On Tuesday, October 4, 2016 the Nation Newspaper quoted the Minister of Education, Ronald Jones, as having said:
Barbados is a country of laws established by statutes and we have to observe all those laws and statutes. If you go and try to sidetrack the rules of the law, chaos becomes the order of the day
I think most people can decipher the gist of what the minister was saying. That statement, though not profound or eloquent, would tend to make him stand out among his colleagues in my eyes.
My assessment of Mr. Jones came about because of the positions taken by two other ministers on the proposed transition of the Customs Department into the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA); and the national shutdown that was allegedly ordered, by Government, when tropical storm Matthew was approaching.
On page 15A of the Midweek Nation on October 5, 2016 it was reported that the Minister of Finance, Christopher Sinckler, had expressed frustration with what he termed the many roadblocks that held up the transitioning of customs officers to BRA. Further, he suggested that the process was being stymied while Government had been bending over backwards to accommodate the trade unions.
I firmly believe that the minister does not have a complete understanding of what the Government is trying to impose on customs officers. First and foremost, Mr. Sinckler should be aware that there is no law on the statute books that would allow the administration to make the Customs Department part of BRA.
The First Schedule and section 2 of the Barbados Revenue Authority Act set out the pieces of legislation that the BRA is empowered to administer. The Customs Act, Chapter 66 is not included. Nonetheless, without lawful authority, BRA has already taken over some aspects of customs operations.
Even if BRA had the authority to take over the Customs Department and offer contracts of employment, as a statutory board, it is required to comply with the Employment Rights Act (ERA). Section 13. (1) of the ERA states:
Where a contract of employment is contemplated, the employer shall, prior to or forthwith upon the commencement of the contract, give the employee a written statement of the particulars of the employment.
Subsection (2) goes on to list the terms and conditions that must be contained in the statement of employment particulars. Most importantly, at item (e), a job description is one of the requirements. No job description has been given to any employee of BRA.
After operating in excess of two years and in defiance of the Employment Rights Act, BRA has not issued a single statement of employment particulars. This is the “chaos” that would be awaiting customs employees if they opt to transition into BRA. In essence, Government is asking customs workers to join it in breaking the law. Thankfully, of the approximately 300 staff only 21 officers and 17 guards have opted to transition to BRA.
On the approach of tropical storm Matthew, Government is alleged to have ordered a national shutdown, but was it ordered? In my view, Government suggested a national shutdown. No order was ever given. As a result, several establishments ignored the suggestion and opened for business. However, in the wake of the storm no lesser person than the Attorney General cried shame on persons who ignored the national shutdown and initiated a firestorm of criticism and abuse directed against those business owners.
If Government were serious about protecting life and limb, it should have made the shutdown mandatory. Section 28. (1) of the Emergency Management Act gives the Governor-General the power to declare, by proclamation, that an emergency exists, if a disaster has occurred or is threatening.
After the Governor-General makes the declaration, section 28. (9) then states:
When a proclamation of emergency referred to in subsection (1) is in force, it shall be lawful for Cabinet to make any orders whatsoever it considers desirable in the public interest.
One of those orders could have been a mandatory shutdown. If Government were truly interested in protecting vulnerable workers, it would not have, “sidetrack the rules of the law” and allow chaos to become the order of the day. It just seems Barbados is being run without regards to the laws.