Customs to be merged into revenue authority
After weeks of industrial action by Customs officers and demands for reconsideration of Government’s decision, there will be a transition of the Customs and Excise Department to the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA) after all.
Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Chris Sinckler gave this assurance today shortly after emerging from a three-hour meeting with officials of the Barbados Workers Union (BWU), the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), acting Comptroller of Customs Annette Weekes and BRA Commissioner Margaret Sivers.
Sinckler disclosed that “some considerable progress” had been made towards resolving several issues raised by the Customs officers, including supersession and appointments.
He did not say when the transition would take place, but said the various parties had set themselves “a very ambitious agenda” to have those matters resolved as quickly as possible.
“We have not set any specific dates, but we know that if we follow the law as it relates to appointments, we have to interview people, we have to shortlist some and then appoint people. That will take some weeks to carry out, but everybody is charged to get the process completed as quickly as possible. In the context of what transpired, we can say that we had a highly successful meeting,” he said.
The Minister told reporters that all sides had agreed to exchange information over the next few days since there were “smaller issues” to be dispensed with while the process was ongoing.
One of the most controversial issues, that of the distribution of option forms, appeared close to being resolved. Sinckler said there would be some revisions to the forms, following which the distribution date would be determined.
“We will work on the date of distribution in the meantime. Very shortly we should be able to say to the staff of the Customs and Excise Department and the public when the option forms will be distributed,” he promised.
Dismissing concerns by General Secretary of the Unity Workers Union Caswell Franklyn about his presence at the talks, Sinckler said he was satisfied that he helped move the process forward and got all sides walking in the same direction.
“I did not invite myself to the meetings. My interest is the interest of Barbados and ensuring that we get what we need to get done and have the BRA fully functional. You would have noticed the challenges that arose with the go-slow at our ports of entry,” Sinckler argued.
It was last month in an interview with Barbados TODAY that 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 in the July 21 interview, while further acknowledging that the jury was still out on the integration of Customs into BRA.
Meanwhile, the top brass of both trade unions agreed that major progress was made at today’s meeting, but pointed out that some issues still had to be addressed in the coming weeks.
BWU General Secretary Toni Moore acknowledged that the parties had a productive meeting even though a number of matters had not been finalized, while NUPW General Secretary Roslyn Smith and President Akanni McDowall were equally upbeat.