Minister of Small Business, Stuart Nash and Lamberts Engineering 1921 owner Peter James at Lamberts Engineering. PHOTO/ELI HILL

PAM GRAHAM
pam.graham@age.co.nz

Lamberts Engineering owner Peter James says if you run a business with no debt and pay in cash you’re treated as a criminal and are penalised at every turn.

James is a Brit who moved to Masterton two years ago and bought the well-known Lamberts Engineering 1921.

He said the business is doing well but some of the hoops he has had to jump through are just silly.

He had sold businesses in England and Australia and a house in Waihi Beach before moving to Masterton where he bought a cheaper house and the business.

He is no fan of banks, including state-owned Kiwibank.

He said someone paid him $15 by a cheque and it cost a $5 fee to deposit it.

“I said, ‘Stick it on the wall’, I’m not giving them the money’.”

He doesn’t have debt, doesn’t have an overdraft, doesn’t like credit cards and likes to pay cash. Call it old-fashioned.

He went to withdraw $10,000 of his own money from his business account with Kiwibank and they wanted to charge a $50 cash clearance fee.

“It was my own money and I’m the crook! I’m the crook because I pay in cash.”

He said it would make a good comedy sketch.

“If it wasn’t real, you would piss yourself laughing. It is real money, my money, and they steal it in fees.”

Such charges penalise people who are legal and above board, he said.

He said if he was a drug lord he “wouldn’t be doing it legally”.

The issue that vexes him is the impact of laws to stop money laundering. He was appalled that Small Business Minister Stuart Nash said when speaking in Masterton last week that anyone who paid cash for a $250,000 house was likely a criminal.

James said not everyone is mired in debt, some people save and don’t spend all their money on “wine and women” but they are being treated as criminals and are bearing large costs to prove they are legitimate.

He said to comply with anti-money laundering laws, he has had to file five sets of forms this year – three to accountants and two to banks – to prove his identity. They had to be filed in person.

The professionals they are filed with, charge fees.

He said one professional isn’t allowed to check it for another, so you have to do it for every transaction.

He said he has “better things to do than piss around with bits of paper and ID”.

“I am really over having to prove to every idiot who I am. I know who I am.”

Another annoyance is the move by the last government to stop people claiming tax credits from loss-making businesses against profits from another company.

James went to hear Nash speak to a Business Wairarapa lunch.

“The day before, I decided to book it. I wasn’t going to go because he’s a politician then I thought ‘No, I will go he might talk some sense, despite being Labour’.”

Nash’s office got in touch when they heard he would be asking questions and said he would like to see a manufacturing business in Wairarapa, so James ended up hosting the minister for 40 minutes at Lamberts.

“He was very good – he was upfront, he answered my questions, within reason.

“I actually got on with him really well.”

James went on to post on Facebook that “I was really wanting to dislike him [Nash], like all politicians and especially members of the Cabinet, but he was very approachable and listened to what we had to say.

Whether anything gets done is another matter, but he came, [but] he listened and it was nice to have a gripe to someone in influence about the Anti-Money Laundering Rules, compliance and lack of incentives for entrepreneurs to invest in businesses.

“He was genuinely surprised by some of the things he was told and promised to follow up.”

James said getting staff is a nightmare, training staff is a nightmare because staff leave, the minimum wage increase is an issue and so are rising fuel prices.

“You are not exactly being business-friendly,” he told the minister.

A follow-up visit from officials has been promised so James is waiting to see what happens next.

“I took on an existing business, we expanded, we are doing well but it is bloody difficult, and you get no help from the government or from the council,” James said.

He said the council and government are supposed to be encouraging businesses in the regions.

He told Nash he would have headed to a super yacht in international waters to trade Bitcoin if the capital gains tax proposals had gone ahead.

“I would have made lots more money tax-free and I would have sat there waiving two fingers at you.

“Why am I sitting here busting a gut in Masterton paying all these taxes and all these fees?

“I am doing it because I am employing six people and doing the right thing but you are not helping.”

He said there is no incentive to save and to own a business debt-free and that is just plain wrong.

“The system is broken, the banking system is fraudulent and broken and when you try to start an honest hard working small-to-medium business and use your own money and do it the old fashioned way, without debt, you get screwed.”

People have asked him to run for council.

“I think I will have a go,” he said, adding the rates he pays in Masterton are more than he has paid anywhere else.