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Different factors led to delay at customs, Comptroller explains

Different factors led to delay at customs, Comptroller explains

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While passengers clearing customs at the ET Joshua Airport on Monday morning experienced a delay, claims that there was a three-hour wait time to be processed may have been exaggerated.

“In terms of the three hours that the reporter was saying, I was told when I investigated the matter it was not that long,” said comptroller of Customs Irwina Phills during a telephone interview with SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday.

Phills, however, added that such delays are unusual and it was unfortunate that someone coming into the country for the first time had such an experience.{{more}}

On Monday at 7:46 a.m., American sports journalist Grant Wahl, who is in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) to cover the FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between this country and the United States, tweeted an eight-second video from inside the arrivals hall of the ET Joshua airport, saying “St Vincent has 1 person going through every bag and suitcase of every person who enters the country. 90 minutes in.”

Then 38 minutes later, at 8:24 a.m., he retweeted the video with the comment: “Now well into hour 3 of the St Vincent customs line…”

At 11:13 a.m., he tweeted: “The positive: People in St Vincent are nice. The negative Customs/immigration/lodging are a disaster compared to the rest of the Caribbean. Yikes.”

Wahl is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated and a correspondent for Fox Sports.

Phills told SEARCHLIGHT that the back-up was caused by a combination of factors. She explained that the junior officer assigned to the shift did not report for work, leaving the senior officer to carry on alone, with the situation being made worse by the fact that there were two flights on the ground at the same time.

The comptroller, however, said that the senior officer should have called for backup.

“What she should have done at the time, I believe, is to call Kingstown and ask for some support, but she proceeded to process the flight on her own…and [because] there were two flights on the ground it sort of built up.”

During a press conference on Tuesday, in response to a question posed by SEARCHLIGHT, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said if the incident did happen as reported, it is “completely unacceptable.”

He stated also that the approach used by some customs officers to search every garment in someone’s luggage is, in his opinion, “just wrong”.

“That’s just wrong as far as I am concerned; that’s wrong and it shouldn’t happen. I have spoken about this over and over again…,” Gonsalves said.

“… Immigration and Customs are the immediate face of your country. You have to do your job, but you have to do that job with good sense and discretion; you have to do it within the framework of the laws of the country…,” the Prime Minister said.

The comptroller, however, explained that in conducting searches, officers apply risk profiling in deciding who to search.

“We apply risk profiling, risk technique, so you look at passengers and you be selective in terms of certain things. Depending on your interview with the passenger, your feel of the interview…you determine whether you search or allow the person to go or not,” she explained.

The comptroller also stated that using cellular phones in the arrivals hall in such close proximity to a customs officer is prohibited.

Phills disclosed that in an effort to avoid a repeat of the situation on August 29, they beefed up their staff at the airport to ensure that team USA, who arrived on Wednesday afternoon, went through the Customs smoothly.

“We certainly are ensuring that…persons are on shift; we have provided support staff during the morning when they have the heavy flights…The US football team came in with all the dignitaries; we provided additional staff,” Phills said. (CM)

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