THE LAW enforcement authorities must be commended for actions that resulted in Sunday’s interdiction of $34 million worth of cocaine at the Piarco International Airport as well as the arrest of five people involved.
The operation was a good example of the benefits of collaboration. It was the culmination of months of intensive investigative work by airport security firm Intercept Security Ltd and the police’s Organised Crime Intelligence Unit who were monitoring the activities of certain airport staff believed to be involved in drug trafficking. All of it demonstrates our capacity to get the job done when it comes to sensitive investigations.
The quantity of cocaine seized is, however, a worrying reminder of the extent of the drug trade in this country. It points to the fact that this country is a major transshipment hub for illegal commodity, acting as a crucial bridge between South American and North American markets, as well as Europe.
Given the extent of the problem, it is clear that one agency alone cannot be tasked with dealing with the drug trade. We need more and more stronger, specialist agencies as well as more cross-agency collaboration like the one that bore fruit on Sunday.
We have to question what techniques, materials or resources have been allocated to our State agencies and whether they are adequate to ensure our ports and employees working there are under proper surveillance.
While our national security spending is substantial, there is a strong case for giving law enforcement agencies what they need to tackle serious matters which, if left unchecked, could damage our reputation. We do not look good as a nation when foreign bodies make huge drug finds on vessels or craft originating here.
Though there is also a strong case for emphasis to be placed on major ports of entry, there should also be vigilance in areas that may not be most obviously vulnerable. And the million-dollar question remains: When will the big fish be captured?
It is particularly disturbing that this latest incident involved two people employed at the airport. It is comforting to know that surveillance systems red-flagged these individuals and allowed further investigations to take place. But at the end of the day it is preferable for such individuals to not be employed in the first place.
We are also relieved that the potential embarrassment to Caribbean Airlines Ltd – the State’s carrier – has been averted. Surely the airline would have faced a loss of goodwill, in addition to other penalties, had it found to be in breach of any checks and balances.