Livern Barrett, Gleaner Writer
Outgoing Customs boss Danville Walker last night rebuked the Opposition People's National Party (PNP), charging that its latest utterances in the widening debate over the agency's admitted breaches of the scrap-metal ban were the kind of "gutter politics" he was hoping to end.
Walker, in a statement released shortly after the PNP called for the auditor general and the police to investigate the breaches, said the Opposition's demand was clearly a politically motivated move.
"The call for an audit by the PNP is nothing more than the 'silly season' where we begin with the personal character assassination, innuendoes, rumours, half-truths and lies," Walker declared in his statement.
"It is this kind of gutter politics that I am hoping I will be able to set a better example (for) and rise above when I enter representational politics," he added, confirming reports he plans to contest the next general election.
Walker argued that the ministerial order issued in July to ban the trade was not intended to stop the export of scrap metal from companies that generate their own scrap metals and "no one has made a case that these exports have come from anywhere else".
The PNP, in response to a statement released Wednesday by the Customs Department, blaming the breaches on a "misinterpretation" of the ministerial order, had yesterday charged that it was an attempt to "sweep the matter under the carpet".
PNP Spokesman on Industry, Investment and Commerce, Anthony Hylton, told reporters that the party had credible information that several containers of scrap metal, for which export has been "facilitated" by Walker, have been loaded at sites other than the premises of legitimate scrap-metal generators.
"Who are these 'selected persons' who were so generously facilitated by the commissioner of customs?" Hylton questioned.
"The Opposition rejects as wholly inadequate the explanation provided in that press release, which itself raises more questions than the clarity it seeks to provide," he added.
PNP Spokesman on Finance, Dr Peter Phillips, also suggested that the police secure records at the Customs Department that could assist their investigations since Walker demits office today.
Yesterday, the industry ministry revealed that an investigation conducted by the Trade Board confirmed that 97 containers were shipped by Customs without the required permit.
The ministry said the matter has been referred to the Ministry of Finance which has portfolio responsibility for the Customs Department.
However, Walker insisted that there was no loss of revenue to the Government or any reports of scrap-metal theft from private properties or business during the period of the scrap-metal exports.
"Rather, the country has earned much-needed foreign exchange ... . Therefore, this may be a way forward in regulating the scrap-metal industry," he argued.
This argument, which had also been advanced by Customs on Wednesday, did not satisfy the Opposition.
"Can the Jamaica Customs Department accept responsibility without holding the commissioner of customs accountable for his actions which were the immediate cause of these serious breaches, including probable security breaches?" Hylton questioned.