BARBADOS HAS REACHED a stage where the words and actions of politicians must be carefully analysed, and not taken at face value.
Without attempting to cast aspersions, politicians seem to be guided by what would get them re-elected. In that context, I would like to posit my views on Minister Donville Inniss’ recent critical remarks of customs officers.
If you ask anyone who follows politics to identify who is the most forthright among our local politicians, the answer would invariably be Inniss. However, when his overall remarks are critically analysed, a worrying trend seems to emerge. It would appear that he has concluded that his party would most likely lose the next elections; and with that in mind, he is positioning himself to lead the Democratic Labour Party after the elections that are constitutionally due in 2018. That eventuality would put him in a position to become the Prime Minister in 2023.
His defeatist attitude, in relation to the next elections, has resulted in an attempt to show the public that he is an expert in all areas. In order to boost his profile, he has taken to being highly critical of public officers, who are barred by the rules of the Public Service from responding. He then gets favourable media coverage for attacking and putting telling blows on victims, who would be subject to disciplinary penalties if they responded to defend themselves.
At the official opening of a store in Bridgetown recently, Inniss weighed in on the matter of the transition of the Customs and Excise Department into the fledgling Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA). He bemoaned the time that the transition is taking and became extremely critical of customs officers.
Appointed customs officers are public officers and, like all other workers in that category, their terms and conditions of service give them a measure of constitutional protection, which theoretically insulates them from political interference in their hiring and dismissal procedures. (Politicians have already circumvented the Constitution in the hiring practices of the Public Service).
Inniss seems to be expecting customs officers to pull up stakes in the Public Service and relocate to the BRA, without knowing what they are getting into. So far the job descriptions have not been communicated to workers, which means that BRA has been employing workers in contravention of the Employment Rights Act for two years. And he wants customs officers to go merrily but blindly into that mess with only an assurance that politicians would somehow do the right thing by them.
It is interesting to note that there is currently no law that would permit the absorption of Customs into the BRA. The Barbados Revenue Authority Act received the Governor General’s assent on February 27, 2014. It was proclaimed and came into force on April 1, 2014.
That act gives the BRA the power to administer ten acts of Parliament along with parts of the Road Traffic Act and its subsidiary legislation in so far as those enactments relate to the collection of taxes, fees and other sums. Nothing in the Barbados Revenue Authority Act empowers the BRA to administer the Customs Act.
How can the minister blame customs workers for Government’s failure to put terms and conditions in place before employing anyone at a statutory board, in accordance with the Employment Rights Act? Further, even if those terms and conditions were in place; how can the minister or anyone else for that matter attribute blame to customs officers for Government’s failure to put the appropriate legislation in place to effect the transition.
You must admit that the minister sounded as though he really knew what he was talking about. However, when the facts are examined in good light, he appears to be just a run-of-the-mill politician trying to make a name for himself.
The Minister needs to be reminded that he is operating under a Westminster type system of government where ministers of the Crown do not publicly criticise public officers. A word to the wise.
Caswell Franklyn is the General Secretary of Unity Workers Union and a social commentator. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org