Settle down and get on with some serious work!
This was the stern advice issued today by Minister of Industry Donville to workers in this country’s Customs & Excise Department, as he publicly threw his full backing behind Government’s efforts to subsume that department into the umbrella Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA).
Addressing a regional workshop on Implementation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade Facilitation at the Radisson Aquatica Resort this morning, Inniss, who is also Minister of International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development, suggested that the Caribbean as a whole needed to adopt a more “positive and welcoming attitude” to regional trade of goods and services, which he said would go a long way towards making the Caribbean more WTO compliant.
In Barbados’ case, he acknowledged there continued to be “pockets of resistance” to change, but said Government was moving full steam ahead with plans to modernize customs, including effecting the necessary legislative and technical upgrades, as well as “a consolidated and appropriately structured as well as resourced central revenue agency”.
Inniss also said he was satisfied that the merger decision was “the right one”, and without making direct reference to the National Union of Public Workers, which continues to decry the proposed merger and has called on its members not to sign on to BRA, he called on skeptics to see the “big picture”.
“Each one of us may not get exactly what we want but I urge those still in doubt to look at the big picture because I firmly believe that this island, like the rest of the Caribbean islands, needs to settle down and get on with some serious work,” he suggested.
Inniss’ comments came against the backdrop of Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler’s insistence that customs would be merged into BRA even though the workers’ representative had been maintaining otherwise. In fact, Sinckler told last week’s Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry business luncheon at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre that a firm decision could be coming from Government within a matter of weeks.
“I can tell you that some resolution is going to come to this matter very, very shortly if I have anything to do with it. We will see how it goes in the next few weeks,” Sinckler said then.
During his 15 minute address, Inniss also threw a wider net over the operations of regional ports of entry in general, complaining that “far to often I hear the cries of legitimate businessmen who are frustrated with the tardiness of agencies that are responsible for the smooth movement of goods in this region.
“This region really needs to adopt an attitude that no one owes us a favour and that we ought to get up and earn our way in life in a very sustainable manner,” he said.
“Hence, inordinate delays at the air and seaports not only frustrate buyers and sellers but certainly add to the cost of living in this region,” he added.
The Minister of Commerce further cautioned that there was a high price to be paid for inefficiency.
“When we do not get our goods out of the port within hours, as opposed to days, someone has to pay the price for that delay. When importers have to pay high fees to have containers inspected outside of normal hours, someone has to pay that additional cost.”
He also said he looked forward to the day when Caribbean ports could operate on a 24/7 basis “with reduced overtime and exorbitant rates and a true shift system”.
However, in a naked jab at the region’s labour movement, he called for a change to the “antiquated” systems of operation.
“I’m afraid, truly, that most of our ports in this region are controlled by an antiquated labour group and a standard that continues to inject fear sometimes without being reasonable.
“When exporters have to pay workers to stand up with folded arms and watch others load vessels, I say we frustrate, not facilitate, business. When officers take their cool time to inspect items as a means of protesting new work arrangements, I say we frustrate, not facilitate, trade.
“When importers follow all known rules and regulations and yet weeks or months later cannot get an explanation as to why goods are being held up, we frustrate, not facilitate, trade,” Inniss said.
“When we spend valuable time arguing for greater protectionist measures such as more licences, higher rates of duties and quotas, as opposed to focusing on greater efficiencies, higher standards and areas of comparative advantage, we really are not doing our economies any favours. We are just really legitimizing our inefficiencies and our incompetencies,” he argued.
In this regard, he warned that all the international agreements and conventions would come to naught if the people did not adopt a positive and welcoming attitude with respect to regional trade of goods and services.