Customs and Excise has a severe staff shortage, with fewer than 50 per cent of the officers required to efficiently run the Division.
“(The Division requires) 460 officers; currently there are only 200, so there is a manpower issue,” Trade and Industry Minister Vasant Bharath told the Express in brief telephone interview Wednesday.
Bharath, who is also a Minister in the Finance Ministry—the line Ministry for Customs and Excise—said since the with the appointment of a new (acting) Comptroller of Accounts, the Ministry will be “working to ensure two things happen”: the introduction of more technology and ensuring vacancies that have been existing for years are filled.
Customs and Excise has come under scrutiny after it was reported in last week that Customs and Border Protection officers at the Port of Norfolk in the US state of Virginia seized 732 pounds of cocaine concealed in cans baring the labels of Trinidad Juices orange and grapefruit drinks on December 20 last year. The shipment that had been intercepted had originated from the Port of Port of Spain.
The wholesale value of the cocaine is about US$12 million and has a street value of as much as US$100 million, according to Customs officials.
On Monday, Bharath said that containers leaving Trindiad were not traditionally inspected as import containers are.
Earlier this week he met with officials from Customs and Excise, the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers’ Association, ExporTT and the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Commerce.
Bharath said the meeting was to further discussion held on Monday to find ways of minimising incidents (like the cocaine bust and other illegal items leaving Trinidad’s ports) without creating more bureaucracy.
He said several suggestions were made at the meeting, but was disinclined to comment until a final decision has been made and accepted by all parties.