Prospective customs brokers are feeling as if they have been shut out of a viable path to self-employment because the Customs and Excise Department is not issuing any new licences.
Customs officials confirmed to Barbados TODAY that no examinations for brokers’ licences had taken place in the last five years. They also were unable to state when such exams would be restarted.
In addition, the training of new clerks has been put on pause indefinitely, because Government’s plan to replace the existing Automated System For Customs Data (ASYCUDA) programme – a computerized system designed by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development to administer a country’s customs – with the more advanced ASYCUDA ++, is yet to become a reality, despite being four years in the making.
“At the moment, I can’t say when exams would begin again because that may now fall under the Barbados Revenue Authority, but we have not done those exams in about five years,” said a Customs official.
The situation has become a source of frustration for business owners, including proprietor of Clarke’s Machine Shop Alvin Clarke. He lamented having to put two young men on the breadline recently because he was unable get them the necessary training and certification to become in-house brokers.
Clarke explained that six months ago he hired the two young men with the intention of paying for their training and certification as brokers to handle the frequency and volume of his imports. However, after six months of trying and failing to get them the necessary training, or an opportunity to do the exams, Clarke said he was left with no alternative but to terminate their employment, as he had run out of odd jobs to keep them busy in the interim.
“It was really tough to let them go, but I am running out of ideas. They are good boys and their family was really looking to them to help out, but I can’t keep them indefinitely to do a job, which they can’t get the certification for. While they were working with me, I still had to turn around and pay a broker to clear my goods, so it was as if I was paying double,” the machine shop owner said.
Clarke’s position was supported by auto parts importer Andy King, who contended that that the status quo was causing his fledgling Christ Church business to hemorrhage capital, as the brokerage costs on non-consolidated shipments quite often amounted to more than the cost of the items.
“It seems to me that somewhere along the line someone decided that there were enough brokers in the system and they shut the door so that no one else can get in. Everything requires a broker once it attracts duty,” King explained.
“Sometimes you bring in a small cheap rubber and the brokerage fees cost more than the part and the duties combined; and don’t talk about multiple suppliers on the same shipment because that is a separate entry for each one.
“It is quite clear to me that unemployment is not an issue in Barbados because here is a closed avenue to hundreds,” King said.
Also weighing in on the issue was customs broker Marlon Browne, who revealed that while brokers often trained their own clerks and granted them access to the system, they had been reluctant to do so of late because of the new system that had been due to come on stream.
“Right now, the field is closed but it is not because of some sinister plot to keep out persons. It is just tardiness on the part of Government to bring the ASYCUDA++ on stream because this is years now they say they doing this,” said Browne.
“Also the issues with BRA [Barbados Revenue Authority] and Customs, I think there is some uncertainty as to who would be responsible for things like exams,” he added.