Tue | Sep 18, 2018

Those expensive border-crossing machines!

Published:Saturday | December 20, 2014 | 12:00 AM

I read with interest media reports about new passport-checking machines installed at the Sangster International Airport. Aimed at protecting our borders, improving the visitor arrival process, and costing US$2 million, I wondered if this should've been a priority at this time.

What borders exactly are we protecting in a mainly tourist destination port? Wouldn't this money be better spent elsewhere enhancing the tourism product with the goal to provide more jobs and services and enhancing the physical and social infrastructure in cities like MoBay, which depends heavily on tourism?

MoBay City Centre, for instance, is in dire need of a makeover. It is congested, filthy, and, for the most part, not pleasing to the eye. Tourists rarely venture into the city. The craft market could also use a boost, as well as the Hospital Park along the Hip Strip which should be enhanced, renamed, and become more appealing as an attraction!

Most airports globally don't have these machines. Some in the United States have been installed as recently as months ago in ports where the traffic passing through total millions annually, several times ours. Must we strive to replicate everything we see overseas so quickly, without careful analysis and full understanding in particular how they match our own situation, given our limited resources?

No other Caribbean island has these machines and most European ports don't have them either. In Canada, there is limited installation at some major airports, specific terminals only, and even so, only citizens and permanent residents are allowed to use them for obvious security reasons. Visitors must be processed through normal channels with immigration officers.

Won't these machines compromise our national security, as reports suggest they can be used by all - foreigners and locals alike - with e-chip/biometric documents? And what about maintenance costs?

Enhance efficiency

While there is obviously the need to enhance efficiency at Sangster, especially for arrivals where we see unnecessarily long lines, this could be remedied almost immediately by providing more service officers on the front line and simplifying the lengthy immigration/customs forms. Service should also be based on peak periods, which are usually known in advance.

Development is much more than simply applying everything we see 'a farrin'. Instead of using machines to replace humans, wouldn't it make more sense to do the opposite and hire and train more staff to boost employment and the economy, which would have cost less, with greater benefits? We understand these machines will cut processing time by one minute per passenger, but really, does this justify the cost? Will one minute make much difference?

Spending US$2 million on machines at this time when the country is so heavily indebted seems like another very questionable expense that people should be discussing rather than creating a fuss over some minister of government's swimsuit photo!