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By Orville Williams

Prime Minister Gaston Browne has dismissed the latest effort by the country’s main opposition United Progressive Party (UPP), which sought to force an inquiry into alleged fraudulent activity at the Customs & Excise Division.

Yesterday morning, members of the UPP – including party leader Harold Lovell – staged a picket outside Government House, calling for an inquiry into the fraud they claim has “led to the attempted murder of one officer and the gruesome murder of another officer”.

Those were the words of Lovell, who added that, “this obviously sends a very clear sign to everybody that something is not right, something is rotten [and] something needs to be investigated”.

Photo by Franz deFrietas

The officers in question are Customs Officer Cornell Benjamin, who was shot and injured in late 2019, and Customs Inspector Nigel Christian, who was brutally murdered in July last year.

Along with the call for an inquiry, the picketers noted the inability of the authorities to solve both incidents and reiterated the call for “outside help”.

UPP candidate for the Constituency of St Paul, Dr Cleon Athill also lent her support to the picket, saying the inquiry was necessary due to the lack of movement in the Nigel Christian murder investigation. This, along with other issues, she says, must be urgently addressed. 

“I think there’s also a bigger issue, the whole issue of governance and the systems around Customs, collections, revenue…all of those things have been violated. Also, the prime minister’s declaration that somebody forged his signature, that cannot be overlooked because that to me is a very critical issue,” Dr Athill said.  

In response to this latest action, Browne told Observer that the UPP was only looking to gain relevance, adding that the lack of valuable information from the public would likely not change with an inquiry.

“It is typical of an institution that lacks relevance and perhaps, is seeking some level of relevance. I find the picket to be ill-advised, almost irrational, because if it is that private investigations have taken place and people aren’t coming forward to share information, how [does] Harold Lovell and the UPP leadership bet people are going to go to a public inquiry and share information?”

The PM continued to criticise the UPP’s actions, claiming that they would not have gained more supporters, but may have instead undermined their own efforts. 

“It makes no sense; it’s just making a whole mockery of the process and seeking to undermine law enforcement, and now the Office of the Governor General, which in essence is a symbol of the unity of our nation.

“I don’t know why they should be subjecting the Office of the Governor General to partisan pickets…I know that they perhaps may be feeling idle, many of them [are] retired, unemployed [and] they have no work to do. [However], they must learn to pick their fights. I don’t know that the picket this morning would have brought them any additional support.

“If anything, I think it would have undermined their efforts and people see them for exactly who they are: unemployed individuals who are seeking relevance,” Browne added.

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