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The Government has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)-World Customs Organisation (WCO) Container Control Programme that is expected to result in improved security at the nation’s ports.

"This MoU establishes and recognises that a funded and enhanced partnership now exists between the Government of Jamaica, through the Ministries of Finance,   National Security and  Transport and Works and the UNODC and the World Customs Organisation, to improve port security and to prevent the unlawful use of cargo containers for activities, such as illicit drug trafficking, smuggling of goods, tax evasion and possible terrorist acts,” Finance and Planning Minister, Dr. the Hon. Peter Phillips, said at the signing at his Kingston office on Tuesday.

The UNODC will provide technical assistance, equipment, analytical tools, computer stations, radio communications and field test kits to help in identifying drugs and chemicals in containers at the ports. They will also be involved in the training of the staff, selected to man the joint container control units.

Programme Manager, UNODC, Troels Vester, said Jamaica is the first country in the Caribbean to join the programme, which is significant, due to Kingston’s role as a major transshipment hub. He stated that the container control programme aims to open fewer containers and find more illicit goods.

Mr. Vester explained that 14 officers have commenced training under the programme, which began on November 26, and an ambitious deadline of December 10 has been set for the Container Control Units to become operational.

In the meantime, Dr. Phillips also pointed to the possibility of earning increased revenue from the ports as a result of the programme’s implementation. “The mislabeling of containers leads to significant revenue evasion at the ports. Given our current fiscal situation, Jamaica critically needs the revenues to execute vital programmes and we also want to establish a general atmosphere of law abiding behavioor in our ports and elsewhere,” he said.

The Minister pledged the Government’s commitment to establish a steering committee, and to have the participating institutions undertake to maintain and provide support to the port control units.

He stated that funding has been secured from the Canadian Government in the sum of CD$500,000 for the programme to be implemented in the Kingston port, while the United States Government has committed to funding the programme for the Montego Bay port.

Also at the signing was the US Ambassador, Pamella Bridgewater, who stated that her country was proud to collaborate with Canada to support the programme.

"This collaboration, we firmly believe, will result in helping to preserve the security of Jamaica’s borders… and we think that it is going to be very important to ensure that the large number of shipping containers that pass through Jamaica do not contain illicit goods, such as narcotics, guns and other illicit substances. But equally important, it will be very good to know that the speedy shipment and processing of legitimate goods will be facilitated, which will be an important factor in enhancing Jamaica’s economy,” she said.

For his part, Canadian High Commissioner, Robert Ready, said the project is an example of Canada’s commitment to fight  international crime in the region. He stated that the Canadian Government stood  ready to continue its support and provide expertise to Jamaica through the UNODC.

The MoU follows a Letter of Intent that was signed in June of this year for the establishment of the programme. The UNODC-WCO aims to assist governments to establish effective container controls that will serve not only to prevent drug trafficking and other illicit container crime, but also to facilitate legitimate trade and raise state revenues.