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United Nations to aid Jamaica in dealing with drug, crime fight

Published:Wednesday | May 4, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Commissioner of Customs Danville Walker - file

Anastasia Cunningham, Senior Gleaner Writer

Panama City, Panama::

Jamaica is to get major assistance from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in its fight against smuggling at its ports.

At the same time, Canada has agreed to fund the Global Container Programme for the Caribbean country.

Troels Vester, UNODC regional adviser, made this announcement yesterday at the Second Meeting of Heads of Customs and Security Sectors of Central America, Latin America and the Caribbean held at the Hotel El Panama in Panama City.

Danville Walker, Jamaica's commissioner of customs, said the offer came at the right time, given the direction he was now moving with customs security in Jamaica.

"Border protection, profiling and risk are now part of our new focus at Customs, so the UNODC proposal is timely," Walker said.

He added: "We are getting more tools to do the same job we have been trying to do for generations with limited resources. In Jamaica, we expect great results with no investment, and that always baffles me," said Walker.

He said for too long the Government has been focused on Customs being a revenue earner. He said if the Government changed its focus to "border protection, the revenue will take care of itself".

Walker said technology was now coming on stream to assist Customs. "We must take advantage of it."

Meanwhile, Vester, stating that Jamaica was a major trans-shipment hub in the Caribbean, said the UNODC was seeking to make Jamaica the first Caribbean nation to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with his organisation to join the 2006-initiated UNODC Global Container Programme.

Four countries from the region - Guatemala, Panama, Ecuador and Costa Rica - are currently engaged in the programme.

major dent

Vester said the programme has led to a major dent in the illicit drug trade, money-laundering and weapons smuggling in those countries.

The Global Container Programme, which was launched in Ecuador in 2006, was aimed to determine if the United Nations could use its contacts and resources to impact illegal smuggling around the world.

"The Ecuador experiment yielded a resounding yes on this question," said Vester.

The major component of the programme is the high-tech Container Intelligence System, C-Hawk, which Vester describes as "a very expensive search engine unlike any other" that can provide instant, accurate information between countries on every container and its contents leaving one port to the next.

"Each country's national data is fed into the secure system, which is shared among participating countries," he said.

He said since the success of the programme in Ecuador, the UNODC has been getting up to three requests per month from countries around the world.

"Since the programme was implemented, they have seized 40 tonnes of cocaine in Ecuador and major members of organised crime are serving sentences," he said.

Panama, which joined the programme in October 2009, is also reporting resounding results.

seven-page MOU

Countries become part of the programme by signing a seven-page MOU, which would entail approximately five components, including the mandate from each country, what each agency in the country would bring to the table, as well as the commitment from the UNODC.

A technical need and port assessment is also done of each country. In addition, a cooperative inter-agency agreement is reached and a steering committee is formed.

The programme entails creating a Container Profiling Inter-Agency Unit in each country and training of personnel who are mandated to stay in programme for no less than three years.

Trained personnel will also do cross-training between countries in the programme. Members' units are also asked to be polygraphed.

anastasia.cunningham@gleanerjm.com