Border control officers who had been battling for three years to stymie a Government plan to subsume the Customs Department into the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA) will get their wish after all.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley today announced she would put a stop to the merger plans announced by then Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler in 2015, and which was vehemently opposed by the customs officers, the majority of whom are represented by the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW).
“I use this opportunity because I have not had any similar public opportunity, [to announce] that it is the resolve of my Government to hold its promise that we believe that Customs is a border security agency and not simply a revenue authority, and as a result our Cabinet will not be including Customs Department to the Barbados Revenue Authority,” Mottley told parliamentarians during the presentation of the so-called mini Budget.
“We hope that that may bring certainty and stability to the arrangements that have undermined the effectiveness of that department over the course of the last three years,” she said.
Instead, Mottley said Government would allocate $2 million to strengthen Customs, as well as the compliance unit and revenue collection at the BRA, create an arrears unit and cover payments of experts.
She said, the strengthening of the BRA would place the revenue collection agency in a position to “assiduously go after” those who did not pay their taxes.
It was back in 2015 that Sinckler had announced a $18 million transition of the Customs into the BRA in order to create a single information and communication technology platform so Government would better manage state receipts.
Customs officers, backed by the NUPW, objected on several grounds, including the department was a border control agency and its merger into the BRA would negatively affect its role.
The officers had also charged that Government had failed to put pension arrangements in place for officers who had transitioned to the BRA, thus depriving them of higher pension and gratuity, and that the transition could affect their tenure in the public service.
Government’s decision led to protest action, including a two-month long go-slow, and several deadlines for the transition passed without action.