With unionized workers at the Customs & Excise Department still not budging, Government has seemingly resigned itself to another year without having Customs under the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA) umbrella.
At least, that is what the 2017/2018 Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure, which are currently being debated in the House of Assembly, seem to indicate.
In its bid to fast track the merger last year, Government had transferred much of the Customs budget to BRA.
However, after running into a major stumbling block with the unionized workers who have been finding all sorts of excuses not to sign on to the central revenue collection agency, the administration was forced to revise its estimates by $12 million.
Just a few weeks ago, the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), which represents the Customs workers, called for an official probe into BRA, charging that the state agency was not only inefficient, but that it had failed to honour outstanding tax refunds.
Without going into details, union spokesman Wayne Walrond had also claimed that public officers who recently took up employment with the umbrella revenue collection agency were either opting to return to the public service or to take early retirement.
Walrond further charged that Government had failed to have pension arrangements finalized for officers who had transitioned to the BRA, thus depriving them of receiving a higher pension and gratuity based on higher emoluments earned under that Authority.
It was on this basis that the Assistant General Secretary said his union was sticking to its guns on the proposed merger of the Customs & Excise Department into BRA. And he warned that NUPW members would not be bullied into joining the umbrella agency.
“First, the NUPW wishes to state that Customs officers have the right to exercise an option to go or not go with the BRA,” the union spokesman had said in a statement, adding that “the union has always respected that democratic right and does not intend to force any public officer, including those at the Customs & Excise Department, to accept employment with the BRA”.
As if accepting that no agreement would be immediately forthcoming, Government has pretty much restored the Customs budget, including $2.6 million in personal emoluments, $1.3 million in employee contributions, and $10 million is statutory personal emoluments.
The delay in the Customs merger is also reflected in the BRA’s budget for the 2017-2018 which has been decreased to $26 million, down from $33 million for the current financial year, which ends on March 31.
However, this could be the last opportunity for Customs workers to accept their fate, since no provision has been made in Government’s Forward Estimates for Customs in 2018/19, while BRA’s total allocation is to be increased to $44 million next year.
In the meantime, Government has also allocated $10 million to improve the administration of taxes through the acquisition and implementation of an integrated electronic information system for BRA and security scanning equipment for the Customs Department.