With the Government’s six-month ban on the export of scrap metals expected to end in the coming weeks, the Customs and Excise Division (CED) is still uncovering stolen Telecommunications Services (TSTT) cables and machinery in containers which were designated for export before the ban kicked in.
Minister of Finance Colm Imbert made the disclosure as he commissioned the $3 million CED building and $ 7 million jetty at King’s Wharf, San Fernando, on Tuesday. The building replaces the dilapidated container office that CED officers had occupied a few hundred meters away.
On August 12, 2022, the Government enacted a six-month ban on exporting old and scrap metal to clamp down on an industry where some dealers were stealing from private and State companies to sell.
Imbert revealed that the ban left approximately 100 containers of scrap iron stranded at ports in Port-of-Spain and Point Lisas. He said as part of the clampdown on the illegal activity in the industry, the Ministry of Finance ordered customs officers to re-examine the consignments of scrap metals to determine if there were any stolen items.
“We have discovered, during this exercise, stolen articles such as copper, clearly stolen from TSTT and other stolen items such as pumps and other machinery stolen from companies within the energy sector,” Imbert said.
The CED and police unstuffed 50 per cent of the containers and will check the others soon, he noted.
Last year, business associations and others expressed concern that the Customs Division was only scanning 17 per cent of containers at the ports and that some of the scanners were not working.
Yesterday, Imbert revealed that the Central Tenders Board (CTB) had issued an International Tender Notice for the supply, delivery, installation and commissioning of four large-scale Non-Intrusive Inspection High/Medium Mobile X-ray Systems. He said the CED and CTB are engaging interested parties with anticipation of completing the process by the end of February.
Imbert acknowledged that T&T sits on a drug trafficking corridor linking drug-producing regions in Central and South America with the large drug-consuming markets in North America.
“This traffic has generated high levels of violence and gang-related crime in the country. As the national community mobilises to counter these nefarious activities, it is imperative that the Customs and Excise Division upgrade its fleet of mobile scanners to provide enhanced non-intrusive inspection coverage of imports and exports,” he said.
While transit sheds and private warehouses assist trade facilitation and revenue collection, Imbert said the ministry is also aware that they form part of border security. Therefore, the ministry has begun working to facilitate the inspection and improved border security efficiency at all transit sheds and private warehouses.
He said it is preparing a Request for Quotation to acquire Cabinet X-Ray equipment which can scan barrels and crates, and trace detection and chemical identification systems to ensure the secured, monitored and regulated operations. Other measures include the regular change of all security locks and the installation of improved and independent CCTV coverage of operations by the CED.
He said the CED and Joint Select Committee of Parliament had identified Queen’s Wharf, Port-of-Spain, as a high-risk area where there is the smuggling of weapons, drugs, alcohol, tobacco products and pharmaceuticals. In response, the CED identified measures to enhance border security at the installation, including strengthening the entry/exit gates and parameter walls to restrict vehicular traffic and establishing a unit of the Preventive Branch to facilitate joint operations.
The CED will also create the Internal Affairs Unit (IAU), headed by the Assistant Comptroller, Regulatory Audit, a position created by the Cabinet years ago but never filled. The comptroller will oversee the operations of the Post Audit Unit (PAU) and IAU to combat corruption within the CED and investigate importers and exporters. Imbert said the Customs and Excise Division is also partnering with the United States Customs and Border Protection agency for training on several operations, including container tracking, which helps the US profile shipping coming to its ports.