By Carlena Knight
The decision to end the pandemic relief barrel initiative on imports at the end of July has been revoked.
This was revealed by Cabinet spokesperson Melford Nicholas yesterday at the post-Cabinet press briefing.
“We did look at it and, notwithstanding some complaints of abuse that is going to require increased vigilance at customs and at the port, the Cabinet did make the decision yesterday that, as of August 1st until the end of the year, to extend it,” he said.
“We would have extended already until July 31st and so we would have made a further decision yesterday that we will continue to permit one barrel per family every month.”
Nicholas explained that stricter rules will be in place on what items can be brought in.
“It would be restricted to those items that we would consider as part of the Covid support. So, if anyone is bringing commercial goods hidden in the barrels and customs were to uncover them then they will be expected to meet the financial obligations for bringing commercial goods into the country. But in so far as the normal support for families – food stuff, clothing items, toiletries, that kind of stuff – then, yes, we will continue to allow that and permit that one barrel per family every month ‘til the end of the year,” he added.
The initiative was introduced last year to give residents the opportunity to import food, clothing, toiletries and personal hygiene products for a nominal fee of $10 per barrel in taxes.
Consignees were exempt from paying customs duties and sales tax.
It has been extended on several occasions over the past few months. However, Prime Minister Gaston Browne announced last weekend that it would come to an end at the end of July.
Millions of dollars in losses – and the discovery of drugs and firearms hidden inside some barrels – were among the reasons cited.
Following his announcement, Antiguans and Barbudans living abroad had expressed concern over the move.
In a letter to Prime Minister Gaston Browne, they called on him to rethink the decision, saying the scheme had been a “life saver for many nationals who are unemployed and unable to provide for their families”.