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ALL AH WE IS ONE: Poor Customs


Tennyson Joseph, [email protected]

ALL AH WE IS ONE: Poor Customs

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THE ongoing vilification of the Barbados Customs Department over the increase in gun crimes, exposes vividly the modus operandi of operatives of the ruling Democratic Labour Party in response to groups and institutions appearing to obstruct Government policy.

It is well known that the establishment of a Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA) has been a central plank of the Government’s policy of restructuring and austerity, and that Customs officers and their union representatives have been the most openly resistant to their incorporation into the BRA, on the grounds that the Customs performs functions that go beyond mere revenue collection.

What exists therefore is a simple difference in perspective between Government and a sector impacted by the policy.

Why then should a legitimate disagreement over policy translate to a narrative in which Customs officials are associated with a spike in gun crimes? Why are the Goebellian propagandists deliberately spinning the Customs officers’ insistence on autonomy from the BRA into a story of greed, bribery and exorbitant overtime which the noble BRA knights will bring to an end?

Public concern

Ironically, the organised anti-Customs narrative has dovetailed into a genuine public concern with a spike in gun-related crime. In a rather opportunistic manner, pro-Government propagandists have transferred responsibility for both economic and crime challenges to the poor Customs officials who cannot defend themselves publicly. Similarly, private sector interests, resentful of a vigilant Customs Department, have jumped on the anti-Customs bandwagon. In contrast, customs officials have been publicly complaining of compromised standards owing to the more limited focus of the BRA.

Despite, or because of all of this, the Customs Department has been subject to a most negative Press. It is sad that in an effort to win a small temporary argument, the propagandists have adopted a scorched earth policy which can destroy the legitimacy of an important state institution.

This is however totally familiar. It is a repeat of the response to the Cave Hill Campus, following a disagreement over Government’s tertiary education funding policy. As with Customs, this disagreement over policy was translated to a wholesale attack on Cave Hill, the University of the West Indies (UWI), its lecturers and tertiary education itself. Similarly too, the opportunists happily joined the anti-UWI bandwagon conveniently forgetting that the real source of the issue revolved around an economic decision by the Government and had nothing to do with the value of a tertiary education or the quality of the staff at Cave Hill.

Such are the consequences when a public lets its guard down, and allows itself to be swayed and sidetracked by childish propaganda games. Major institutions are being damaged over so little. Why burn your entire house merely to kill a rodent?

Those entrusted with leadership ought to place the protection and defence of the reputation and legitimacy of important institutions above the scoring of temporary political victories. Let wisdom prevail.

Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs. Email [email protected]

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