His Excellency, the Most Honorable Sir Cornelius A. Smith, Governor General of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas,
Minister of State for Economic Affairs, Senator The Honorable Michael Halkitis,
Mr Simon Wilson, Financial Secretary, Permanent Secretary, Mrs Janice Miller, Acting Comptroller Of Customs, Mr Roosevelt Bethell, executives of the Customs Department, Honourees, other Customs Staff, Families, Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen, Good Evening.
It was on January 26th 1983, when the World Customs Organization began the annual practice of celebrating Long Service employees and bringing recognition to the staff of Customs Departments around the world.
In 1989, the Government of The Bahamas and the Customs Department began participating in this activity by celebrating the first International Customs Day on January 26th 1990. Our first International Customs Day was a Gala event, during which time the Department’s name was officially changed from Her Majesty’s Customs to The Bahamas Customs Department.
This evening, we pay tribute and give recognition to the officers who should have been recognised in the last two years. The national emergency measures imposed due to the CoVID-19 pandemic made these honours ceremonies impossible.
Even though these honours were delayed, I am satisfied and happy that the Customs Department ensured that they were not denied. I have called us all here to bestow these awards upon deserving customs officers in appreciation for their dedicated service.
The 32nd International Customs Day Celebration would have been on 26 January 2021 under the theme, “Customs are bolstering Recovery, Renewal and Resilience for a sustainable supply chain”. That theme encapsulated the position of the World Customs Organization (WCO) and the international communities in directing their focus on the recovery and renewal of the economies through expertise and skill sets within the Customs regimes to enhance revenue collection, increase border protection from imported anomalies such as smuggling and illicit trafficking as well as the recently experienced health and chemical threats in member countries.
It is important to note that Customs is the first point of contact for any vessel or aircraft entering the country. You are charged with keeping our country safe from illegally importing firearms, illicit drugs and contraband threats.
Moreover, you are an essential agency in your usual duties of facilitating legitimate trade for the growth and development of our country.
Covid-19 has had a severe economic impact on the country’s finances. We depend on you and your expertise to play your part in the country’s economic rebound through the thorough performance of your duties.
Had there been complete normalcy, the 33rd International Customs Day Celebration would have been earlier this year in January, under the theme “Scale Up Customs Digital Transformation by Embracing a Data Culture and Building a Data Ecosystem”.
This theme was selected to reflect the new working environment brought about by the global pandemic, which caused you to navigate a wholly digital environment, thereby limiting the need for human intervention in the performance of the customs processes while simultaneously eliminating long lines and adhering to social distancing guidelines. Recently, the Customs Department launched the O.G.A platform, where Other Governmental Agencies approve permits and concessions using the Bahamas Electronic Single Windows platform (BESW).
This launch was one of the final steps in fully digitalising the customs processes. Modernisation remains a work in progress; however, over the last several years, you have made tremendous strides toward this goal.
With your diligence and persistence, we can deliver these digital services for the convenience of all of our citizens.
As Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance responsible for the Bahamas Customs and Excise Department, I am pleased to be allowed to attend tonight’s Award Ceremony and present these remarks for this 32nd and 33rd International.
Customs Day, Long Service Award Ceremony. The honorees who have given 20, 30 and 40 years of distinguished service to the Customs and Excise Department are all fine examples of committed public servants who deserve this recognition.
The role of the Customs Department is sometimes underestimated. Nevertheless, it plays a vitally important function in our country’s economic growth and development, primarily in collecting and protecting our country’s revenue, facilitating legitimate trade, and securing our borders.
Over the last several years, attrition has resulted in a decrease in the number of your staff through retirement, and several have resigned; therefore, there is an acute need for additional staff to meet the ever-increasing demand.
To address this shortage, my Government is employing 150 new officers to bolster the human resources of the Customs Department.
These recruits will be brought in over the course of the following year. They will significantly assist in the filling of positions, not only in present vacancies, but they will also fill the ranks of officers urgently needed in some of the Family Islands due to demands brought about by increases in the numbers of new proposed family island tourism-related developments projects and the continued need to facilitate economic growth in those communities.
I am keenly aware of the need for the regular promotions of officers and the effect it has in boosting staff morale; I am pleased to note that several officers have already been promoted, and other promotions are forthcoming.
I am also pleased to announce that my Government has recently concluded and signed a three (3) year industrial agreement with the Customs, Immigration and Allied Workers Union, which partly speaks to increased salaries and other benefits for officers.
I am proud of the fine work you do and your dedication. My government pledges to provide the necessary resources needed for you to continue to safeguard our revenue and country.
On behalf of a grateful nation, I offer my sincerest congratulations to all of you for your long and dedicated service to the Bahamas Customs and Excise Department. I wish you every success in the future.
Your Excellency, colleague Minister Halkitis, Senior officials of the Ministry of Finance, Acting Comptroller of Customs, staff of the Customs Department, ladies and gentlemen, I thank you all for coming and helping us celebrate our honorees tonight.
God bless you, and God bless The Commonwealth of The Bahamas.