Citizens would have been stunned yet again yesterday by news of another major arms and ammunition cache that made its way into Trinidad and Tobago via a legal port of entry. More significantly, however, was the statement by Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds that intelligence suggests the activity was part of a sinister plot by the criminal element.
This theory was offered by Police Commissioner Gary Griffith last week when officers made a similar find at the Piarco Airport bond, which was the second of three seizures now in under two weeks.
This may be the only conclusion one can arrive at given the sophistication of some of the weaponry which individuals have attempted to smuggle into the country. All three times, they used traditional methods for which both Customs and Excise and the T&T Police Service should be aware and well prepared for by way of proper surveilling mechanisms in place.
Indeed, that three such shipments have been seized in such a short space of time probably suggests others have slipped past authorities undetected. Having had the experience of the 1990 attempted coup by the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen and the intelligence that was said to have been circulating before that attack, the current scenario is frightening.
In this regard, Commissioner Griffith Minister Hinds need to have critical conversations on the National Security Council for another look at security mechanisms at our ports of entry immediately. This is because in theory, these weapons should not have been able to reach the points where they were seized by the police – unless, of course, it was a deliberate act to catch the consignees on this end. From the responses by both Commissioner Griffith and Minister Hinds, we are not comfortable that law enforcement was indeed setting any traps for the perpetrators.
During a Joint Select Committee on the prevalence of illegal firearms in T&T in 2019, citizens learned there were scanners at the major ports at Port-of-Spain and Point Lisas. Furthermore, Port of Port-of-Spain CEO Ricardo Gonzales revealed that they could scan an average of 33 containers daily. A scan takes 30 seconds, Mr Gonzales said, and they processed four containers an hour. Stunningly, then Comptroller of Customs and Excise Vidyah Marcial also told the JSC there had been no detection of weapons or narcotics via the scanning process, although they were in operation since October 2018.
Given the current proliferation of guns in this country, we find that hard to fathom. Perhaps, then it may be time to review the Asycuda system which randomly selects containers for scanning alongside beefing up the Customs department or offering more TTPS support on the oversight of the process.
Minister Hinds was the chair of that 2019 JSC, so he will be familiar with the situation. More importantly, however, he is now in a position to do more than just give lip service to dealing with what is clearly a clear and present danger.