The year’s end always brings to mind mental pictures of celebration, fun, jolly feasting and the inevitable stern warnings of not mixing jest and zest with liquor and other illicit substances. It concocts the image of our police force working hand in hand with the community in order for the latter to be safe in the thought that the boys in uniform are there for us all. Every single day. Including the festive season.
The boys in blue are an important component of the pawns and pieces on the chessboard that ensure urban security and rule of law. Irrespective of the partisan noise and clutter of politically-motivated mud-slinging, the police force has witnessed – and starred – in an impressive overhaul of its system and methodology which gives it a better fighting chance of gaining results in 21st century Malta.
But the Malta police force are not the only boys in uniform who have been in the forefront of such a success story. Without belittling other uniformed units, such as the firefighters, the army, the detention officers etc, I opted to end my article contribution for 2021 on TheJournal.mt with a focus on the Department of Customs and its unsung uniformed heroes.
Malta’s government revenue are principally run and accumulated on an annual basis by means of three departments: The tax department, the social security department and by means of the Department of Customs. The latter has been registering a success story on a yearly basis without receiving the accolades due for such accomplishments. It is essential not only to the security of the Maltese borders, but is a sharp and effective tool in the fight for rule of law for the community.
One of my assignments outside Malta in the past was as management consultant for the Municipality of Budapest, Hungary, for the department of urban security of the mentioned city. Budapest is three and a half times bigger than the whole of Malta – population wise – and they had five different police departments all working in tandem under the department of urban security. One of these departments was indeed the customs and immigration police of Budapest.
Customs Malta has been registering a success story on a yearly basis without receiving the accolades due.
Locally, the Department of Customs falls under the remit of the ministry for finance and not the ministry for the interior. This juxtaposition does not alter in any manner the importance of such a department or its success story in these last years.
The Department of Customs strives to protect EU citizens by fulfilling its role of promoting legitimate trade through the efficient and effective control of imports and exports of goods. This it does through its 3 pillar directorates; Excise, Compliance and Enforcement.
Located in the southernmost border of the EU, Malta’s geographical position makes it a regionally important transhipment hub, and a first point of entry to the EU for the substantial volumes of cargo originating from the Far East. The Department shoulders the responsibility of a multi-functional control agency with a focus on trade facilitation on the one hand, and security and safety on the other. The Department’s goal is to safeguard the EU’s own resources, exert controls and surveillance for security purposes, meet public health requirements and ensure compliance and environmental legislation. Customs Malta works in close collaboration with local, EU and international law enforcement authorities.
Nitor in adversum, meaning striving against adversity, is Malta Customs’ motto which it transposes into its everyday operations; in its constant fight against the illicit trade in narcotics, counterfeit goods, weapons of mass destruction, dual use items, money-laundering and other forms of crime. Customs Malta operates at the external borders, where it is empowered to intervene.
And intervene it has. Throughout 2021, half a million Euros worth of alcoholic beverages and wine were seized by Customs. These, coupled with seized cigarettes and tobacco, netted government coffers more than two hundred thousand Euros revenue. And these numbers do not feature the millions of Euros related to Customs busts at the Malta Freeport, which is the crux of the whole operation in question. More than 2 million items were seized in transit containers alone this year, netting a value of nearly €60 million. Simultaneously, nearly three and a half million items were confiscated in domestic containers, amounting to a staggering value of €86 million.
The same can be said with regards to drugs seizures in 2021. 740kg of cocaine was intercepted in June in a one-off raid at the Malta Freeport. Due to the substance’s high purity, its estimated street value reached €100 million.
In these last six years, Customs Malta was responsible for seizing 19 tonnes of drugs, worth €350 million, 225 million hallucinating tablets, worth circa €1.2 billion, €300 million of counterfeit goods and 200 million cigarettes and 7,000 kgs of tobacco, worth more than €50 million.
In these last 6 years, Customs Malta was responsible for seizing 19 tonnes of drugs, worth €350 million.
Between €15 to €20 million worth of money laundering busts are recorded by the Department every single year, with the latter’s canine section being used in tandem with the police force for other successful busts which are then statistically recorded as a police operation. This year alone saw the Customs boys intercepting nearly a million Euros worth of undeclared cash.
The Department of Custom’s head, Joe Chetcuti, has been at the helm of such impressive changes and implementation initiatives. He has made a good leader of such an essential unit.
I first got to know Joe in the nineties when he was already a customs officer but was also active with me and others in the Candidates Section of the Labour Party.
Why is this fact important? Because, contrary to what bitter right-wing PN zealots want everyone to believe, one can come from a Labour background and excel in one’s chores and tasks for the betterment of the country. Without being partisan. Without being a tool or a pawn for outright nepotism and without having a finger in the gravy train pie.
This is but one example of such a scenario. There are hundreds of other similar examples within the civil service. The same goes for the law courts, another pillar of our country’s rule of law apparatus. So much mud has been thrown at judges and magistrates who hailed from a Labour past. But then, when analysing their landmark judgements, their judicial integrity and commitment to the letter of the law is not only exemplary but also lauded by all and sundry.
And one can go on and on citing admirable examples of how this country and its people take the bull by the horn and rise up to the occasion; any occasion. Irrespective of political background and belief. Which brings me to Kansas non-fiction author Daniel Schwindt and his observation written in his latest book, The Case Against the Modern World: A Crash Course in Traditionalist Thought:
“Anyone familiar with party systems has seen the disgust one party member is apt to show toward another whom he may really know nothing about other than that he is one of “the enemies.” He cannot afford to know much about the person, for then he risks finding some redeeming feature in his enemy, and this is unacceptable. Any redemption for the enemy is a failure for propaganda which seeks separation between individuals; communion is defeat.”
To the readers of TheJournal.mt, may the New Year 2022 bring all you wish for, irrespective of your political leaning, if any.