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EDITORIAL: Customs should be above suspicion

Barbados Nation

EDITORIAL: Customs should be above suspicion

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ACCOUNTABILITY AND TRANSPARENCY must be at the apex of any democracy and these two key planks suffer when the society fails to distinguish between illogical rhetoric and brouhaha from whatever source.

Take the case of the reaction to the Acting Commissioner of Police’s concerns that this country’s main ports of entry are porous, hence the proliferation of illegal weapons. customs officials, in a quick and vociferous response, saw Tyrone Griffith’s remarks as a direct attack on both their integrity and image. But, customs officers and their unions should appreciate that the upsurge in crimes involving illegal firearms has left the society feeling uneasy and wanting a quick resolution of a burgeoning problem.

That the acting police chief has identified the ports of entry as a source of concern is not something to dismiss as foolishness, as no one can suggest that these entry points are dens of virtue. While Mr Griffith’s pronouncements may have been wide and ruffled a few citizens, the reality is that he has the support of Barbadians who want a plug to this leak.

Rather than cry out, customs officers and indeed their unions should reflect on the perception that a wide cross-section of Barbadians have of them. They should have recognised by now that their actions must be held up to greater scrutiny given recurring charges, even if these are made sotto voce. We must not bury our heads in the sand and pretend that we have not heard of these claims time and again.

So whether the acting commissioner is right in his assertion or whether the charges levelled by some business people are often exaggerated is no longer the issue. Customs officers and those who will form the new corps of border protection officers ought to use this moment to set new standards as they become part of the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA). They need to polish their image.

So the idea of cameras recording their main areas of operation cannot be an issue given the new normal of the world; neither should the application of polygraph exams.

The BRA must move quickly to assure the public that its officers are neither breaching the law nor above it. Since there are no real watchdog groups here, the oversight for this new agency may have to come via the establishment of its own internal affairs department, answerable only to the board of directors whose reports must be made an annual document of Parliament.

Some people will be ruffled, but the days of operating with near impunity must end.