Finance Ministry, US Customs and Border Protection agents team up

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

The new Customs and Excise building at King’s Wharf, San Fernando. Photo by Ayanna Kinsale

To combat corrupt activities in the Customs and Excise Division (CED), the Finance Ministry is creating an internal affairs unit to be headed by an assistant comptroller.

“We are moving to fill the post of assistant comptroller, regulatory audit, created by Cabinet many years ago, but for some strange reason was never filled,” line minister Colm Imbert said.

“We expect that this unit will oversee the operations of the post audit unit (PAU) and the internal affairs unit (IAU) with the aim of combating corrupt practices within CED.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Imbert delivered the feature address at the opening ceremony for CED’s new building and jetty at King’s Wharf, San Fernando. The staff were previously housed nearby in a container.

Imbert said the PAU would review and investigate the operations of importers and exporters to ensure conformity with the laws.

The IAU will review and investigate the operations of CED staff to ensure that professional standards are maintained, and illicit transactions deterred.

UDeCOTT chairman Noel Garcia, San Fernando East and West MPs Brian Manning and Faris Al-Rawi, San Fernando Mayor Junia Regrello and other officials attended.

Imbert recalled that in August last year, the Government enacted a six-month ban on the export of old and scrap iron.

At that time, several containers of scrap iron were on the Ports of Port of Spain and Point Lisas.

Imbert added, “By several, I mean almost 100. We in the Ministry of Finance mandated the division to re-examine these containers of scrap iron to determine if any stolen items form part of the consignments for export.”

Finance Minister Colm Imbert, right, speaks with UDeCOTT chairman Noel Garcia at the jetty of the new Customs and Excise building during its official opening at King’s Wharf, San Fernando on Tuesday. Photo by Ayanna Kinsale

During that exercise, stolen articles such as copper “clearly stolen from TSTT and other items like pumps stolen from companies in the energy sector were found.

“It was a very difficult exercise, but we have so far un-stuffed about half of the containers and we will be completing all of them in the near future now that we have the techniques well sorted out,” the minister said.

He added that the Government is also working with US Customs and Border Protection agents to improve enforcement capabilities.

During this month, several initiatives are set to take place.

It includes a seminar on customs and border protection integrity geared for senior staffers at the ministry, including the division.

Another initiative is the continuous efforts to strengthen the division’s non-intrusive inspection capabilities as well as valuation training.

The collaboration also hopes to strengthen the Canine Division by buying canines and upgrading canine facilities.

“We in the ministry would do whatever we can to address the current shortcomings of CED in terms of equipment. That is our job, to make sure that the division has the equipment it needs,” Imbert said.

He added that the ministry is also trying to resolve human resource problems.

“We got approval for the appointment of 82 new CED officers,” he said.