Quarantine officers are complaining of being marginalised, says deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Lennox Chandler who believes the situation seriously needs to be addressed.
Speaking at the launch of the Plant Quarantine Procedures Manual at the Ministry of Agriculture headquarters in Graeme Hall, Christ Church this morning, Chandler said based on the conditions under which the officers were forced to operate to the manner in which they were treated at both ports of entry, it was evident that their role was not seen as important.
The agriculturist said many people were not aware or may not even be cognizant that plant quarantine represented the first line of defence against threats of incursion from pests to the island.
“It is sad that in 2014 that plant quarantine has not recorded such a status in Barbados that I would want to see. Our officers are treated, and I am not going to apologise for this, as second class citizens, both at the airport and seaport, in terms of accommodation and the way how they are allowed access in and out of the airport when other agencies are not treated in the same way,” Chandler lamented.
“Other agencies are treated like they are superior to the Plant Quarantine Section. It is something that we have to address and address seriously. Even within our own ministry, plant quarantine has not accorded the type of status that I think it should be,” he said.
Chandler stressed that even after Barbados was able to avoid some of the havoc caused by the pink hibicus mealybug in the region, the scant disregard still looms.
One of the reasons for this, he said, was that people were of the belief that Barbados has no agriculture or little agriculture; hence no need for its protection.
“The fact of the matter is we have plant life . . . we have flora that needs to protected.
“I always use the example of the pink mealybug, which was a pest that ravaged the Caribbean. Through the efforts of the Plant Quarantine Division we were able to prevent Barbados from suffering the same fate as other islands, and we were able to restart trade. Trade had been suspended between Barbados and the islands . . . it caused a lot of stress across the region. Through the efforts of the Plant Quarantine [Division] . . . we were able to restart trade soon after it was suspended. People don’t recognize these things when it comes to the [importance] of plant quarantine to trade,” Chandler said.
“We in Barbados like to brag that we are a developed country, or we are the most developed of the developing countries. When you look at countries like the USA and see how the plant quarantine unit or division is treated, [they] basically enjoy the same status as any other boarder security agency. And we have to rise to that level in Barbados.