Anna-Lisa Paul and Bobie-Lee Dixon
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Ploy to undermine Customs at Piarco
There is a deliberate ploy to undermine the operations of the Customs division at the Piarco International Airport in order to justify privatising the division. A source said this was done by severely under-staffing, providing inadequate resources, and not repairing vital equipment such as scanners at the airport. The move to privatise the unit, sources claimed, was headed by a government official.
According to the source, “There are two scanners down out of four, and we don’t know what is the keep back in repairing them. People on the outside wouldn’t know what is going on.” The source said there were only three personnel in the Customs preventive branch at the airport, one officer and two guards, and the chronic understaffing had been going on for years.
The source said training was not an issue as customs officers received “enormous” training from local and foreign authorities such as the US, British and Jamaican Customs departments, but what they learn was not being put into practice. A source said junior officers and people in middle management were keen to implement new procedure and techniques, but the senior officers with “old colonial mindsets” were making it difficult for them.
The source said the senior officers were just going through the motion daily and are not willing to go the extra mile in detection work. He said they were hoping to see some changes when the senior officers went on retirement. The source said, “All the seniors had to contend with in their time was alcohol and cigarette smuggling. In this era there is drugs, firearms, counterfeit goods, contraband and animal smuggling to deal with.”
He said there were customs officers who were trained well, but they lacked co-operation and support from their seniors. The source said there was too much bureaucracy in the organisation. He said the police were also stepping slowly but surely into some of the customs officers’ jurisdiction, creating a bit of a turf war, but some senior customs officers were trying to guard against that. National Security Minister Gary Griffith could not be contacted up to late yesterday for a comment. Several calls to his cellphone went unanswered.