MINISTERIAL STATEMENT BY HON. ARLINGTON A. MUSGROVE, MINISTER OF IMMIGRATION, CITIZENSHIP, LABOUR AND EMPLOYMENT SERVICES FOR HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY – THURSDAY, 29TH APRIL, 2021

Mr. Speaker, first, let me say good morning to you and the members of this Honorable House, Residents of the Turks and Caicos Islands and those who are listening via Radio, Social Media and the Internet.

Mr. Speaker, Secondly, I would like to thank our Honourable Premier for the confidence he has reposed in me as shown by the additions to my Ministry in his portfolio reshuffle.

Since my last presentation to this Honourable House on Monday 22nd March 2021 as the Minister of Immigration, Citizenship, Labour, and Employment, The Honourable Premier has added to my Portfolio: Customs, Disaster Management, TCI Ports Authority, TCI Civil Aviation and TCI Airports Authority, as well as revised my Ministry to Ministry of Immigration and Border Services.

I commit to the Citizens and Residents of the Turks & Caicos Islands, that I will do my utmost to ensure the protection of these idyllic Islands and to improve our way of life.

Mr. Speaker, in my last Presentation to this Honourable House, I promised to keep this House and the Residents of the TCI informed of the management of our Borders and our interdiction efforts. I must tell you, that Illegal Immigration is real and continues to challenge us. I am pleased to report on the hard work of the Employees of this Ministry and also of our partners in this fight against illegal migrations, who I would like to publicly thank for their untiring work under challenging circumstances.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to report, that since my last presentation, three (3) vessels with a combined total of seven hundred and sixty-seven (767) illegals, have been intercepted. In addition to these vessels, we are still intercepting Speed Boats doing Drop Off of Illegals.

Mr. Speaker, My Ministry is committed to the protection of our Borders.

Mr. Speaker, with your leave, I want to wish the Director and staff of the Immigration Department, a happy belated 50th Anniversary.

Mr. Speaker, on March 31st, 2021, the Immigration Department of these Turks and Caicos Islands reached the milestone of 50 years since being established by statue.

Mr. Speaker, in order to recognize this significant achievement and contributions made to the social, cultural and economic landscape of these Islands, the Department will be undertaking a number of social events to commemorate the celebrations.

An Organizing Committee has been established to plan activities.

Mr. Speaker, Plan events include Recognition and Awards Banquet, Island activities and competition for the public and staff, Church Service, Public Relations drive inclusive of radio programmes and community give back. etc.

Mr. Speaker, these activities will be undertaken as the COVID 19 Celebrations enable.

Mr. Speaker, in April, 2020, no one forecasted that by April, 2021:

That there would be 147 million people worldwide, 32.1 million in the United States and 2,376 in the Turks and Caicos Islands infected by the COVID 19 Virus.

  • No one forecasted that 3.1 million worldwide, 572,000 in the United States or 17 persons in the Turks and Caicos would lose their lives to this Virus.
  • No one told us that last week 4 people would die every minute as the clock tick in India because of the CORONA Pandemic.

Mr. Speaker,

  • No one told us that in the last twelve months, 225 million employees worldwide according to the Economic Forum and the International Labour Organization (ILO) would lose their jobs.
  • Nobody told us that 160,000 Business Worldwide would close temporarily and that over 100,000 will never reopen.
  • No one told us that 8 million Americans would fall below the Poverty Line
  • No one told us that the Cruise Industry would come to a grinding halt or that the Airlines Industry, Car Rental Agencies and Hotels would be severely challenged.

Mr. Speaker, as the former Minister responsible for Labour and Employment, I was tasked with finding innovative and creative ways to mitigate these Labour challenges in the TCI and improve the Unemployment Rate. This will be shared to the newly appointed Minister of Labour and Employment Services.

Mr. Speaker, The Turks & Caicos Islands is a popular destination for Private Planes. Here are some facts that the Residents of the archipelagic country should be proud of:

  • With Connections to twenty-one (21) Cities, The Providenciales International Airport has more International Connections than any of the other British Overseas Territories, and it is rated Number Seven (7) overall of twenty Caribbean Countries.
  • In 2014, the Providenciales International Airport was ranked third in the Caribbean for arrivals according to a Sure Club Article dated 30th January 2020.
  • Travel Daily News, 27th February 2020, listed Providenciales International Airport number eight (8) in the Caribbean for Private Jet Aviation.
  • Creative Conscious Evolution on 3rd August 2020, rated Providenciales International Airport number five (5) in the Caribbean for Private Jet Aviation.
  • The AIN FBO (Fixed Base Operations) Survey 1st April 2020, ranked Provo Air Center, at the Providenciales International Airport as #2 in the Caribbean second only to Odyssey Aviation at the Lynden Pindling International Airport.
  • The AIN FBO (Fixed Base Operations) Survey 1st April 2021, list the Provo Air Center, at the Providenciales International Airport as the #1 FBO in the Caribbean followed by Odyssey Aviation in Nassau, Bahamas.
  • Speaker, in its Listings of Best Places to Travel in the Caribbean, US News lists the Turks and Caicos as Number Four (#4) after St. Lucia #1, British Virgin Islands #3 and US Virgin Islands #3.

Mr. Speaker, I now move to report on the challenges and achievements of the Customs Department for FY 2020/21, and plans for FY 2021/22.

Mr. Speaker, for the Financial Year 2020/21, the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on the Trade severely curtailed Customs’ 2020-21 revenue forecast.

In the pre pandemic year the department saw revenue collections totaling $130 million, at the end of the Pandemic year the Department saw collections totaling only $76 million, which constituted approximately 60% of the pre pandemic year’s collections.

Mr. Speaker, despite the Pandemic, and the obvious effects of lockdowns, curfews, and social distancing, the Department was able to maximize on the few opportunities available under the circumstances.

One such opportunity being the implementation of Job Queue, an integration of government stand-alone revenue systems, which digitized the entry verification process and improved efficiency and processing time of entries.

Mr. Speaker, the Job Queue system also allows for limited human contact in the Entry Processing Units (EPU) which, unintendedly, is tailor-made for the current Social Distancing environment.

Mr. Speaker, the system limits the duplication of efforts with the paying into both systems SIGTAS and ASYCUDA, as once payment is made in the former it is automatically captured in ASYCUDA World. It offers the potential to generate receipt vouchers and submit to Broker electronically, thereby allowing for greater convenience and facilitation of Trade, one of the Department’s core functions.

Mr. Speaker, despite the limitations created by the Pandemic, the Department continued its joint Law Enforcement operations with the Police and other agencies including Operation Denial, geared towards the interdiction of illegal Haitian migrant vessels.

Mr. Speaker, during the Pandemic the Customs Department opportunised on building capacity among staff, through a series of technical training delivered via electronic platforms including, but not limited to:

  1. Strategic Trade Control Enforcement (STCE) Programme, World Customs Organisation (WCO)
  2. WCO Introduction to Firearms Trafficking in the Caribbean for Customs, CARICOM IMPACS WCO
  3. International Passenger Interdiction, CARICOM IMPACS
  4. Junior Officer Basic Training, Customs Training Manager
  5. SailClear/Regional Clearance Systems Training, (Pleasure Craft Advance Clearance)
  6. Trade-based Money Laundering, CARICOM IMPACS, United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC GPML) Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF)
  7. Preparation of Case Files (Train the-trainer), Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force.
  8. Baggage Scanner (Classroom) Training, Turks and Caicos Airport Authority.

Mr. Speaker, as it relates to the revenue collections Financial year 2021/22, is anticipated to be another challenging year for the Customs Department.

In January 2021, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projected 5.5% global growth and 4.1% Caribbean growth for 2021; and “assumed that social distancing will continue into 2021 and then fade over time, as more and more of the world population are vaccinated.

Locally, stakeholders and top importers continue to be conservative in their short term projections though the rebounding of the tourism industry is looking very promising.

Mr. Speaker, with the current trend in visitor interest in our destination, the road back to the robust 2019-20 economic gains for the TCI, which predominantly depends on tourism for GDP growth, is likely to be expedited. According to the IMF, most Caribbean countries will not return to pre-pandemic GDP growth until 2023.

Mr. Speaker, my Government is committed to the facilitation of enforcement, the Customs Department will very shortly commence the use at the borders of two Canine dogs trained to detect, narcotics, weapons and ammunition, and undeclared US currency, over the $10k threshold.  

Mr. Speaker, the Department will also very shortly begin the scanning of passenger baggage and cargo.

Both tools will assist in better detection of illicit goods and thereby enhance border security, and by extension protect the Turks and Caicos Island’s society.

Mr. Speaker, the two major recurrent challenges facing the Customs Department are inadequate staffing and vehicles to carry out their enforcement role.

With the transfer of the Department under my Ministry and the merger with the Immigration Department into the establishment of a Border Force, my Government intends to invest in these areas in the upcoming Financial Years, to ensure that our Border protection mandate is not compromised.

Mr. Speaker, As the Minister responsible for TCI Airport Authority, I want to thank all those responsible for these momentous achievement and I pledge, that we at the Ministry will work with the relevant stakeholders, to do everything possible to maintain and improve our standing and level of service.

Mr. Speaker, on 29th January, 2021, Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau instructed all Canadian Airlines to suspend all flights to Mexico and the Caribbean which includes TCI. Along with all the other many issues of the Pandemic, this was another blow to us.

Mr. Speaker, Last week, 21st April, 2021, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the State Department of the United States under President Joe Biden, published a list of Travel Advisories, advising Americans not to travel to many countries. Its highest Advisory Level is 4 and many Caribbean countries including the Turks & Caicos, The Bahamas, Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Barthelme, St. Martin, St. Vincent & The Grenadines, St. Lucia, Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica were on the No Travel List rated at Level 4. Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Montserrat were listed at Level 3 while St. Kitts & Nevis were listed a Level 2.

Mr. Speaker, these Advisories do challenge my Ministry in rethinking the modus operandi of our Protocols at our Ports of Entry.

Mr. Speaker, the Ports Authority Strategic Plan is the basis of work plans. Despite being impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and two delays, the team at the Ports Authority was able to implement all of its Key Programme Strategies outlined in the 2020/21 Budget.

Mr. Speaker, the Ports Authority is on-track to surpass its revised net-revenue transmission target for the year.

Mr. Speaker, the team at Ports Authority was able to complete CCTV projects on both South Caicos and Grand Turk, as well as all post-hurricane rehabilitation projects.

Progress was made to modernize our port infrastructure to support prosperity on all Islands.

Mr. Speaker, a modern port, with new RORO Ramp and asphalt/ concrete container yard pavement, was completed on Grand Turk. This is the ‘gold standard’ for works on all other ports.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to advise that my government recently approved the Bellefield Landing Welcome Center and South Caicos Port Rehabilitation projects and works should soon commence on these projects.

Mr. Speaker, the pre-qualification exercise for the redevelopment and modernization of South Dock, Providenciales is ongoing. Plans are also on stream for the construction of a port office on Providenciales and are at an advanced stage of appraisal.

The Ports Authority also places emphasis on building sustainable systems and procedures and developing our people. Considerable progress was made in work plans in these critical areas.

Mr. Speaker, during the year, the Board approved several safety policies and procedures covering areas such oil spill containment and port waste management; and the UK Department of Transport approved new Port Facility Security Plans for all ports in the TCI.

Mr. Speaker, the Ports Authority is pleased with the success of its Community Outreach program; which delivered computers to school children and food supplies to needy families during the pandemic.

Mr. Speaker, as part of its future work plans, the Ports Authority will work to consolidate the gains achieved in 2020/21, which lay the basis for a very active 2021/22.

Mr. Speaker, there are planned Capital projects that should commence at all ports.

Mr. Speaker, effort would continue to develop staff and restructure the Ports Authority for a modernized port context.

Mr. Speaker, priority would be accorded to resolving outstanding vesting of properties from the Crown to the Ports Authority, which is crucial to the future development of the Ports throughout the Turks and Caicos Islands and by extension, the TCI as a whole.

Mr. Speaker, June 1st just a few weeks away, is the start of the 2021 Hurricane Season. Meteorologists have forecasted the 2021 Season as a very active season. My Ministry is in the process of reviewing our Disaster Management plans using Lessons Learnt. We will harden our Communications Network with more Satellite Phones. Improve our Shelter Management working with the Churches. Secure Supplies working with Social Services and the Private Sector.

Mr. Speaker, as we approach the beginning of the Hurricane Season (1st June), with the devastating impacts of the twin hurricanes of Irma and Maria in 2017 and hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas in 2019, the images we remember too well, the Department of Disaster Management and Emergencies cannot overemphasize the importance of being prepared.

Mr. Speaker, last year the forecasters predicted an active hurricane, and Mr. Speaker, it wasn’t a normal active season, it was an over-active season. In total, the 2020 season produced 30 named storms, of which 13 became hurricanes, including six major hurricanes.

Infact, Mr. Speaker, the TCI was threatened by at least 2 storms.

  • Mr. Speaker, the forecasters are currently predicting 17 named storms, eight (8) hurricanes, and four (4) major hurricanes for the 2021 Atlantic season. This would be above the normal of 12 named storms, six (6) hurricanes, and three (3) major hurricanes.

Mr. Speaker, regardless of the predictions let us remember that it only takes one storm to cause significant impacts to communities and the country at large. Therefore, every one of us have a role to play to reduce the level of impact on our lives and livelihood.

  • Mr. Speaker, the DDME might be a small department but it is a powerful department based on capabilities and expertise.

Mr. Speaker, you will be happy to hear that the Hazard Mitigation and GIS Manager, Mr. Mike Clerveaux has been remotely deployed to support emergency operations to the La Soufriere Volcano in St Vincent and the Grenadines through CDEMA and MapAction.

  • Mr. Speaker, additionally, DDME has completed its shelter inspection in preparation for the 2021 hurricane season and are now preparing to conduct shelter managers training to ensure that we have persons available and capable of managing our shelters should we need to open them. The team has conducted Communications tests using various equipment and Social Media platforms.
  • Mr. Speaker, in order to further Enhanced Emergency Communications, DDME procured three mobile antenna units which will be located on Providenciales, Grand Turk and South Caicos. The project cost approximately $300,000.00.
  • Mr. Speaker, I want to join DDME in thanking FCO for their donations which allowed DDME to develop a Mobile App for sending out alerts and other important information during an emergency. This App will be launched at the beginning of the 2021 hurricane season.
  • Mr. Speaker, what good does it serve you if you know where your shelters are located but cannot access them.

Therefore Mr. Speaker, DDME is currently using GIS technology to determine the best evacuation routes and assembly points for North, Middle and South Caicos in the event of a Tsunami. Maps were produced to show the proposed routes and assembly points.

  • Mr. Speaker, we can contribute and build the country through volunteerism. Throughout the year and even more for this Atlantic Hurricane Season. I would like to encourage the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands to Register with DDME, participate in their training and contribute your time, your labour, and your efforts to prepare and readily restore your community. Volunteerism in Disaster Management is critical towards building a resilient country. It requires “All hands-on Deck”.
  • Mr. Speaker, lastly, I end where I started. DDME will be hosting Hurricane Preparedness Month from May 1-31 2021 with the theme ‘Investing in Mitigation and Preparedness TODAY for a better TOMORROW’. Activities include media launch, church service, townhall meetings, damage assessment training and shelter management training.

On behalf of DDME, I would like to encourage everyone of us to get involved, support the various activities, learn how to better prepare your home and business in the event of a storm. Remember the life that you save could very well be yours.

Mr. Speaker, in closing, I would like to say thank you to my Team at the Ministry as well as the general public for the support and encouragement they continue to give me. I will continue to do my part in protecting our Borders and the rights and privileges of my people.

Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity and may God continue to bless us all and these Beautiful by Nature Turks and Caicos Islands.

Hon Arlington A. Musgrove

Minister of Immigration and Border Services

29th April 2021