“The customs officers I know, which is practically all of them, are very honest, very sound, very fair, very firm people. They uphold the law of this country to the hilt.” Akanni McDowall, September, 2017
History recalls that late British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and his allies failed to take action in 1936 when Adolf Hitler basically tore up the Treaty of Versailles and retook the Rhineland. At the time it is said that the German army was not quite the force it would eventually become and were ready to retreat if they had encountered allied resistance. But none came.
Then, no one protested when the German Führer annexed Austria. Obviously encouraged by the dereliction of those with the wherewithal to act, Hitler then went after portions of Czechoslovakia in 1938. Mr Chamberlain then cajoled the Czechs to give up a major part of their country to appease a madman for the sake of peace. But no peace came and the rest is history.
Our history is replete with examples of persons whose failure to accept glaring reality and take early action has led to dire consequences. Like Mr Chamberlain, it might be an unwillingness or inability to read obvious signs. In other situations, it might be a case of putting the representation of interest groups before country, and this too can have serious repercussions.
At a recent public forum, President of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Mr Akanni McDowall had this to say. “There is absolutely no evidence to show that these officers are engaged in any kind of illegal activity and until we get evidence, until I can see something referred to me that says ‘yes’ these officers are doing something that is illegal’ then we really should not be discussing the issue of customs officers assisting or bringing drugs into the island.”
Mr McDowall then assumed the identity of Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith, with a touch of Hercule Poirot thrown in for good measure. He determined that the majority of guns entering the island were not coming through our ports of call but were instead entering via Barbados’ porous borders.
We do not question Mr McDowall’s academic ability, his patriotism, or his right to defend workers with every fibre in his body. But if he is minded to, he can seek out media archives, court records, or some older heads within the NUPW or within the Customs Department to obtain the evidence which he so demands. We must place on the record that the Customs Department is manned by individuals of impeccable character and persons committed to their jobs, to law and order and to the stability of their country. But history shows there have been bad apples in that service, as there have also been in the Royal Barbados Police Force, the Barbados Defence Force, Parliament, the teaching service, the legal profession, the media, and arguably every field of endeavour there is in the island. That is the way of the world. Unfortunately, some bad apples can offer more damaging consequences than others by virtue of where they carry out their functions.
If Mr McDowall checks public records he will find that over the past ten years a number of customs officers and clerks have been criminally charged and in some instances convicted and imprisoned for their involvement in illegal drugs being imported into Barbados. Indeed, there are some matters still before the court in keeping with the sloth of our judiciary. If this is not evidence that customs officers employed at our ports of call are from time to time subject to coercion – as occurs worldwide – then the current problem we face with drugs and guns is a mere aberration.
Mr McDowall was correct when he stated last week that Barbados’ borders are porous and can offer an avenue for the illegal importation of contraband. He is correct because authorities have previously intercepted persons attempting to do just that and they have been prosecuted. But he would pull the wool over his eyes when similar situations occur at our legitimate ports of call and those persons are apprehended.
The reality is that persons seeking a partnership to assist with the smooth importation of contraband are not going to target a messenger working at Fogarty’s, a primary school teacher at Brumley or a hairdresser at Remy’s. Persons in authority or those strategically placed at our airport and seaport are much better game.
This is not the time to embolden any interest group by suggesting its purity or offer succour to anyone because of the dues they pay. If there are elements that are causing irreparable harm to this country then they must be pursued relentlessly and without fear, though always mindful of their rights and the necessity to follow due legal process.
But surely, to ignore history and the evidence that abounds, while simultaneously calling for it, stretches way beyond naïveté. Millions have suffered previously because their leaders failed to accept reality.