Both the Chamber of Commerce and the Democratic Labour Party have sought answers from the Government over the Customs and Excise Department’s transition from its current processing software, which has resulted in lengthy shopping delays and bottlenecks.
The software upgrade, from the ASYCUDA++ to ASYCUDA World system, should have been conducted while the Customs department was closed from 8 p.m. two Fridays ago to the following Monday at 1 a.m.
Overseeing the transition was the first main task of the new Comptroller of Customs and his two new deputies, who were appointed days before the switchover.
But since then, the BCCI, the business community’s leading group complained of a “significant loss in revenue” for retailers and distributors.
The chamber said: “Some businesses have been unable to replenish their stock in a timely manner, and if incurred for a prolonged period of time, the increased costs some businesses are facing in terms of demurrage [charges accrued while goods lie idle awaiting shipment] and storage can trickle down to consumers of the affected goods.”
The DLP, which formed the Government from 2008 until it lost all 30 seats in the May 2018 General Elections, noted complaints last week by “a major rum exporter” of losses from its Christmas export stock “sitting in Barbados”.
In a statement, the DLP added: “We have it on good authority that no funds have gone from the Customs and Excise Department to the Consolidated Fund since the inability to transition smoothly to the new system.”
The party criticised the current administration for “failing to run a parallel system or an effective back-up to mitigate problems in such a critical revenue-earning sector in its haste to follow the dictates of the International Monetary Fund”.
It also noted that since the issue surfaced some three weeks ago, “the silence from the Ministry of Finance and the ‘political directorate’ of the Barbados Port Inc. has been deafening, and the Government needs to get away from its ‘false news public relations exercise’ and let the people of Barbados, particularly the business sector know what is really happening and how long the delay will adversely affect the country and its economy.”
Meanwhile, the BCCI stated that it had been in dialogue with the Customs and Excise Department and the ASYCUDA World Project team, and so far the discussions between the parties had been positive. “The Executive Committee of the BCCI and the Chair of our Customs and Trade Facilitation Committee met with the new Comptroller of Customs and his deputies on Friday, September 6, and among other things, we talked about access to the ASYCUDA portal; warehousing concerns; a lack of communication and tariff concerns.”
Coming out of that meeting, “The Comptroller of Customs has also designated a member of the ASYCUDA World project team to serve as a liaison with the BCCI to respond to the issues, challenges, and concerns raised by members to the BCCI Secretariat.”
Nevertheless, given the adverse effect on its members’ bottom line thus far, the BCCI expressed hope that “the shipping companies and the Barbados Port Inc. relax some of the associated costs during the transition to ASYCUDA World given the impact to the business sector and the potential impact on the cost of goods.”