By Latrishka Thomas
The Customs and Excise Division of Antigua and Barbuda will soon be able to more effectively facilitate trade while eliminating unfair trade practices and smuggling of illicit drugs, arms and ammunition.
This will be made possible by the US $5 million donation in surveillance technology received from the People’s Republic of China.
On Friday, Prime Minister Gaston Browne and His Excellency Ambassador Sun Ang, China’s Ambassador to Antigua and Barbuda, participated in an official signing ceremony for what is being called the Customs and Border Security Improvement Project.
Prime Minister Browne remarked that this endeavour is another step towards building an efficient economic powerhouse through the remedying of once-porous borders.
He said that “Antigua and Barbuda is making every effort to secure its borders, and certainly the security technology that we are receiving here from the People’s Republic of China will help us to deal with a number of illicit goods, contraband, drugs, firearms, and even explosives that would have literally come through our shores from time to time.
“Especially through the Customs department through containerised cargo. It also will help us to increase efficiency in that we longer have to unpack and repack containers. We can now scan these containers and see exactly what the content or contents are.”
Moreover, the Finance Minister said he sees this as an opportunity to increase the country’s revenue because “we have a number of creative business people on the island who have been able to literally hide their most valuable imports; surround them with the less valuable ones outside of the sight of the Customs officers, and in some instances, you have a situation in which they are able to literally conceal contraband as well.”
“So this is very important in terms of securing our nation; making our nation safer, while at the same time helping us to identify precisely the items that are imported within our country, and at the same time to ensure that these business people pay their fair share of Customs duties and taxes,” he added.
Meanwhile, Comptroller of Customs, Raju Boddu, guaranteed that the implementation of this project will also enhance productivity of the Customs and Excise division.
“In order to accomplish this, the introduction of non-intrusive detection systems – what we call scanners – will enhance the capability of the Customs to non-intrusively inspect cargo and passenger bags, and so speed up the process times and losing times. The cost incurred by stakeholders as a result of time delays will be drastically cut down and better the ease of doing business. This use of non-intrusive technology will benefit us two-fold,” he stated.
Boddu pleaded for the speedy installation of the equipment saying that “at this juncture I make a fervent appeal to the management of both Sea Port Authority and Airport Authority, to provide for necessary infrastructure and logistic support for speedy installation of the equipment so that we can really reap the full benefits of this.”
The Customs and border security improvement project was conceived in July 2016.
The equipment donated include a mobile container or vehicle inspection system, an X-ray inspection system, a radioactive material monitoring system, an X-ray CT inspection system, twenty sets of hand-held metal detectors and 3 sets of portable trace explosives / drug detectors.