Despite making nearly $20 million in additional revenue in 2018, the Customs Department is still plagued with a number of issues, including the limited availability of resources and an outstanding salary increase for its officers.
This was revealed by Acting Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Customs Leslie Lettsome during the 2019 Standing Finance Committee (SFC) deliberations back in April.
“In 2018, the department was able to bypass its target of $27 million for revenue collection by earning over $43 million. A total of $1.7 million of the total revenue collected came from the environmental levy that was recently implemented,” Lettsome said in the SFC report.
He also shone light on the staffing issues faced by the department, stating that several persons had left following the 2017 hurricanes. He said more were expected to leave due to retirement and other reasons.
The Acting Customs Commissioner also said the law enforcement department continues to face what he describes as challenges at the Cyril B Romney Tortola Pier Park in Road Town.
“It (the park) is an HM Customs-regulated area and there are no facilities for officers to operate from,” the SFC report said while citing Lettsome.
The head of Customs also raised issue that his department has not been given a salary increase although being promised one more than a decade ago.
“There was an agreement in 2007 for the raising of salaries for the staff of the department. However, that agreement was never materialized and it remains a concern,” he said.
Notably, the Virgin Islands Party sat as government from 2007 to 2011. The NDP then took over governance for the last two terms before things came full circle and the VIP retained power under new leadership.
Meanwhile, Acting Customs boss Lettsome also noted some of the good developments which occurred in the department following the 2017 hurricanes that destroyed most of their marine assets.
“The department received a new boat in 2018 and recently received another vessel which had been sent for refurbishing. Two additional boats are expected to be received by year-end, one of which belongs to HM Customs and the other belongs to the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force.”
According to the SFC report, he further said two K9 officers retired in December 2018 while two new K9s were received in February 2019.
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