A local distributor is crying out over what workers at the Customs and Excise Department say is a “severe staff shortage” that is currently hampering their ability to clear containers and to carry out other important tasks at the Bridgetown Port.
Andy Armstrong, the marketing director at Armstrong Agencies Limited, told Barbados TODAY the situation was at a “critically bad” stage, while reporting that his business had suffered significant financial losses.
The former president of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who described the current situation as a go slow, said other businesses were also feeling the pinch.
“It is taking a lot longer to get containers processed in and out [of the Port], and it means that we [Armstrong Agencies], as importers, and I have no doubt many of the other large importers, are being faced with paying excess storage, demurrage charges and having a situation where we are actually running out of stock for short periods because of these delays,” said Armstrong who reported that in the past three weeks alone, his company had lost approximately $50,000 in sales.
Worried that the current backlog would get worse as November, which is the busiest month for importation, draws near, the businessman suggested ways of easing the situation.
He said there was need for Customs to do more risk analysis, instead of seeking to do primary inspection on the majority of containers in the Port.
“They need to be allowing importers to have a good record and get some green lanes for some of the containers. For example, I got a number of containers in my yard [on Tuesday] but unless I pay overtime to Customs the earliest they can come to oversee the unpacking is Friday.
“That means I have lost all of today and all of tomorrow, and by the time they are done on Friday, I will be lucky if I get any deliveries out on Friday.
“So that means I may have to wait until Monday to get that stock delivered,” he added.
Barbados TODAY learnt that a number of staff at the government agency are presently out on sick leave, including some who have reportedly fallen ill with the mosquito-borne Chikungunya disease.
Staff morale is also said to be at an all time low, following some recent changes which came with the Government’s introduction of the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA), an amalgam of key revenue authorities.
Describing the situation as “one big mess”, one worker also voiced strong concern about the way in which promotions were being handled, while making it clear that the current problems were not the result of any workers’ protest.
“It is a situation where you do not have enough staff to do what needs to be done and properly execute the functions of each section,” the Customs officer said.
“Given this time of the year you would know that it would be busier than normal. Under normal circumstances you have some people heading some sections that are requesting more staff. There are officers out on leave and no officers to replace them. So with the situation as it is, it will be a longer process because you will be overwhelmed with the volume of work that needs to be done and if you don’t have enough staff members for normal functionality you will not have enough staff numbers therefore for this bulk of work,” the worker added.
Some workers also complained to Barbados TODAY that they were being made to do multiple tasks, resulting in a slower pace of operation.
Concerns are also being raised about the structure and functioning of the department.
Added to those internal issues, the department has also reportedly been hit by a number of computer crashes within the past three weeks.
Asked whether the trade unions were aware of their issues, one outspoken member of the group said it did not make sense contacting the trade unions on the matter.
The worker also said the Minister of Finance, who has responsibility for the department, was fully aware of the issues but seemed not to be addressing them. However, when contacted tonight Chris Sinckler said he was aware of the situation. But he warned that nothing short of an overhaul was needed now in Customs. He also cautioned that the island’s national security must not be compromised, while stating that the problem of illegal guns and drugs entering the country via the Bridgetown Port must be brought to a halt.
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