Sixty new appointments have been made to Customs and Excise to mitigate the current manpower shortage at the Division, Finance Minister Larry Howai has said.
The new personnel are expected to assume their posts by the beginning of March and the number is expected to increase in the coming months.
In a release yesterday, Howai said these assignments are among plans to improve the Division, including manpower, technology, and training.
Last week, Minister in the Ministry of Finance Vasant Bharath said there were only 200 customs officers, when the full complement should be 460.
Customs has come under scrutiny recently after it was reported a week and a half ago that a $644 million cocaine shipment originating from the Port of Port of Spain was intercepted at the Port of Norfolk in the US state of Virginia on December 20.
Bharath subsequently noted that export containers were “not traditionally checked” before sailing.
The Division’s capabilities to protect the integrity of trade in Trinidad and Tobago has always been a key priority for the Government, Howai said, noting that four mobile container scanners were expected to be delivered from the US by the end of June.
A scanner procured using a grant from the Chinese government is currently being installed at the Port of Port of Spain.
“These mobile container scanners will improve our ability to closely monitor shipments both entering and leaving our ports,” Howai said.
The Minister further noted that the integration of the ASYCUDA and Single Electronic Window systems is at an advanced stage and full integration is expected by the end of February.
The Customs Act will also be amended to allow for the exchange of advanced cargo and passenger information that will facilitate faster clearance from the air and seaports.
The Customs and Excise Division can expect to move into a fully-outfitted building before the end of the year as preliminary works have already commenced, Howai added.
“We are also developing new training programmes to enhance the capability of our officers and their sensitivity to the concerns of the travelling public and legitimate business enterprises” he said.