On the occasion of Public Service Week, on Sunday the Customs Department opened its doors at Lascaris Wharf in Valletta to the public. This enabled the public to see up close the work of Customs officers, Customs being a department within the Finance Ministry, and one of the top contributors to Government coffers.
Among other duties, Customs ensures observance of fiscal regulations, works to fight contraband and safeguards consumers from counterfeit goods.
Although the weather was not exactly perfect, and with the occasional drops of rain, the people turned up for a day of activities by the Customs Department.
One of the more popular attractions involved the Customs canines, with the audience being able to observe how the eight Customs dogs are trained to sniff out drugs, currency and cigarettes. Hilary Fenech, who trains the Customs dogs, explained that four of the dogs are trained on currency and cigarettes, and the other four on drugs and cigarettes.
“It takes an average of ten months to train them. They go through one phase, followed by the second phase to get them licenced, and they are licenced every year,” Mr Fenech explained.
Any dog can be trained, however right now we only have Springers and Labradors. This is because we meet with many people, and we want to make sure people are not afraid of them, as they are very cuddly dogs. We start training the dogs with their own toys. The dog comes to me, I see what sort of play drive he has, whether the dog is aggressive. The dog has to pass many tests, after which it starts working with the handler as a team.”
Ongoing duties at the Customs Department include Brexit-related work. The Customs Director for International Affairs, Ian Muscat, pointed out that Customs is preparing for every eventuality including that of a Hard Brexit, meaning no agreement between the UK and the EU.
“Merchandise to and from the UK will be subject to all Customs formalities just as if it were coming from a third country, like China or the US. Besides, we are also involving our staff at the airport, because since there is a high volume of passenger movement between Malta and the UK, it will now no longer be possible for these passengers from Britain to go through what we call the Blue Channel, and they will have to decide whether to opt for the Green or Red Channel; if they are carrying taxable goods, they will have to pay duty on these items.”
Other activities during the Customs Open Day included educational games and an exhibition of machinery. All this formed part of the Public Service Week, entitled Towards a service of Excellence.