MADRID: As Government moves ahead with plans to establish the Trinidad and Tobago Revenue Authority (TTRA) before year’s end, the Public Services Association (PSA) has warned it will not take this autocratic decision “quietly.”
To demonstrate their rejection of the initiative, which is reportedly scheduled to come on stream by October 1, hundreds of workers from the Customs and Excise Division and Board of Inland Revenue yesterday participated in a silent march around the Ministry of Finance before gathering outside Central Bank, Port-of-Spain.
Led by PSA president Watson Duke, who revealed he will be seeking re-election as the union’s head in November 25 vote, urged the large group to send a strong signal to the current administration that they were in for “the fight of their life.”
Addressing workers at the old Customs House prior to the march, Duke described these as “troubling times” for public sector workers. It is believed the move will result in thousands of workers being sent home.
Prompting a gasp from the audience after he said BIR workers had not yet been relocated to the new Campus Plaza offices because Government had no intention of continuing their employment beyond October, Duke accused Government of stopping at nothing to ensure their dream to set up the TTRA becomes a reality.
In 2010, former prime minister Patrick Manning signalled the party’s intention to move ahead with the controversial initiative, noting it would “create greater efficiency, increase revenue collections and ensure greater equity and transparency in the collection of taxes and duties.”
Yesterday, Duke admitted there was similar operations in the Caribbean and further afield, but said there was no scientific data to show that this model was more successful than the current system. He said there was also no proof the proposed system could reduce/prevent alleged corruption and mismanagement. However, he agreed it was time that corrupt officials were “locked up.”
Refusing to “sugar coat” the reality of the situation, Duke told the workers, “They want to fire you. They want to get rid of you.”
He claimed Government had embarked on a public smear campaign to make it appear as if all 2,175 workers from the two divisions needed to be sent home. He said the current attempt by Government to unfairly dismiss workers had led to him once again running for PSA president.
“As long as there are people having their jobs taken away from them and as long as there are people being fired left, right and centre, my job is not finished,” Duke said.
He appealed to those present to get ready for a similar action on July 21. In the meantime, however, he promised to seek an urgent meeting with the Minister of Finance to discuss the issue.