Government is looking to end its three-year battle to subsume the Customs Department under the umbrella of the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA), by enacting legislation to make the move mandatory.
Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler told Parliament today the much-touted Barbados Sustainable Recovery Plan (BSRP) introduced last week, would make provisions for the reform of the Customs and Excise Department, “with a view to improve trade facilitation, strengthen compliance management, streamline coordination and border management, strengthen domestic tax collection framework and formalize the informal sector”.
“I can say in this regard that Government has taken a decision to move to a stage where we will in fact legislate the transition of Customs into the Barbados Revenue Authority and we have informed the unions accordingly,” Sinckler reported as he led off debate on the Appropriation Bill 2018, commonly referred to as the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure 2018-19, as well as the (BSRP).
Government has been trying to merge Customs into the BRA since April 2015, but has faced strong opposition from the National Union of Public Workers, amid fears that at least two dozen of the 300-plus Customs workers would not be offered places in the BRA.
Questions have been raised about the wisdom of placing the country’s border protection in the hands of the revenue collection agency, while union members have expressed concerns that officers would face problems over their pensions, with the union advising the workers against signing onto BRA before it gives the all clear.
However, in introducing the BSRP in Parliament this morning, Sinckler said steps were being taken to have that transition completed soon.
Acknowledging the union’s concern regarding appointments, the minister told the House that the Personnel Administration Division, in collaboration with the Ministry of the Civil Service and the Public Service Commission, was “moving expeditiously” and was “close to the end” of filling available positions at the Customs and ensuring Customs officers receive their appointments.
“My understanding is that they have started the interview process for Customs officers at various levels – one, two and three – and of course, interviews for clerical officers as well and that is continuing apace,” Sinckler said.
He said the Accountant General, along with the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of the Civil Service had “arrived at an arrangement to protect and securitize the pensions of all persons who are working in the Customs that might transition to the BRA, and all those from the previous legacy agencies who would have transitioned if they may have had some issues in the relation of the computation of their pensions and delivery of their pensions at the point of retirement”.
“The unions will be notified, if they have not yet officially been notified, very shortly in the coming weeks as to what has been agreed as perfectly legal and appropriate to do in the circumstances so that none of those workers will lose one bit of their pension,” Sinckler added.
The 2018-19 Estimates make provision for a larger vote for Customs in the amount of $19.3 million, $2.7 million more than the 2017-18 allocation.
Meanwhile, the allocation for the BRA has increased slightly from $26.5 million to $27.7 million.
Overall, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs, the parent company of both BRA and Customs, will receive a $434.4 million allocation. This is down from the $439 million allocation in the Revised Estimates for 2017-18.