Thursday 23 November, 2017

Customs workers threaten two-day ‘holiday’ over Revenue Authority Bill

Public Services Association President Watson Duke led a demonstration on Monday outside of the Eric Williams plaza on behalf of workers attached to the Customs and Excise Division and Board of Inland Revenue, protesting Government’s Revenue Authority Bill which he says is unconstitutional. 

Duke said in an update that staff from the Customs and Excise Division and Board of Inland Revenue will stay away from work for two days on Thursday and Friday in protest.

Duke referred to the Revenue Authority Bill which he said required a three-fifths majority, stating that this is in conflict with Sections 4 and 5 of the Constitution.

“This Authority has the right to enforce the laws of seizing property. Any single law that abrogates, amends, or even touches on your constitutional rights under (sections) 4 and 5 needs a three-fifths majority," he said.

“It needs to be supported by the popular vote. Is this new authority able to interfere with my property? Can they lock me up? Can they enforce the law? Well if so, they are affecting my constitutional rights,” he said.

Duke also warned that workers employed for less than two years might not be able to keep their jobs, while other workers might not get Voluntary Separation of Employment Packages (VSEP).

The PS (Permanent Secretary) of Finance said to me in a passing conversation that they are transferring all employees, nobody losing their jobs. He said ‘we doing that because we can’t pay VSEP’. They can’t pay VSEP,” he said.

Duke also criticised the Finance Minister's control over the appointment and management of the Board and the CEO of the Authority as a conflict of interest, questioning the CEO's proposed five-year contract. 

“The Minister will appoint the Board and the CEO, they both are accountable to him. It goes further to state that the terms and conditions of the CEO are such that he can never become permanent. Now what kind of CEO would operate that way, in a way that is honest and benefits this nation?

Right now Customs and Excise is being headed by a Comptroller of Customs, a permanent employee…When the CEO steps in he will be subject to the rules and instructions of the Minister. It’s the first time I’ve seen where the CEO will be placed on contract and the Act would endorse that,” he said.

“When dealing with matters of a financial nature it makes good sense to have those in charge permanent,” he said.

Duke also criticised large corporations which he says may receive tax breaks from Government.

“These governments always giving them (businesses) tax breaks…I want to ask Minister West how much years of tax amnesty will you give the business community?”

No Revenue Act, let’s look at the diagnostics and look at where Customs and Excise is failing and come up with a way to ensure we have effective and efficient public servants and an effective and efficient organisation.”

“If we stick together and follow the directive of the PSA on this matter we will get through, I guarantee you that,” Duke said. 

See the video below: