OAS accepts Barbados port security proposal
A Barbados proposal that would help this country “shoot down” the burgeoning gun smuggling trade was today approved by the arm of the Organization of American States (OAS) that has responsibility for hemispheric ports.
This came against the background of a war of words between the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), which represents Customs officers, and Acting Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith, who recently said border security officials were assisting in the smuggling of illegal firearms through the legitimate ports of entry.
It also coincided with a public declaration by Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite last Sunday that the installation of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras at the island’s ports would be another option to address the influx of illegal guns, a position which is being resisted by at least one of the three trade unions representing Customs officers.
The proposal, which calls for the establishment of a Caribbean Collaboration Framework for Port Security and Safety Officers, was placed on the table at the 16th meeting of the executive board of the Inter-American Committee on Ports (CECIP) held at Hilton Barbados Resort this morning.
Asked if this network would help limit the rising number of firearms entering Barbados, chief of security at the Bridgetown Port Anthony Benn told Barbados TODAY on the sidelines of the meeting, “most definitely, because we are talking. The criminals are talking, so I believe that seeing this is another layer in the security mechanism.
“Here you now have ports responsible for their own security. We still have a few in the Caribbean that the Commissioner of Police is responsible, like in St Lucia; but in the main most of them have their own private security apparatus. Certainly I believe it would [help], because at least it would get us talking.”
Benn revealed that the OAS was currently working on setting up a secure chat room on social media and this was at an advanced stage. He said the aim was to provide a way in which port security officials could log on and share information and see what was happening in various other domains.
“For instance, let’s say a port in Guatemala . . . there is a large drug find or large cache of weapons found in the port. We don’t know about that until we hear it in the news about a day or two later. We are hoping to change that by sharing information real time, because we are all one Caribbean . . . What impacts St Lucia impacts Barbados, what impacts Barbados impacts Trinidad. So we have to know,” the port security chief emphasized.
However, he lamented that the heads of port security were not included in the official apparatus for meetings of security services.
Benn did not see why port security chiefs could not have their own umbrella organization, in the same way that commissioners of police and prison heads have their own Caribbean associations.
“We are proposing we bring all the heads of security together, first in the region to form an association and then, given that it is being advanced by the Organization of American States, we hope to have it as a hemispheric body ultimately,” he stated.
But on a day when the Bridgetown Port chief was announcing a regional network to attack the illegal importation of guns, the Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of International Transport Irene Sandiford-Garner was giving Commissioner Griffith her full backing in his controversial statement that port officials were aiding and abetting the smugglers through the ports.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY this afternoon, Sandiford-Garner went further and called for a cooling of heads by protesting unions as a first step towards getting to the bottom of the matter.
“I think that in this country sometimes, being politically correct has given us more headaches than it has given us any facilitation. You can’t say anything anymore in Barbados without a protest, without persons . . . getting up in arms about what you have to say,” the Parliamentary Secretary said.
“And if the Commissioner of Police . . . in one of the few public statements he makes expresses a concern which speaks to the security of this country, I do believe that cooler heads, calmer heads should prevail and the leadership of the custodians of our state borders should really want to sit down at the table with the Commissioner and hear what he has to say instead of this reaction which gives the public the impression that there is something that has touched a nerve,” Sandiford-Garner insisted.
The Parliamentary Secretary also said she believed Commissioner Griffith had evidence on which to base his statement. “I do believe the gentleman’s statement was born out of facts. I don’t believe he would make wild and reckless statements because we don’t know the Commissioner to be one to make wild and reckless public statements,” she stressed, adding that she also supported the installation of cameras at the ports.