(PRESS SEC) – Prime Minister Dr. the Honourable Timothy Harris, accompanied by Cabinet Secretary and former Head of the Public and Police Service Commissions, Mrs. Josephine Huggins, is leading a series of meetings as part of the Government’s ongoing efforts to communicate clear expectations to its staff, improve employee engagement and workplace relationships, and ensure sustainable performance in the public sector.
On Wednesday, April 13th, they met with the staff of the Customs & Excise Department, which has People Employment Programme (PEP) workers providing support to 126 permanent staff. An additional 10 permanent employees are currently on study leave.
“Once all of you are individually and collectively playing your role in terms of helping the government in relation to the revenue collection and border security issues, we would be able to continue to do a good job,” said Financial Secretary, Mrs. Hilary Hazel during her opening remarks at the meeting. “I want you to continue to work as hard as you can because the nation is depending on you. We appreciate the efforts in the past and we would also want you to continue to grow from strength to strength,” the Financial Secretary said.
Mrs. Hazel added, “This is an institution that is well admired, as well as an institution that can easily come under public scrutiny. We ask you to do your duty with firmness and respect for all persons whom you have to serve. The critical word is service.”
The Financial Secretary commended the Customs & Excise Department for “performing quite well in the area of border security.” She told the members of staff that the extent of the role Customs & Excise plays on this front is not generally public knowledge, but it is a very critical area of their work. “Whether it is through detecting drugs and firearms and the like – anything that is illegal – once you are on duty, you are in fact assisting to protect this country,” Mrs. Hazel said.
Prime Minister Harris echoed those sentiments to the staff and impressed upon them how important their efforts are to the health of the public purse and also to the well-being of the country.
“This department is a revenue centre and, of course, that is critical to the proper functioning of the government. There are largely three major revenue earners of the country: the Inland Revenue Department, the Customs & Excise Department, and the Citizenship-by-Investment Programme,” the Prime Minister said.
Dr. Harris added, “I want to commend the Department for its collaborative efforts in the fight to make St. Kitts and Nevis a safer and more secure place. In that regard, we have been highly appreciative of the necessary cooperation that has been taking place between the Customs & Excise Department, the Royal St. Christopher & Nevis Police Force, the St. Kitts Nevis Defence Force, and any other unit involved in law enforcement. This is critical if we are going to ensure the prosperity, which we promised the people of the country. We cannot deliver prosperity in an insecure climate and one that is unsafe. So we need the collaborative efforts since ensuring safety and security is both a personal and individual responsibility, as well as a statal responsibility.”
Prime Minister Harris said that his Unity Government would leave no stone unturned to keep the country safe. He commended the work of all law enforcement agencies because the country has gone four weeks without a homicide. (April 13th, the day of the Customs & Excise meeting, marked 33 days since the last homicide occurred on March 11th.)
“We hope that this pattern will continue, and even if that is too ambitious a goal, we certainly hope that the trending will be downward. Of course, all of us must have a vested interest in that because the life saved may very well be ours or that of a family member. So your work in border control, Mr. Belle, is one that we certainly do appreciate, and the Financial Secretary raised that,” the Prime Minister said.
The Comptroller of Customs, Mr. Georid Belle said during the meeting that he had just that afternoon handed the Financial Secretary a proposal to purchase a $700,000 USD scanner.
“An M-16 and a few handguns were found at the bottom of a crate that had tools in it,” Mr. Belle said, referring to a recent gun find. “So a decision had to be made here on how we deal with cargo. This piece of equipment is going to be able to swallow barrels and ‘D’ boxes whole and give you an image of the contents inside. It is going to protect us. You have to do something from time to time to give people some sort of confidence in what you are doing. So that is where we are at in terms of our security measures at this point in time.”