Parliamentary representative for St Joseph, Dale Marshall, has expressed concern that post clearance audits being undertaken by the Customs Department can lead to abuse of the system.
Marshall voiced this concern today in the House of Assembly while lending his support and that of the Opposition Barbados Labour Party to amendments to the Customs Act.
The St Joseph MP said: “Post clearance audits are intelligence driven. There are something that we do not like to speak about in Barbados, but there are a lot of small businessmen who feel the pinch of Government agencies more than big businesses.
“For example, I am aware of a situation where a particular Government department that deals with standards, will go and seize an entire container of perhaps toilet paper because the sheet count does not meet the standard that they expect. Yet you can go into larger enterprises in Barbados and see the exact toilet paper with the same sheet count as the container that was seized,” he argued.
“It also happens in relation to Customs. I again am aware of instances where somehow or another, certain companies’ goods are held up through slow processes at Customs for a few days longer than another bigger company who would be bringing in the same goods.”
Marshall charged that some entities were able to use the machinery of Government to steal “a march” on other enterprises by way of getting their goods out of the port faster.
“These things represent a net loss to the country. The company owner who gets his goods out of the port a few days earlier than the other is happy. He has his goods on the shelf and he is selling. But the smaller businessman who is trying to compete finds that they cannot compete against these challenges. When the smaller business questions why Customs is treating him differently, no one can give a satisfactory answer. We can talk about recourse to the law all we like, but by the time you bring any evidence before the court years will go by,” Marshall said.
He suggested that Government should ensure no business should have an advantage over another, whether big or small.
Marshall, a former Attorney General, charged that there were many ordinary people who would avoid offending a big business.
“The Minister of Finance should say there is a possibility of abuse and these are the things that I would like seen done. I do not think that is too much to ask the minister. If he contemplates the possibility of abuse, do not leave it to lawyers to have to come and fight a case that could take two to three years in our snail-paced court system.”