FINANCE Minister Colm Imbert has said containers have to be checked for possible guns or drugs, and described the process as "reasonably efficient."
He was speaking on Thursday as the Standing Finance Committee looked at the estimates for the Finance Ministry.
Caroni East MP Dr Tim Gopeesingh said the Manufacturers' Association and the business sector have complained "bitterly" about the long delays in clearing containers owing to their being examined.
Gopeesingh asked if more staff or greater productivity was needed to make the process faster.
Imbert replied: "You require these examination stations based on profiling, (and) containers are selected for secondary inspection. We have a problem in TT (and) you can't avoid the fact that some persons try to import contraband and firearms and drugs through our ports. We have to be very, very careful.
"Yes, some businesses may complain that there are delays, but it is absolutely unavoidable."
He said the container examination stations cannot be abandoned, "and I think that from what I've seen, they're reasonably efficient."
Gopeesingh asked how other countries, comparable to TT, are able to clear containers much faster and more efficiently while also searching for contraband.
Imbert said, "That is a false equivalent. You have no data to support it. Which country you talking about?"
Gopeesingh suggested Singapore, but Imbert said Singapore was not at the gateway to South America, nor next door to Venezuela or "the cocaine-producing regions of the world." He said cocaine is shipped around the world and other countries would have to check for cocaine as well.
Imbert said, "We have particular problems and you can't avoid that fact. We have arms and ammunition coming through in containers. We have narcotics coming through in containers."
Caroni Central MP Dr Bhoendradatt Tewarie asked about the security initiatives that would fall under the proposed revenue authority. Imbert said TT had signed a treaty with the US customs and border protection, which the UNC refused to do, and this would be continued with the authority or not.
National Security Minister Stuart Young also announced that Government was working assiduously with a number of international bodies and at no cost. He said one of the initiatives was seacorps and aircorps, and TT was receiving professional assistance from the European Union in addition to US assistance.
"And they have come down and we have set up multi-agency teams – Customs and Excise, Immigration, special units from the police service, the Defence Force and our intelligence services, to do exactly what was being suggested with the interdiction at ports and stuff like that."
Young said he could not go into the specifics, but it was happening and a memorandum of understanding had been signed.
"As soon as this budget is over, we kick it off, actually, and that is going to have a serious effect on these illegal flows through some of our legal ports of entry.
"We are not all about throwing money behind it. We are making do with what we have, and we are putting together some special units that are dedicated to dealing with the interdiction and getting the international assistance (which) also comes with hardware and assets."