Today was the press’ first introduction to Acting Comptroller of Customs Emil Grinage. There were several issues discussed including that employees were afraid that they would lose valuable overtime pay due to the full rollout of the ASYCUDA World system of tracking Customs transactions. As with all computerized systems it aims to reduce man-hours. Today Comptroller Grinage said it was being done in the name of efficiency and transparency.
Emil Grinage – Acting Comptroller of Customs
“We have to be efficient and effective and if there is no need for overtime, then we shouldn’t have overtime. We shouldn’t just stretch it to say overtime. Remember the salaries are from public funds and we have to control how we spend it and I don’t know where you got that stats from with 40%-60% of our officer’s salary, but I am not aware of that being so high.”
“Let say for example, that figure is grossly exaggerated, what about those officers who enjoy that benefit, that it’s a nice…”
“Most of the officers in Customs they acquire overtime because they need to work the overtime and Asycuda or any application comes along that assists the government for controlling its expenditure, its best we utilize it as best as possible. Remember they had their salaries and we need to know how to live within our limits. That is not to say that there isn’t any overtime to be gained while doing work at Customs, but the fact of the matter is that overtime shouldn’t be first thing in mind. It should be to do the work and whatever expenditure is made… I need to eliminate any excess.”
Several years ago, the Department was in the midst of a series of high-profile busts of dangerous and illegal goods from contraband cigarettes and dry goods to pseudoephedrine precursors being brought in to Mexico and the Commercial Free Zone. Since then things appear to have died down. Grinage told us the Department has been applying itself to reducing the lucrativeness of this illegal activity.
“The department continues to work with its partners abroad – with other intelligence agencies and so on to get information for us to act early on goods being imported like that. It has to do with concealment and stuff like that, you can’t say it is the top. Other methods have been deployed. We know we are applying ourselves as much as possible to make sure that it is not anything that will endanger our citizens in our country. It has to do with national security on a whole, not just a customs issues.”
And finally, there is a long-standing thorn in the side for Customs, contrabanding in the South at Jalacte and in the North at Botes and other points along the Rio Hondo. As much as the Department confiscates, there is much more brought back. The Department, says Grinage, is working on plans to address the issue, but it will not be easy.
“There are plans for Jalacte and like I said the problem with our country is that we are seated two develop countries, Mexico and Guatemala and they have products that they could overwhelmed us with. Right now even at this time in September, it’s easy to just cross across the river. It becomes at time a little bit difficult to man because of this – the geography of the place. But that’s what happens when you have neighbors like that who are very developed. They will overwhelmed you.”
“Can you expand anymore on what is the timeline and the actual structures that will be put in place at Jalacte? Are those plans that well developed?”
“No, they are not that well developed. We are working on trying to see how we could staff the area and work with the other enforcement agencies and the agriculture agencies to man that area.
Importers and Belizeans generally are asked to cooperate with the Department in its mission.