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Port Kingstown.
Port Kingstown.
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by Vinny Newton

Many Vincentians have had the wonderful privilege to receive a barrel from abroad over the Christmas holidays over the past few years and with tax concessions. Other than these annual encounters with Customs and Port, they have had few other reasons to deal with this aspect of our public service. For those who regularly deal with the Customs and Port, they are more used to the system or lack of an efficient one, especially in Kingstown.

There is a lack of proper guidance given to Vincentian citizens when they go to these facilities to claim their shipped goods. Some of the police and staff are friendly and polite. Others are happy to act intimidating and seem to work as slowly as they can and with visible rude attitudes. Then there are some who seem to want to operate in an atmosphere of mystery and look the other way to gain what they hope is some advantage. Why is there less than transparency on some levels of income earning in St. Vincent and the Grenadines? Is this not what breeds corruption and greed in any society?

We face this and more in many government- and privately-run facilities in SVG. There is frequently no respectful eye contact from public servants with the customers they serve and often they treat inquiries with less than cordiality. Often these persons serving display an attitude of unwelcome. Not that there is necessarily a line of persons waiting for their service. At times they are too busy having a casual exchange with a co-worker about inconsequential things not pertaining to the job they are there to render and act interrupted. They behave as if they are being bothered to do the job they earn a livelihood from. One wonders if they even want to be there. It’s a “hold on”. There is a disturbing lack of pride taken in service and little conviction inside these individuals’ minds that there is dignity in work and they should thus take pride and satisfaction in picking up their wages with a feeling of having worked for it squarely and fairly.

Interestingly, if you are adecentt man and being served by a woman, the “vibe” is, you have to give attention like you are looking for a date for which you might still not get good service anyways. On the other hand, if you don’t, you will be made to feel like you are doing something unknowingly wrong. All you want is professional and politely delivered service and to go on with your day. Not to feel like you are being despised for being nicely dressed, attractive, confident or just simply a man. Public service does not mean you have to bring all your relationship baggage into the office, does it?

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And, professionalism in SVG also seems to be related to the “hot sun”. I say this because cause when you step into an air-conditioned bank in Kingstown, you may as well be in a Sunday mass. It is like a divine silence and magical order. This needs to be transferred to our mini vans — the divine silence!

Back to the Customs and Port in Kingstown. There, we experience the annoyance of having to receive a Port pass in a completely different location at the Port Authority office. This is a distance away from the gate of the area where we will do the rest of the process to obtain your barrel or carton. This is a most inefficient and time wasting system and it is appalling that those in charge are having citizens marching back and forth between these locations every time they go for service there. It is especially frustrating when at the end of the process, one has to monitor their vehicle with their goods and at the same time make it back to the Port office to return the pass and retrieve one national identification document. This is backwards and only adds to the “up and down” of members of the public. Does this reflect the attitude of service toward the public that our offices of government are set up to offer? If there are loopholes in security, this is certainly quite a primitive way to deal with it.

Then, when one enters the warehouse to begin the process to clear their goods, they are being greeted by an attack of “hustling” men who try to grab your paperwork, and there is one or two who will nag you and harass you through the rest of the process. This treatment also seems to be correlated with how you look and are attired, as some customers are hardly bothered. There is no one who officially and professionally greets and guides visiting customers. No proper lines being guided by staff and no one tells anyone how the process is supposed to run. You suddenly feel the atmosphere of greed and subtle threat and like you have stepped into a primitive pirate haggling zone. In the exchange with other customers, you hear the sighs and stress expressed about this sad state of chaotic nonsense.

Some of these guys will take the attitude of the kinds portrayed by beggars on the street who, if they ask you for money and you politely refuse, will cuss you out. Or if they want a dollar and are given 25 cents, you suddenly are being told in a tone and attitude of them being entitled to what is not rightfully theirs. To have this happen on the street with a vagrant and see this similar attitude in our government run public service is disturbing.

These guys will not tell you clearly what service they are offering you or anything about a charge for it. They will begin to give the service they are rendering before stating what the conditions are. This is an attitude of modern day piracy and the manipulation of others and does not belong in a democracy or any public service facility in SVG. In fact, there is a strong implication of extortion here. The attitude is, I did this for you and you owe me, when in fact members of the public are not guided through the process and are then unaware of what is appropriately suited. You feel the subtle con when, suddenly, you are given a verbal implication of a bill. There is no indication of who these guys work for. If you inquire, Customs will tell you that the Port Authority is responsible and Port Authority will, in turn, tell you that these guys work for themselves.

These men may be competing with each other as well and no one is properly organising some kind of systematic way for them to function. It is a rather undignified way of interacting with the public that is being propagated here, at a less than civilly run public facility. Can those in authority that allow such, be deemed trustworthy by our public with our goods? Why are they not organising this service in a transparent and professional manner, fair to all?

How can grown professed professionals go to work every single day in a public government run institution, and see the ridiculous way in which this service is run, but do nothing to remedy these inefficient and undignified practices? If school principals can take charge of schools of hundreds and enforce discipline in children, why can’t a major government facility be run with some semblance of order and politeness which appropriately addresses the dignity of Vincentian citizens of every class by paid adults serving other adults?

These government workers must lift their game and respect the citizens of SVG who require the services they are paid to render. Offer proper public service. Organise for proper interaction with Vincentians. Simply put, do your job with dignity.

Should not our government be discouraging “hustling” in our public services? Do these men deserve to be left to blunder through their service to the public with no sense of a proper work ethic and system where they can lift their game with decency and decorum for one and all? Do we not have a responsibility to encourage fairness and a sense of respect for proper compensation when a service is rendered in St. Vincent and the Grenadines? This as well as sending a clear message that inappropriate ways of acquiring money can never be excused by poverty and will never teach people how to become more efficient at earning and coming out of a state of low income.

When finances are offered to St. Vincent and the Grenadines by foreign entities, as is often the case, are Vincentians urged to be grateful? Are they urged to foster a healthy respect and not one of entitlement? Is the receiving of such serving to compliment he who is smarter at acquiring donations? Is there a skewed “skill” we are unintentionally teaching our citizens to feel wealth acquisition should be based on when we hear them calling it “begging”?

Do some of the wealthy become so only by trickery, hustling, extortion, and other corrupt means or is there fair play, hard work, service with pride and dignity that lifts people not only out of poverty but also out of a mental state worth pursuing? Government officials and aspiring leaders of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, please study how to teach your citizens to be a nation of strong morals and sound values?

This is the challenge of the needed education revolution. Be clear and raise your voices to condemn processes that foster a corrupt, divided, hostile and immoral nation. Poverty and “hard time” are never excuses to do the wrong thing.

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected]

The opinions presented in this content belong to the author and may not necessarily reflect the perspectives or editorial stance of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

4 replies on “What’s really going on at Customs and Port?”

  1. What I don’t understand is why ‘The people’ are so passive and accepting about such inefficient bureaucracy.?. Everyone seems to think it normal to be given the run around….and that means ‘Officialdom’ can carry on in their own comfort zone with archaic inefficient systems. making no apparent effort to improve.. .

    I have a highly respected business colleague who took the trouble to write to customs identifying in some detail where processes could be streamlined . Result.? Nothing. She didn’t even get the courtesay of a reply..

    Bureaucratic Ineffficiencies like this cost the country millions. Beware,…,in the end there may be no money left to pay civil servant salaries and pensions. Imagine that. as a wake up calll.

    1. Yes, it is like inefficient is an understatement, It should be strongly noted that when you compare going trough Customs in SVG they need approximately 10 people to do the job it takes 1 person in other countries. Also: What takes other countries 20 minutes to do, it takes SVG Customs 2 days. Inefficient!!! Think of it this way: SVG Customs needs more staff and more time to get less done at a higher cost!!! And no important person in government seems to care or do anything about it.

  2. This article covers only a few of the problems of our Customs. The entire inefficient, corrupt and arrogant system needs a total overhaul. Strange that it is never an issue, not even at election time.
    Our government is good at fixing things that are not broke (like the airport) but things that are broke, stay that way, such as our roads and Customs system.

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