New border agency to start within weeks
A new agency to protect Bermuda’s borders will begin “soft implementation” on September 1, Minister of National Security Wayne Perinchief announced today.
He also spoke out over reports that more than 50 disgruntled Customs officers quit the Bermuda Public Services Union due to the planned agency, and hope to join the Bermuda Industrial Union.
The Minister said his hope is that “all officers will continue to work together with us to keep Bermuda’s borders safe”.
BPSU vice-president Jason Hayward told
The Royal Gazette this week that the union has been “flooded with calls from members trying to understand what is going on with the Customs officers”.
“A number of our members have been asking us what the devil’s going on,” BPSU general secretary Ed Ball added.
According to the BPSU, the crux of the dispute is job benefits. Customs officials have called for parity with police officers on issues such as pensions and early retirement. The exodus began when Government announced in March that a Border Control Agency was to be established.
Starting on April 1, the National Security Ministry began to take over the enforcement side of Customs which, as a fee-collecting agency, has traditionally operated under the Ministry of Finance.
Mr Hayward said a faction within Customs have seen the Border Control Agency “as an opportunity for a split”.
Mr Perinchief said a team from National Security and Finance has been working on “a workable model for this new approach to safeguarding Bermuda’s borders”.
He explained: “To fulfll the mandate set by the Premier the team’s recommendation was that the Department of Border Control be formed by an amalgamation of the elements of HM Customs and The Department of Immigration already engaged in this function. This would leave the revenue collection portion of HM Customs within the Ministry of Finance, as required by best practice.
“The Department of Immigration would also be required to shed those areas responsible for the work permit regime as this aspect of its functions has been transferred to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, for which my colleague Senator Wilson is responsible.”
In an apparent reference to reports of confused Customs officers, Mr Perinchief added: “These recommendations were the result of detailed discussions and followed consultation with affected staff in both ministries, a general meeting with the officers of HM Customs and meetings with the BPSU as the representative union.
“The team answered questions, allayed fears and shared as much information as possible with a wide group, and by and large I am satisfied that the process through which they have gone is a sound one. It is significant that this view has been endorsed by Cabinet who has given approval to the recommendations also.”
He said of those Customs officers taking issue with the process: “I am aware of the views of some affected members of the organisation that this change is not welcomed and is unclear. I support their right to have that opinion, but I wish members of the public to know that the Ministry has been clear and open from the outset and our hope is that all officers will continue to work together with us to keep Bermuda’s borders safe.”
The Minister concluded his statement by saying: “We are working toward a soft implementation of September 1 for these changes. This working group will continue to meet and consult as we work through the inevitable challenges that change can bring. However, the commitment to secure and safe borders remains as firm as ever.”