Increased surveillance at the local Customs and Excise department has caused some anxiety amongst importers here in recent times. According to Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, the checks that are being conducted as ordered by the Veterinary Divison should not be confused with what happens when the State confiscates contraband.
Asbert News Network reached out to the Prime Minister for further clarity amidst rising confusion stoked, in part, by a particular news report which the PM’s Press Secretary, Sehon Marshall, described as a “factual contradiction.”
Dr. Gonsalves explained, “basically as I understand it: the people at – and this has nothing to do with me, this has nothing to do with any policy on the part of the government.
“There’s a law in place in relation to inspections by the Vet Division, the Public Health Dept. and so forth of canned goods amongst other things. Sometimes they are more vigilant than other times.
“All I was informed when I heard about it, I checked the Customs and they told me it was the Vet people. So I checked the Chief Vet, Dr. Hackshaw, and she said there’s a form which people have to fill out and they would check the corned beef, sardines, luncheon meats, the sausage what you bring for different things.
“They check to see the country of origin because they may have information that a particular country may have a problem or maybe even a particular manufacturer. And they would also check things like the dates and all the rest of it. But they’d also want to have the information for traceability if any untoward health issue arises.”
An influx of relief supplies is being rushed to the Vincentian ports since the advent of the April 9 eruptions. One healthcare professional agreed with the Prime Minister’s rational.
“Can you imagine a widespread case of food poisoning taking root right now in any of these shelters?” she asked.
Dr. Gonsalves said he asked Dr. Hackshaw to “walk me through the process” and when she was through he suggested that a more “importer friendly” approach be taken given the increased traffic at the Customs.
“I said well maybe that would be the normal process but at this when people are bringing in a lot of things you need to make it more importer-friendly, more customer friendly by having the forms and the Vet people at the Port.
“And you all work that out with the Port Authority so that you’d be there always; so that Customs don’t have to take some things and leave some so that the Vet Division can check them.”
Dr. Gonsalves urged the country to consider the situation logically. He said the authorities have no need for the few samples that are retained from the individual packages for closer scrutiny. He also debunked the rumor that the government’s shipments are never inspected.
“They go at the warehouse and they check the stuff. As they do check the stuff for C.K. Greaves and everybody else,” PM Gonsalves said.
He again reiterated his advice that exporters should make use of the money transfer services to avoid the kind of problems that are now being faced by the importers here.
He further advised that we reach out to Chief Vet Dr. Kathleen Hackshaw to better understand what triggered the widespread inspections. We were unable to reach her.