Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler is insisting that Government did not miss the deadline for the subsumption of the Customs & Excise Department into the revenue collection agency, the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA).
While the process appeared to have been stalled by the refusal of customs officers to sign option forms, Sinckler said Monday on the sidelines of the launch of the St Michael Battle of the West Primary Schools Quiz Competition that contrary to popular belief, the transition had indeed started on October 1.
However, he conceded it could take several years before the Customs & Excise Department finally becomes part of BRA.
“There is no new deadline date. That [October 1] was the beginning of the transition process and we have not missed it. As I said before, the transition is not a one-day exercise where you say on one day everything is done. You must have seen that with the likes of Inland Revenue, VAT that went into BRA; that it is an ongoing process and actually takes a few years based on experience.
“We did the FSC [Financial Services Commission] and it basically took two or three years to get everything put in place. They are now five years and running well. It happened also with the legacy agencies. We are now in the second year into the first set of legacy agencies that went into the BRA, they are now beginning to settle down. So for customs it’s going to take a period of time. It is not going to happen on one day, but you have to start somewhere,” the minister explained.
Sinckler’s view on the status of the transition process seemed to be in direct conflict with that of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), which has advised customs officers against signing option forms until a number of issues, including the appointment of over 80 clerical officers, are addressed.
In fact, Acting General Secretary Wayne Walrond expressed surprise at the minister’s comment, telling Barbados TODAY the process had not moved as none of the union’s members had signed the option forms.
“I am very shocked because I remember in an article the minister [Sinckler] referred to October 1 being another missed date [for the transition of Customs to BRA] . . . . We [NUPW] have been very clear, all that we have asked for we have not received,” said Walrond, who was adamant that the process would gain no traction unless the workers’ concerns were resolved.
The trade union leader was apparently referring to statements by the minister earlier this month at a luncheon hosted by the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
It was there that Sinckler said Government had “bent over backwards” to accommodate the customs officers, but it seemed their union had been hell-bent on retarding the process.
He also insisted then that the two entities would merge, but that the workers’ representative was holding its ground that all of the officers had to be appointed.
“First there was the issue of appointments, we delayed it since last year and say, ‘let’s do the appointments’ . . . . They said they want to get appointed and we opened up the process and we went through some laborious process and appointments have been made. Now we have reached the stage where all of that is completed and we are getting ready for the transition, but all the issues are not resolved yet,” Sinckler complained at the time.
Monday, Walrond remained adamant that the employees would not go into BRA as clerical officers and that the union would not march to the beat on any international agency.
“We [NUPW] are not aware that process of moving customs through the option process has started. The last issue was option forms; all of our members have held back their option forms. So we are not aware of a process going forward.
“We will not get into any argument with the minister over the October 1 date. The minister is aware that the NUPW is still negotiating, I have not heard anything to indicate that the process has been advanced . . . . The Minister of Finance or the relevant authorities can’t ignore what we are asking for in order to satisfy deadlines for some international agency,” Walrond said in an apparent reference to the International Monetary Fund.
However, in his interview with reporters this morning, Sinckler made it clear that officers’ refusal to sign the option forms would not derail the process.
“There are people who want to come and there are people who don’t want come. That is why it was an option. If you don’t want to come, then you stay,” Sinckler said.