Government has pledged to speed up the clearing of goods at the Bridgetown Port in light of a current backlog resulting from a just-ended go-slow by Customs officers.
However, Chairman of the Barbados Private Sector Association Alex McDonald said while the business community welcomed the Government’s pledge, he would wait to see some action, and fast.
Customs officers were on a go-slow for about two months to protest against Government decision to merge their department into the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA).
Following a near four-hour-long meeting yesterday involving Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, management of BRA and the workers’ representatives, BRA agreed to withdraw contentious option forms that were given to Customs staff who have since resumed working as normal.
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, speaking to reporters following a meeting of the Social Partnership today, said the issue was raised during that meeting and everyone “heaved a sigh of relief that the Customs officers are back to work”.
“Of course, the concern was raised that even though they are back to work and we are all glad about that, that because of the go-slow, or however else you want to describe it, there is a backlog that has to be dealt with and the social partners discussed, and want to continue to discuss how best we can deal with that backlog,” said Stuart.
One suggestion, he said, was that “we should become a little more liberal in letting the containers out”.
However, Stuart said that was not something that could be easily done, given the already troublesome situation with illegal arms in the island.
“The point had to be made that Customs officials are not only collectors of revenue but they are border security officials and the national security is still very important. Across CARICOM we are dealing with the phenomenal movement of small arms and light weapons. We have too many in Barbados and we have to take every possible precaution to ensure that we don’t contribute anything to the explosion of that number,” said Stuart.
He added: “But we are committed to working together to deal with that backlog because we understand how the business community has suffered. The business community directly and the population indirectly, by the goings on at the port as a result of the issues raised by Customs officers. But I am confident that we will get all that back to normal and I gave that assurance.”
Since the go-slow started, the private sector has been complaining that they were incurring a lot of charges and some products were running low as a result. Some of them even served notice that if the issue was not quickly resolved, consumers might soon begin to see an increase in the prices of some items.
McDonald said although the Customs officers have reportedly gone back on the job as of today “unfortunately there is still the issue of large backlogs that need to be dealt with”. “So we hope that in the short term that there is a strategy in dealing with that backlog,” he said.
Asked if Barbadians should still expect some price increases, McDonald said: “The fact is that the private sector has incurred costs. The private sector has been very cooperative in terms of its prices and income.
“I expect that people will act in a responsible manner in terms of the balance they need to make to recover the cost,” he said, adding that this was not a reason to just willfully pass on prices.
McDonald said he wanted Government to resolve the backlog “as quickly as they can. [The Prime Minister] has given the commitment and we now need to see it turn into action”.