The Caribbean Customs Law Enforcement Council wishes to extend congratulations and best wishes to all regional Customs Administrations and the wider international Customs fraternity on the occasion of International Customs Day, being celebrated on January 26, 2024. The significance of this day and date is linked to the origins of the World Customs Organisation (WCO) and this year’s theme is dedicated to: “Customs Engaging Traditional and New Partners with Purpose”. This theme is relevant to us in the region as we transition into a treaty-based organisation, but more importantly as we embrace the significance of new trends and opportunities for improving and enhancing the role of customs administrations within the respective countries.
The work of Customs in the region remains strategically important to achieving Governments’ fiscal targets as well as other economic and social policy imperatives. The customs mandate is ever expanding beyond the traditional roles, for example, to incorporate environmental issues within the context of climate change and the thrust towards implementing sustainable development goals. There are also threats and concerns related to cyber security and the impact of technology including artificial intelligence (AI) on the operating systems and processes. There is an urgent need to reassess and improve the skills sets of customs officials, in view of placing greater emphasis on data management and analytics, to facilitate the effective use of risk management systems and intelligence led decision-making at all levels of the organisations.
Our law enforcement and revenue recovery efforts must be focused on greater collaborative approaches between Customs administrations on one hand and the wider network of law enforcement capabilities at the regional and international levels. Information and data exchange has become the lifeblood of our existence and tendencies towards insularity and a reluctance to securely share pertinent information is hindering our progress. The value of the CCLEC, CARICOM IMPACS and the WCO will never be fully realized if we continue to restrict ourselves in these ways.
At the local levels the move towards integrated border management and control has begun in some countries where organizational adjustments have created new entities and institutional arrangements. The regional customs community is not homogenous in this regard and various models have been tried and tested with mixed results. Notwithstanding, these various approaches the need for traditional and new partnerships is ever present and I dare say necessary for the purpose of carrying out the mandates of the respective governments.
The challenges of administering a customs administration cannot be understated particularly with the change in societal values and norms. Integrity of officers is under constant threat and the attitudes of some towards training and self-development in some cases, has been replaced by a desire for life in the fast lanes. Hopefully all is not lost and there is still an opportunity to minimize the effects of corruption within the customs community.
One of the most significant events for the region this year will be the hosting of the T20 Cricket World cup due to begin in June 2024 in selected countries and states in the USA. This event will definitely require the engagement of Customs with traditional and new partners across the spectrum of law enforcement agencies and other players within the travel and trade sectors. This is a global event and attention will be focused on the region, not just for the sporting aspects, but more importantly, how we respond to the challenges of moving the various teams, match officials, the media, the equipment as well as the traveling supporters, safely and securely through the regional space in a timely and efficient manner. The scale and magnitude of the task may seem daunting at first but Customs administration will be expected to find the most appropriate ways to facilitate, first and foremost, while at the same time ensuring that safety and security considerations are not diminished.
So, as we look ahead towards 2024, let us embrace the opportunities and rise to the challenges that may come, bearing in mind that together we can become stronger and achieve greater things. There is a need for strengthen the existing relationships and create non-traditional linkages and partnerships as the situation demands. This year will be a defining one for the CCLEC as we look to finally become the Caribbean Customs Organisation with an enhanced mandate to engage traditional and new partners with purpose.
Happy International Customs Day to all Customs Officials.