It is now unlikely that the planned changeover of Customs & Excise Department (CED) to the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA) will be completed by July 1 as planned.
Furthermore, 16 temporary Customs guards, who are currently stationed at the CED, will not be absorbed into the umbrella revenue authority, but will be deployed elsewhere in the Civil Service.
The disclosures were made at the end of a three-hour meeting between key Government officials and the top brass of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) today.
The meeting at Government headquarters was chaired by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler and attended by Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer, Revenue Commissioner Margaret Sivers and other top BRA officials, as well as the Chief Personnel Officer Gail Atkins.
Shortly after emerging from the talks with the union delegation, which was led by the acting General Secretary Roslyn Smith and President Akanni McDowall, Sinckler reported that information requested by the NUPW on the proposed transition into BRA was now in the hands of the union officials.
However, he acknowledged that it would take some time for union members to peruse that information and make an informed decision.
Therefore, the Minister of Finance, who has lead responsibility for BRA, said the proposed July 1 deadline for completion of the move would most likely have to be pushed back.
This is the second such delay after the CED was originally scheduled to be absorbed into BRA by April 1 this year.
“We have provided all of the information to the union previous to this meeting and in this meeting. They are to return to their members, share all of the information that they have, discuss these matters with them and then very shortly after that, the option forms will be issued,” Sinckler explained.
“With this [process] being completed, the members of the department can have the fullest opportunity to discuss and consult with their lawyers, their union and family and then make an informed decision,” he added.
However, the Minister of Finance made it clear that the final decision on the changeover date was not his, but Cabinet’s to make, while reiterating that none of the transitioning Customs officers would be put in a disadvantageous position.
The Minister also expressed satisfaction with the progress made during discussions with both the NUPW and the Barbados Workers Union (BWU), which he met with on Monday, while noting that the NUPW had placed a number of very important issues on the table relative to both the transition process and the reform process of the Customs & Excise Department.
He specifically addressed the issue of the appointments, pointing out that “if the position you are acting in is held by someone else, that person has to say, ‘I do not want to the BRA’.
“However, if that person says he wants to go [to BRA], then obviously it is their job.”
In such a situation, the Minister said “an alternate position will be offered to the officer at the officer’s substantive post”.
“Those matters were taken care of and addressed fully today,” he said.
Sinckler also gave the assurance to clerical officers that they would be accommodated in BRA.
His comments come against the backdrop of a recent warning by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart 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.”