Government is moving to better secure this island’s ports of entry with the purchase of $12.9 million worth of new scanning equipment to be used by customs officers at the Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA) and the Bridgetown Port.
Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler made the announcement this morning as he signed off on a $30 million loan agreement with CAF, the Caracas, Venezuela-headquartered Development Bank of Latin America, in support of a two-year Tax Administration Infrastructure Reform Programme.
The programme is divided into three components, the first of which will see to the acquisition and customization of an integrated tax administration system for this island’s umbrella revenue collection agency, the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA), at a cost of $16 million.
And with millions of dollars currently said to be escaping the tax collectors’ net, Sinckler stated that with its implementation, Government should be in a better position to spot tax evaders or those who otherwise owe taxes.
Amid a worrying influx of illegal drugs and guns into the country, Sinckler also revealed that the second component of the programme will involve equipping both major ports of entry with new scanners.
“Since Barbados depends on the tourism industry and on international trade, it is critical that both ports of entry are adequately equipped. In recent times, slow processing due to manual operations by the Customs & Excise Department at both ports, has had a not so positive impact on the country’s image and also on the business of trade and commerce in the country,” the minister said, adding that Government was therefore forced to take a very serious look at reform.
He also said the scanners would allow for better detection of items that attract duties, as well as of contraband and other illegal substances.
“This component provides for investments in infrastructure adaptation in the passengers’ arrival terminals at the GAIA and BPI to accommodate new scanners and facilitate processing and passenger flow.
“It also provides for the training of customs, port and airport personnel; and the development and implementation of a reporting solution for the Customs & Excise Department,” he added.
The revelation comes against the backdrop of an announcement by Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite that it was no longer a question of if, but when cameras will be placed at ports of entry here, to keep an eye on what is happening behind the proverbial closed doors where customs officers operate.
Two months on, the island is still no clearer on when the promised move will occur, but Brathwaite had told stakeholders attending the third quarterly general meeting of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association at the Hilton Barbados Resort back in September that “Cabinet had instructed the minister responsible to do all within his power to immediately see that we have cameras at all of our ports of entry.
“We have done a security audit in terms of where there are gaps and where is the challenge [and] there should be no reason why customs officers, the trade unions or anyone should be against what we consider to be a national security measure,” Brathwaite had stated to applause.
He had also stated that Government was also “moving aggressively” to scan all containers entering the Bridgetown Port, “along with enhanced use of scanners and security cameras at all ports of entry”.
However, Sinckler made no mention of cameras today, but he said the final component of the two-year programme would support an analysis of the tax reform process to determine the main challenges and achievements and propose the next steps needed to complete that reform.
The Minister of Finance also said it would include a study of the revenue collection process with a view to identifying revenue leakages and shortening the tax gap.
CAF representative Joel Branski, who signed the loan documents on behalf of the bank, said it had approved and disbursed US$85 million for Barbados since the country joined the financial institution in September 2014.
Branski, who is based in Trinidad and Tobago, said this latest loan showed CAF’s commitment to supporting the country’s tax administration reform policies which are an important component of the country’s fiscal facilitation.
Also present were Dr Kennedy Swaratsingh, the principal consultant who initiated the loan negotiation and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Economic Affairs Seibert Frederick.