Sinckler: Customs may yet be relieved of BRA
Workers at the Customs and Excise Department, who have been protesting against the planned merger of their department with the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA), may get their wish after all.
Asked today what happens in the event that the majority of the 300-plus Customs workers do not sign on to BRA, Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler admitted that “it would not be the most ideal situation” to have the Government’s largest revenue arm operating outside of the BRA umbrella. However, he said the Freundel Stuart administration could be forced to maintain the status quo.
“Any appointed worker who says, ‘no, I am not interested in going’, you cannot force them to go,” conceded Sinckler.
Pressed further by Barbados TODAY on the issue, the Minister of Finance could not give a precise threshold, but said, “I would imagine that for the thing to be functional, you would want to have a fairly decent number of persons agreeing to go. I don’t think it would make sense working with 20 per cent, or 30 per cent, or even 40 per cent [of the current staff complement at Customs].
“I think, given the specialty of the area, you would want a decent percentage of workers agreeing to transition,” he added, while further acknowledging that the jury was still out on the integration of Customs into BRA.
However, Sinckler insisted that it was not a case of the tail wagging the dog, saying, “we afforded that respect and opportunity to all other legacy agencies that did transitions.
“I believe they did it with the hospital, I know they did it with the FSC [Financial Services Commission] for sure. I know they did it with VAT [the Value Added Tax Division] and Inland Revenue that transitioned to the BRA last year, so I don’t think you could have given those other public officers the opportunity to make a choice and not give the workers at Customs the same privilege.
“That would not be fair and that would not be right,” Sinckler told Barbados TODAY.
His latest statement on BRA flies in the face of an earlier pronouncement by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, who, back in May, had sought to caution the unionized Customs workers that “. . . when all is said and done, there is going to be a Barbados Revenue Authority and the Customs Department is going to be a part of it.
“The revenue collection in the country is going to improve, but these are little mountains we have to climb on the way there,” Stuart had told reporters quite matter-of-factly as a go-slow by Customs workers began to take firm hold on the country.
“So I wouldn’t advise them to get too agitated about any of this. All this will pan out eventually and all will be well,” the Prime Minister further stated back then.
However, with the industrial situation further deteriorating over the past month and a half, Sinckler said today:
“We felt that it would be appropriate to allow workers to have a say and that is basically what the option is about.”
He said his Ministry, which has overall responsibility for BRA, had handed over as much information as they had been asked by the unions to hand over, and were now awaiting the decision of workers on whether the merger would be allowed to go through or not.
“The whole idea [behind the merger] was to achieve a higher level of efficiency in relation to the revenue collecting agencies, and to bring all of those agencies under one central administration, under one central operation and one IT system so that we have a connectivity between those functions, which currently and previous to the establishment of the BRA, did not exist,” Sinckler explained to Barbados TODAY.
He further pointed out that revenue functions such as land tax and VAT previously operated almost in isolation of each other, with taxpayers -individuals and businesses – utilizing each of those services separately.
However, he said “the disparate nature of [the revenue collection agencies] did not allow the tax administration of Barbados to be properly coordinated, and the reason to create a BRA is to achieve those synergies across the board,” stressing that it would be “odd to have one of the largest revenue collection agency operating on its own”.
“It obviously would not be the most ideal situation to have,” he added.