shirts to entrepreneurs. The only reason I won't is because I'll have to register it.
Finally, finally, I get my certificate.
Here's my takeaway: Starting a business should never be this onerous. People trying to create jobs and add to Jamaica's productivity deserve red-carpet treatment and a cold Red Stripe. These are the folks legitimising themselves and opening up to the taxman. The function Companies Office provides is far too important to Jamaica's growth objectives for the process to have this many hiccups.