Despite having missed its latest deadline for effecting the planned merger of the Customs & Excise Department into the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA), Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Chris Sinckler today assured that the BRA move was still on.
In fact, he told reporters that the process was now at an “advanced stage”, after numerous setbacks were experienced since Government announced more than a year ago its plans for the merging of the two departments.
This was immediately greeted by objection from Customs workers and their union representatives, who argued that a number of issues should first be addressed, including the filling of a number of vacant posts in Customs, as well as other matters related to terms and conditions of employment and pensions.
Today, Sinckler spoke to reporters on the heels of a missed June 30 deadline.
He however assured that, “We are at an advanced stage of meeting those things which we identified in earlier meetings last year that ought to be done to satisfy a platform for orderly transition of Customs into the BRA”.
Sinckler explained that interviews for the various levels of customs officers had already been conducted and some workers had already started to receive appointment letters.
He said once the process of appointments was completed, the stakeholders would “sit conducted and review” the process with a view to ironing out any remaining kinks.
“The goal is that nobody should be in a less advantageous position for having transitioned, and that is in the legislation, that is in the policy document that we took to Parliament, and Government is committed to that,” said Sinckler.
He also revealed that a select team of senior officials, including the Director of Finance, the Auditor General and the Accountant General had reviewed the situation and they came up with “what we believe is the appropriate route to take to ensure a resolution of this issue”, adding that “a Cabinet paper is being prepared and should go to Cabinet very shortly”.
“It will come, I believe, under the [Ministry of the] Civil Service, which is with the Prime Minister’s office, and once that is done, we will effect the necessary changes to ensure that any loopholes that may exist that may disadvantage anybody in the system opting to transition, that that could be tightly closed,” he explained.
Acknowledging that the June 30 date for the transition of the Customs to BRA had passed, Sinckler said “but I don’t think we are too far out now”.
“I have instructed the staff that as soon as those few things have been basically dealt with that we hold immediate meetings with the workers’ representatives to brief them, and once we are all on the same page I think we should brief the workers specifically on the issues and to hear from them of any other issues that they need to be dealt with,” added Sinckler.
Just yesterday, the National Union of Public Workers again advised Customs officers against signing onto BRA before the union gives the all clear. The position was communicated by NUPW Acting Assistant General Secretary Wayne Walrond even though he said negotiations between the two sides on several outstanding issues would be concluded soon.