Prime Minister Mia Mottley has revealed that some 138 posts have been created for Customs officers, in an effort to regularise the clerical officers who have been acting in the positions at HM Customs and Excise for several years.
Pointing out that some 160 posts were left vacant by the Freundel Stuart administration “under the pretense” that the department would be merging with the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA), Mottley said her administration was about to bring an end to issues that have dogged the department for several years.
For 13 years, Customs’ senior management “has been in Hollywood – acting, acting, acting”, she told a media conference at Government Headquarters on Thursday, as she provided an update about her recent overseas trip.
The Prime Minister told journalists: “The last Government had left 160 vacancies in the Customs Department under the pretense that it was going to the Barbados revenue authority and therefore they weren’t filling any posts. It has left us naked in the Customs and Excise Department. In addition to leaving those posts vacant, there has been no appointed Comptroller of Customs since the year 2006.
“We are hoping to bring that situation to an end very shortly, but secondly, what we did was to correct a very wrong situation for which the unions have been complaining for 15 or so years, and that is a number of Clerical Officers were doing Customs Officers’ duties – but still designated as Clerical Officers in many instances they wear customs uniforms but were treated purely as a clerical officers.
“As a result of that, two weeks ago, I created 138 posts for Customs Officers IV to be able to accommodate these Clerical Officers and in the instance where the officers are over the threshold they can immediately go to be qualified as Customs Offers III which was previously the lowest ranking of a Customs Officer in the Customs and Excise Department.”
She said the decision was taken after she met two weeks ago with three of the island’s main labour unions representing public servants – the Barbados Workers’ Union, the National Union of Public Workers and the Unity Workers Union.
The Prime Minister acknowledged that despite all the work that has been done so far, there was still a lot to be done in order to bring the department in line with international best practices and upgrade the entire public service.
Stating that over the next three to four years, Government would rebuild the public service “in many different ways”, Mottley said another area of concern was that of early retirement of public servants.
She said her administration had sought the assistance of “a permanent consultant” to carry out relevant research and help reform various aspects of the public service.
Mottley said: “The Canadian government graciously agreed, through the [International Monetary Fund], to be able to assist us with the provision of three long-term consultants. One to work in Customs and Excise, one to work in the Barbados Revenue Authority, and one to work in the ministry of finance and economic affairs as a macro fiscal consultant”.
Mottley defended that decision, saying “those three people are critical” especially because the country faced the highest rate of retirement of public officers in the last decade than at any other stage since Independence.
She said: “Senior public servants choose to go home before they reach retirement age. You have to ask yourself why so many did.
“The consequences of it are that persons are then forced into positions, sometimes two levels, sometimes even three levels above where they where, without having the requisite process of training and experience to prepare them for the task.”
She said in addition to the full-time consultant’s work, there would be some part-time consultation “in some instances”, singling out the Barbados Statistical Services, which she said was critical to have “good data” so that “the best policies” could be developed.
Mottley said two weeks ago, as Chair of the University Grants Committee, she “settled on a budget” with Cave Hill that would see that institution “putting on a strategic retraining” programme in place for various public servants.
Saying it was not about equipping people with degrees but training them “for purpose”, Mottley said “we need to change how the public service works and we are working to do that”.
In a related development, the Prime Minister also told reporters a revised version of the draft Customs Order Paper, intended to bring the 2013 tariff structures in line with more modern ones, was now in her office.
She also gave the commitment that the administration would be pressing ahead with modernising revenue collection systems across Government.