Remarks by Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, the Hon. Dr. Timothy Harris on the Occasion of  a Church Service to Mark the Start of the St. Kitts-Nevis Customs & Excise Department’s 60th Anniversary Celebrations Charlestown Methodist Church Sunday, October 21st, 2018

Today marks the start of the 60th anniversary celebrations for the Customs and Excise Department in the Federation.  The week will run up to next Sunday, October 28th, 2018 and the theme for this year is 60 Years of Dedicated Service, Innovation and Advancement.

This weeklong celebration starts on a high note, as just last month the Customs and Excise Department was recognized as the Best Unarmed Body during our Federation’s 35th Independence ceremonial parade, and that parade was described as the best parade we have had since Independence 1983.  I want to commend the Customs and Excise Department again for the wonderful achievement and display.

It is indeed fitting to celebrate the evolution and achievements of this crucial department that carries out its duties with the mandate To Protect and Collect, for the benefit of all the citizens and residents, as well as the government of St. Kitts and Nevis.

I am advised that, in 1958, when the post of Treasurer was abolished, Mr. Reginald A. Irvine was recruited from Jamaica to be our Comptroller of Customs and to reorganize our Customs Department.  Sixty years later, the St. Kitts-Nevis Customs & Excise Department can boast a very skilled cadre of experienced, homegrown employees with expertise in preparing import and export documents and processing them in a timely and accurate manner that’s in accordance with customs regulations, our laws and procedures.  Many often refer to the Ease of Doing Business Report and our overall ranking.  Particularly pertinent today is that St. Kitts and Nevis has been ranked consistently as a leader in terms of its Customs-related activities. Let’s give the Customs and Excise Department a round of applause.

My administration is investing heavily in staff development and training throughout the civil service, and our Customs and Excise Department is no exception.  Just this year, 26 of the officers participated in the 12th Annual Caribbean Customs Law Enforcement Council’s (CCLEC) 8-Week Junior Officers Basic Training Course.

Such staff development is significant, as the Customs & Excise Department is tasked with protecting the security and integrity of the country’s borders, specifically ensuring that no goods, including weapons or drugs, enter St. Kitts and Nevis illegally.  It is the primary agency in the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis responsible for suppressing smuggling activities through intelligence-based operations and close cooperation with local, regional and international law enforcement authorities.

Moreover, the Customs & Excise Department is an important revenue centre for the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis, and our Financial Secretary, Mrs. Hilary Hazel, is here.  She would be pleased by the reports, which indicate that, as at October 18th, 2018, the Customs & Excise Department has collected $139.2 million in taxes and imposts.  This compares favourably to the $126 million, which they collected for the comparative period in 2017.  The increase of $13.2 million for the comparative period represents a 10.48 percent increase in comparative collections.   Let’s give the Customs and Excise Department a round of applause.

All of this is happening in the context of no increases in the tax rates for which the Customs and Excise Department is responsible for collecting.  I want to commend the Department for its administrative efficiency, and I look forward to even better results.

I want to use this occasion to thank the dedicated employees of all of our revenue centres who work assiduously, courteously and professionally to ensure the optimal fiscal functioning of the government, both at the Federal and NIA levels.  Your efforts in ensuring the health of the public purse and also the wellbeing of our country shall always be appreciated.  I commend not just those who are engaged in our revenue centres, but all the employees of the government – and I want to encourage you and to encourage them, and to encourage all of us to do the best we can everyday.  We have to commit to do the best we can today, not tomorrow – the best we can with what we have today.

Intrinsic to the wellbeing of the economy and our country as a whole is the vital role that is played by Customs and Excise in stemming the tide of criminal activity.  To this end, you have been increasingly focused on joint security operations and stepping up your border patrols, and I want to commend you for the work that you have been doing.

Finally, in terms of technological advancement, we hail the work of Customs, and among all departments of the government, the Customs and to some extent the Inland Revenue Department have been among the leaders in the application of new technology.  I gather the Customs, for example, released an app in Google’s Play Store, which enabled our citizens to anonymously provide tips and express any concerns that they have about the behaviour of any officer – and just last month, our Customs and Excise Department installed a state-of-the-art scanner that is able to swallow barrels so that you can see all of the contents inside.  It also came at a heavy cost.  As we are dealing more and more with illicit activities, we have to ensure that we add the technology to our knowledge and to our experience, to ensure that the criminals do not make headway in the country. This, in essence, will revolutionize the way container screening is being executed in the country, as before all of this was done manually – and the experience has been that the manual approach was never enough in terms of interdiction efforts in the country.  So, again, I commend this effort and innovation.

In closing, with the dedication to duty shown by our Customs and Excise officials, with your loyalty, your commitment and industry, you will fulfill your mandate and be an exemplar to other entities in the Federation.

So as you celebrate your 60th anniversary, I want to commend and congratulate you.  I hope that the celebrations would themselves inspire you to even greater service.  We have a strong cadre of professional persons within the system now and out of the system who are still willing and able to make a contribution.  I encourage the current leadership to reach out so that we could bring the best knowledge, experience and expertise for you in execution of your duty to Protect and Collect.

Thank you.  May God bless the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis.

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