Enforcement Building under construction is scheduled to be completed by March 2020 said Mr. Martines. SKNIS Photo.

The Customs Enforcement Division of St. Kitts and Nevis Customs and Excise Department will benefit from a brand new enforcement building when it is completed in March, said Elmar Martines, Assistant Comptroller of Customs for Investigations.

“The enforcement building is equipped with an underground water cistern; barracks for officers; an area designated for gym; holding cells; interview and observation rooms, and of course office space… there is also a recreational area. This is a building where we would be able to work more efficiently as it regards enforcing our laws,” ,” said Mr. Martines, addingthe building, which is in its final stages of completion, “is designed to be operational during and immediately after emergency situations like hurricanes and other natural disasters that may affect us.”

During an address to commence International Customs Day on Jan. 26, Senior Minister the Honourable Vance Amory, spoke about the improved physical environment of the Customs and Excise Department.

The Enforcement Unit of the Customs Department is growing, both in mandate and duties. Already they have become a key element in our nation’s security by assigning enforcement officers to the anti-gang unit where they have played a critical role in patrols and key operations. As the Customs Enforcement Unit grows and intermixes with other law enforcement agencies such as the Defence Force (Coast Guard) and Police it needs a proper base of operations,” said Senior Minister Amory.

“My government has seen it fit to build an Enforcement Building where the different units such as Investigations, Intelligence, Risk Management, Marine Unit, K9 team etc., can be housed. This building I am informed will be commissioned in the first quarter of 2020. These are important initiatives and are progressive in nature,” he added.

Department Implements New Initiatives for 2020

The enforcement building is among several initiatives to be rolled out by the department in 2020. Others include an induction course for new officers, as well as the introduction of a second X-ray scanner for use at the Robert Llewellyn Bradshaw International Airport.

“We have some plans moving into 2020 and these plans include the introduction of a second X-Ray machine at the air cargo facility at the main airport. That second scanner will also be used to scan general cargo,” said Jervin Nisbett, Customs Senior 4, Courier Operations Manager, on Wednesday’s edition of ‘Working for You.’ “As we speak about X-Ray machines, we plan to go a step further and introduce X-Ray for passenger baggage at the baggage terminal.”

“It will speed up the examination of the passengers and it is faster and non-intrusive, so we don’t have to go digging into your bag unless something piques our interest. It is non-intrusive so when you come you just drop your bag, it goes through the machine, we look at it and then you are out the door,” he said.

Mr. Martines highlighted a scanner installed and operational at transit shed two located at Bird Rock that “experiences the movement of a large number of cargo that is imported by sea.”

“I must indicate that we have been reaping rewards relative to an increase in interdictions as a result of the cargo scanner,” he said, while recognizing the hard-working staff. “Our officers at the frontline are to be commended as well for exercising their remarkable examination techniques which cause them to highlight indicators in order to refer those consignments for further scrutiny by the X-ray machine,” he said, adding that “producing the resources to combat against the trade of prohibited and restricted goods is a work in progress.”

Induction Course Rolled Out for New and Prospective Officers

New officers of the Customs and Excise Department will undergo a six-week induction course starting in February.

“The purpose of this inductions course is to ensure that new officers get training in specific customs areas such as evaluation and classification of commodities, warehousing, and intro to the Customs Act, among other topics,” Mr. Martines said, noting training officers would help them to understand their roles in the institution, thus making them more effective in their duties.

“Our goal is to have our officers well-rounded in terms of training, not just in regard to customs topics, practices or procedures, but we want them to be well-rounded law enforcement officers because we are a law enforcement agency,” he said.“Senior Management saw the need for the induction course as a means of preparation for the new Caribbean Customs Law Enforcement Council (CCLEC) training; which would make them officially trained customs officers if they pass,” he said.

The CCLEC course is designed to train junior officers from the St. Kitts and Nevis Customs and Excise Department and Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise Department of Montserrat.

The Caribbean Customs Law Enforcement Council was established as an informal association of Customs administrations within the Caribbean region during the early 1970s. The CCLEC comprises 38 Customs Administrations of which 36 are signatories to the CCLEC Memorandum of Understanding.

Officers Uphold Integrity in Protecting Borders

The officers of St. Kitts-Nevis Customs and Excise Department are men and women who are committed to keeping the borders of the twin-island federation safe, Mr. Martines said, the chief gatekeepers as they are charged with inspecting all imports and exports via sea and air.

The integrity needed to be effective customs officers is stressed during the recruitment and induction period of new personnel.

“I know the dedication my colleagues put out on a day-to-day basis to ensure that our borders are safe,” he said.

Currently, there are two cases being tried in a court of law where customs officers have been charged with importation offences. Investigative processes and collaboration with other law enforcement agencies resulted in the charges being brought against the officers.

“I want to make it clear that the Customs and Excise Department is not in the business of condoning and encouraging the smuggling of illegal firearms and ammunition [or] drugs,” the assistant comptroller said.

Officers Give Insight into Collaborative Efforts with Other Agencies

Mr. Martines said, whenever necessary, the department collaborates with other agencies to aid in overall law enforcement within the Federation.

“We render assistance to each other for the common goal of fulfilling our mandate as crime fighters,” he said, adding joint operations with both the St. Christopher and Nevis Police Force and the St. Kitts Nevis Coast Guard are conducted occasionally.“Officers of the Customs Enforcement Unit are part of the Task Force; for example, from time to time we render K9 assistance to the Police.

“In relation to criminal cases … the Customs Investigative Unit liaises with the crown counsel and the police prosecutors of the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) office for advice and guidance because they have the expertise,” he added. “This is done so we do not jeopardise these cases with legal implications.”

Mr. Nisbett added the Customs Department “perform agency functions for health, veterinary services, port authority … bureau of standards, agriculture and fisheries.”

He highlighted, in particular, the law enforcement function with respect to planting crops.

“We are responsible for making sure that the agriculture department is there to do their job and we will stop you (the importer) and your plants until agriculture can give that all clear,” Mr. Nisbett said.