IT TOOK SOME probing from the parliamentary joint select committee focusing on ease of doing business on Tuesday, but Customs and Excise Division officers as well as officials at the Port of Port of Spain finally admitted that there was a backlog at the ports.
“There was a backlog at the shed 10 barrel shop. This is where we serve the public,” said Robert Ramsubhag, acting CEO of the Port Authority.
He said because of physical distancing measures put in place to stymie the spread of covid19, the port had to resort to handling public transactions by appointment only.
“Initially we were doing 40 customers a day. Then we increased it to 70, then 100. We implemented overtime measures during the week, where we worked on Saturdays to reduce the backlog.”
He said the port was informed of security concerns by customs officers which would require heightened inspections. Because of that it was suggested that the port go back to 40 barrels a day.
“An average container has goods for 100 customers,” Ramsubhag said. “From November to January we handled over 133 containers. So that would be 1,300 customers, with customers having multiple packages to inspect.”
Ramsubhag added that the port is also affected by a lack of human resources as it is operating at 60 per cent capacity.
JSC member and MP for Port of Spain South Keith Scotland asked what could be done to alleviate the backlog that had been happening since the start of the covid19 pandemic.
“The Port Authority is not involved in the clearance part of it,” said acting general manager Trudy Gill-Conlon. “What we are involved in is, once you come into the port to pay whatever handling fees to collect cargo to facilitate that.
“The port authority is open from 6 am to 11 pm, gates are open Monday to Friday. Vessels call here 24/7, so we are a 24/7 operation. (As for) the facilitation of cargo, Customs would have to answer to the delays.”
She said the port brings any complaints of backlogs to the attention of Customs.
She said the single electronic window developed to streamline communication between customs and the port facilitates the process of identifying backlogs and other issues and the port works closely with Customs to address any and all issues.
Acting Comptroller of Customs Vidiyah Marcial
said there are no backlogs of containerised cargo. With regard to personal cargo. Marcial said Customs works with the appointment system developed by the port.
Ramsubhag added that the port is acquiring new machinery to replace its current machines, some of which are over 40 years old.
He said it got approvals from the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) for new equipment and added the first pieces of equipment being delivered to the port is a ship-to-shore crane which would be fully operational by May.