Earlier this week the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce issued a press statement in which it expressed its concern over the likelihood that businessmen travelling through the Cheddi Jagan International Airport could become enmeshed in set ups associated with what the release suggests is now the prevalent practice of placing illicit drugs and other illegal items in the baggage of innocent passengers. The release did not say whether the GCC was simply sounding a warning or whether it may have been a reaction to an actual incident or set of incidents. Clearly, however, it should be taken seriously.
The release by the GCC comes just over a week after an official of the local air transport industry had told Stabroek Business that the general state of affairs at the airport in matters pertaining to customer service and security left much to be desired. The official questioned the thoroughness of the security arrangements at the airport including the absence, in some cases, of mechanisms designed to protect outgoing passengers against just the kinds of eventualities referred to in the GCC release.
Two specific points made by the official merit comment. First, the official, who is frequently stationed at Timehri, disclosed that there had been occasions when the sniffer dog assigned to assist with drug detection had missed packages of drugs which were subsequently unearthed by security officials. The second point made by the official was that there had been a number of cases in which guards recruited by airlines had detected concealed drugs after the same bags had been subjected to examination by state security officials.
These are disturbing developments and their occurrence raises serious questions about the general running of our national airport and the efficiency of the various state and non-state services that use the airport. And in circumstances where drug finds at the airport have now become commonplace, one wonders whether it has not come to be perceived as a ‘soft target’ by drug exporters who are aware of its vulnerabilities.
Equally disconcerting is the likelihood that is now being raised by the GCC that law-abiding travellers can become caught up in serious problems resulting from the “spiking” of their luggage with illegal drugs.
While one assumes that the Airport Authority seeks actively to prevent occurrences of this kind there is no denying the fact that drug smugglers have found ways around the prevailing security arrangements. Certainly, the fact that airlines have moved to recruit private security services to check bags immediately prior to boarding suggests that these airlines are not only concerned about the high fines imposed by the United States authorities in cases where drugs are discovered either on the aircraft or on luggage transported by the aircraft but are also less than confident that the available security arrangements at Timehri are adequate to stem the outward illegal flow of drugs. It is also widely felt that the movement of illegal drugs through the airport occurs with the support and assistance of persons employed at Timehri, In fact, it is inconceivable that the ‘spiking’ of luggage that has already been examined and ‘checked in’ can actually take place without the intervention of persons who are well-placed to carry out such acts.
The situation has now become so serious that one wonders whether the extant security arrangements ought not to be changed regularly to ensure, for example, that staff at the various agencies who are assigned to the airport are changed regularly. This rotation policy ought to apply to all of the various agencies providing services at Timehri and ought to be attended by continual training for airport staff within the agencies themselves. One wonders too whether in the light of the vested interest which both the United States and Canada have in the security of Timehri it may not be prudent to seek support for the training of local officials from those countries.
One area of illegality that may certainly require attention is the area of Immigration where, as far as we are told, the tendering of carefully disguised false passports has become commonplace.
With flights originating in Guyana having long attracted the interest and attention of the security authorities in receiving states it would appear that a great deal still needs to be done to ensure that the airport is properly protected against the crimes and the attendant stigma that now stick to it like glue.