‘Leadership’ cited in airport drug busts

A government department long bereft of leadership may be to blame for slack enforcement on imported contraband items, according to Premier Alden McLaughlin.

However, that issue has now been rectified with the appointment of Acting Collector of Customs Samantha Bennett and Deputy Collector Marlon Bodden to fill the gap.

“It is obvious that the absence of a collector of customs since May 2012 has had a hugely negative impact on the operations and leadership of the customs department,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “What transpired over the weekend is an indication of that strong leadership [returning].”

Customs officers made four drug seizures, mostly of cocaine, and arrested five people at Grand Cayman’s Owen Roberts International Airport over the long Easter holiday weekend. Three of the seizures occurred late on Thursday and one on Monday, which was a public holiday.

Substances suspected to be cocaine were found in three of the seizures and a small amount of ganja was confiscated by customs officers in the fourth, Deputy Customs Collector Bodden said.

In an interview with the Caymanian Compass last week, Mr. Bodden, a former police superintendent, said the Customs Department appeared to be “weak” in its intervention efforts at Cayman’s airports and ports, making just 12 drugs seizures at local airports in a five-year period.

Mr. Bodden said that’s going to change.

“The focus will be to snuff out and deal with any folks who are dealing with contraband,” Mr. Bodden said Tuesday. “There will be a certain degree of inconvenience to the public as a result.”

Mr. Bodden’s appointment as deputy collector for customs enforcement is a permanent appointment. However, Ms. Bennett’s position still has not been solidified. She remains acting customs collector at present. As of last fall, the Cayman Islands government said it was still searching for a full-time customs head after placing Ms. Bennett in the acting role. This was done after four tries at recruiting a candidate for the position.

The job advertisement for the collector’s post – which earns between $105,000 and $126,000 per year – failed in three previous attempts to hire a head of department for the organization responsible for the largest amount of revenue government earns each year stalled when government rejected all the candidates who applied.

“The reason for not filling the position is that no applicant who meets all of the required qualifications and experience has applied for the position,” said Anne Owens, the government’s senior assistant financial secretary in July 2013.

The collector of customs is a critical position in the Cayman Islands government, acting not only as collector of revenue from imported goods but ensuring that illegal movement of items into and out of the Cayman Islands is prevented.

The position requires a master’s degree in management or business, higher than requirements for most government chief officer posts. The application also seeks at least seven years of management experience and “expert knowledge of the international trade process and the Cayman Islands law relating to customs.” The job posting also seeks broad knowledge of the government and the Customs Department, acquired “ideally through existing experience,” presumably an attempt to weight the job application in favor of local candidates.

Former Collector Carlon Powery left the customs department in May 2012, after serving in the collector’s job since 1988. He is Cayman’s longest-serving customs collector.

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