By Neri Briceno
The recent revelation that staff within the Customs Department are complaining that they will now lose overtime work because of the newly updated Asycuda System, is one of the most laughable things I have heard of in recent times.
It is an open secret that the Customs Department is one of the most corrupt departments within the government service. I would dare to say that only the Lands Department is more corrupt. All Belizeans by now realize, that joining the Customs Department is not a career but an investment. From the top to the bottom, Customs Officials enjoy some of the most affluent lifestyles within the Public Service, while their base salaries are not that much different than those of the ordinary public officers. However, the perks they enjoy are tremendous.
Unlike the ordinary Belizean who has to frequently cross the border to Mexico or that confused nation to the south and west – Guatemala, to stretch their ever shrinking Belizean dollar, they can shop here comfortably. When they do decide to travel anywhere abroad, they pay no duties for whatever they bring in, or if anything is charged, it is relatively lower than what the ordinary Belizean would pay. This is apart from the all under-handed bribes they take from citizens, the business community and anyone willing to grease their frequently -outstretched palms.
Any businessman in Belize by now knows that Customs officials actually have a formula that they use to conduct their bribing operations. It’s basically a breakdown of a portion for the Government, a portion for the officer, while keeping the duties lower than the actual duties they would pay, resulting in a ‘saving’ to the business person.
What the general public and the business community sometimes fail to realize is that the same duties they are failing to pay to the government, is actually part of the Consolidated Fund that is used essentially for financing the nation. In other words, we are stealing from our selves.
The newly updated Asycuda System apparently seems to be able to clamp down on some of these activities and put much more needed money in the government coffers. This is never good for the customs’ hussle, because it now decreases the amount of available funds that can be plundered.
Belizeans should be overjoyed that finally the revenue that is rightfully for the nation is now being collected. Customs staff have some nerve crying about their overtime when for years they have enjoyed the fruits of illicit gains.
The fact is that there are some outlaws within the Customs Department, which has primarily been upheld by the vast majority of the business community and most certainly the politicians.
While I would never condone what happens on a daily basis at Customs, the fact of the matter is that faced with the salaries that Public Officers make, it is inevitable that some will try to subsidize that income.
The plain truth is that Public Officers are some of the most poorly paid employees in the nation. Despite the recent piecemeal raise that was given to the Public Service, the fact is that they are still underpaid.
It’s amazing that government workers can live on the type of salary that they make. In a perfect world we would not expect government staff to solicit bribes, but life is for real and we all know what the actual situation on the ground is.
Unless we train our staff, pay them better, hold them accountable and prosecute those that break the law, things will never change.
My message to those Customs Officials complaining about reduced overtime; Get used to it and make do with what you have like the rest of us.