By Melanius Alphonse
Caribbean News Now associate editor
CASTRIES, St Lucia — In a somewhat bizarre turn of events, minister for the public service in the Office of the Prime Minister, Dr Ubaldus Raymond, has not only admitted that the consultation process for the establishment of the proposed new border control agency in Saint Lucia was flawed but also tried to deny the explicit wording of the relevant Cabinet conclusion that it would be created as a statutory corporation.
In the meantime, a ‘sick-out’ by Customs officers that started on Thursday has begun to bite, with customs brokerage companies stating that they are losing money. According to local sources, the action by the officers could likely escalate on Monday.
In a video statement released to the media, Raymond acknowledged that the consultation carried out by the border agency implementation team was not a comprehensive one since the most important department, namely, the Customs Department, was not consulted.
“Personally, I believe it is the flaw in the consultation process, because if you are dealing with a border control, which consists mainly of customs officers, and for the consultation to not have included the customs department, anything coming out of this consultation to me, it is very weak and very flawed,” he said.
It is not clear at this time why Raymond offered this as his personal opinion, apparently criticising the consultation process while speaking as a government minister with the imprimatur of the prime minister’s office. It is also not clear if this remark is now to be taken as the official government position on the matter.
Even more strangely, Raymond flatly contradicted a Cabinet conclusion dated April 16, 2018, asserting that the new border control would not be established as a statutory corporation as if he was oblivious to the fact that the document had already been leaked to the media.
Cabinet conclusion #247 of 2018 “Establishment of the Saint Lucia Border Management Authority” clearly states that “Cabinet at its meeting on 26th April, 2018 approved the following: 1. Establishment of the Saint Lucia Border Management Authority as a Statutory Corporation”.
“I want to make it very, very clear, because government understands the importance of customs department. Customs provide 55 percent of recurrent revenues for central government, we are taking about in the region of over $500 million. So, that clearly, cannot be and will not be the policy of government to put the border control as a statutory organization,” Raymond said.
He added that the consultation will continue and in due course the government will make a formal presentation to the public.
Meanwhile, a senior government official said that the industrial action by the Customs officers was being “analysed” but would not comment further.
Customs officers began a sick-out on Thursday to highlight concerns over the proposed Border Control Management Authority being set up as a statutory body.
They are concerned about their job security, declaring that in such a scenario they will be forced to resign their current employment and reapply to the proposed new entity, with no guarantee of getting a job.
Although Prime Minister Allen Chastanet is on record as indicating that no jobs will be lost, the Customs officers, through their union, the Saint Lucia Civil Service Association (CSA), have made it clear that they believe the PM lacks credibility.