In Cipro hell

I STEER a mile clear of politicians and government organisations on principle. They make me laugh when I hear them on the radio, but I won’t lie – the primary reason I don’t read newspapers or magazines is because they report what politicians are saying.

Take Tuesday for example. While politicians took turns to slap Companies and Intellectual Property Registration Office (Cipro) executives around in various parliamentary hearings and press conferences, South African small business owners were fighting for their firms’ lives because of huge registration problems at the organisation.

If you need a parliamentary hearing to work out whether the Cipro guys stole from you or intentionally sabotaged the business environment in South Africa, you are without question a politician.

Local entrepreneur, business mentor and author Scott Cundill was fuming on Monday after being informed that his company was about to be “de-registered” by Cipro. “My opinion: this is a complete money-laundering scam. It may be legal, but it’s a scam none the less,” he raged in an e-mail to his 10 000-strong Majestic entrepreneur community.

I spoke to Cundill on Tuesday and he told me that he had been inundated with similar complaints from his community. He shared some of the experiences small business owners had suffered in dealing with Cipro.

“Both my companies are deemed ‘de-registered’. We can’t do any business; my business bank accounts are closed temporarily. We now paying via our own personal bank accounts,” said one.

“I have tried all means to make contact and completely fail [sic] on all attempts,” said another.

Kickbacks for top brass, chaos for small firms

One community member was so frustrated that he proposed forming a small business union to tackle Cipro. “They are not encouraging small businesses by taxing them to death,” he said.

If these guys from Cipro were in China, they would have been lucky to be sentenced to hard labour for the next decade.

Here they walk off with kickbacks from the IT project, while small firms suffer.

Bruce Wade, who heads up the Entrepreneur Incubator, told me that Cipro’s problems made a mockery of governments’ claims that it aims to help small businesses.

“It’s an absolute joke – you can reserve a name for 90 days, and then it takes four months for them to come back to tell you that you can’t proceed [because your name has been given to another organisation].”

I agree 100%.

People have told me that Cipro has effectively shut itself off from public enquiries. If you want to deal with it, you literally need to get friendly with some of its employees and then – maybe – you will get inside the building.

If President Jacob Zuma or Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies truly believes that small business is such a critical part of the economy, how about sending in a real task team, throwing open the doors and actually showing the public that they are now taking active steps to resolve the situation?

I don’t expect government to have all the answers, but as part of the small business environment in South Africa I would expect a decisive response when problems arise.


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