Re: Mistreatment of visitors by a Grenada Customs Officer
Dear Honorable Prime Minister:
We, the individuals listed below, are writing to bring to your attention the treatment we received at the hands of one of Grenada’s Customs and Excise officers during a recent visit to your lovely island country. Our experience with Mr Lynden Alexis, the Customs official we encountered at Tyrrel Bay, Carriacou, when entering Grenada on November 19, 2015, was not in keeping with the Customer Service Charter published by Grenada Department of Customs and Excise.
All eight of us, six from the US and two from Canada, are veteran international travellers. We have sailed in the Pacific Gulf Islands, Tahiti, Mexico and numerous destinations in the Caribbean. On this trip we chartered a sailboat in Martinique and spent 12 glorious days visiting St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, eventually dropping the boat off in beautiful Prickly Bay, Grenada.
Throughout our travels we have found the Customs and Excise officers in all other destinations to be helpful, competent, professional and courteous, and we have never once encountered problems. That is until November 19, 2015, when we reached Tyrell Bay on Carriacou Island, Grenada. As per Grenada Customs expectations, we secured our boat to a buoy in the harbour and our captain, John Lack and his wife Anita gathered all the necessary documents to clear customs, as they have done in many other island nations. As John and Anita are very organized, they had completed the customs entrance forms in advance online using Seaclear, as per the Grenada Customs website. They motored the boat’s tender to the customs office to expedite our entry into Grenada while the other six of us remained on board, as per customs instructions.
They arrived at the office which was open, but unoccupied. When Mr Lynden Alexis arrived, Mrs Lack, the organizational leader of our travel group presented the required documentation to him. Mrs Lack asked some questions for clarity and Mr Alexis became very irritated. He then refused to deal with her, insisting that all members of the party present themselves in his office. Our captain returned to the boat to ferry the rest of us in to the office. When we arrived, the office was closed for lunch and remained closed for more than one hour, requiring us to wait outside until Mr Alexis and his assistant returned. Two other customers entered the office before us, so we waited patiently for them to be finished. Upon entering the Customs office, rather than being greeted respectfully by the receptionist/assistant, we were ignored. When we inquired about meeting with the customs official we were glared at and told to wait until he was ready to see us.
Once Mr Alexis was ready to meet with our group, he began by setting a tone of intimidation, advising us that he had extensive training in detecting liars and that we should tread carefully when answering questions. His tone was aggressive and his manner was most unwelcoming. Mr Alexis then appointed another group member (a male) to be our representative who, when asked questions by Mr Alexis, had to turn to Mrs Lack to get the correct answers. During this questioning Mr Alexis quite rudely refused to acknowledge Mrs Lack’s presence or her knowledge.
While interviewing the group representative and then asking each of us for our passports and information, Mr Alexis repeatedly read and re-read a scripted description of the friendliness of the island of Carriacou, while making several pointed comments that were perceived by all of our members to be intimidation tactics. Comments such as: “I have trained with ….”, and “I am an expert in determining if people are telling the truth”, were often made throughout the interview process. The final indignity and disrespect was when he accused our captain of lying about his hearing loss, because our captain had heard parts of a question and responded. Moderate hearing loss for some means a person can hear segments of conversations but often not the entire context. Our captain is a man of great integrity who normally wears hearing aids. In situations such as that day, where his hearing aids may get wet, he does not wear them. Therefore, when circumstances require it, he has his wife accompany him to assist with communication. We were all taken aback by this accusation.
At numerous times, Mr Alexis warned us to be mindful that he was in charge and we are not to question his authority. This frustrated us because not a one of us had said or done anything to justify that repeated warning. While entering and processing our documentation, Mr Alexis having difficulty with his computer entries and had to redo and reprint the documentation a number of times. When asked for his name at the end of our interactions, Mr Alexis was certainly cooperative in providing us with this information, but indicated that our complaint would be unusual as everyone always speaks of how friendly the office is. He went on to express dissatisfaction and frustration with being overworked and not having a day off in weeks.
Upon paying the fees required by Customs, we thanked the receptionist/ assistant at the desk. She did not look at us and made no effort to thank us or welcome us to the country.
Up to this day, the members of our group were enjoying a wonderful holiday in the Windward Islands. That changed when we were threatened and intimidated by this unprofessional Customs agent. The entire experience was negative and the tedious and inefficient process took up much more time than it should have. We all left feeling very frustrated.
Finally, after we returned home, our captain was notified by the sailboat Charter Company that there was an issue with the documentation Mr Alexis was required to process. Even though we have copies of the documents proving we had cleared Customs in Grenada, those documents did not make it to the proper sources that allowed the boat to be cleared for return to its home port in Guadeloupe. This is obviously a processing problem within your customs system.
Honorable Prime Minister, our entire party consists of professionals, mostly in our senior years, half of us retired, who are honest law abiding citizens. We were all astonished by this unprofessional and disrespectful treatment by Mr Alexis and his office receptionist/assistant. This experience has left every member of our party questioning whether we should ever go back to Grenada again.
However, you do have a beautiful country sir, and in spite of this very regrettable experience our future sailing ventures may see us return. In the mean time, we would like to provide the following recommendations that may help in preventing this scenario from happening again as your country welcomes tourists:
• Educate Customs officers on the importance of managing the very important security requirements of your nation in a manner that is professional, courteous and welcoming. That is how we have been treated in other nations.
• Provide Customs officers with an orientation/training in the various aspects of hearing loss.
• Improve efficiency when processing a group of people by providing one welcoming speech to the group, and then proceed with expediting the entries.
• Ensure Customs officers are competent at data entry and processing of documents.
• Ensure that your port offices are adequately manpowered thereby reducing the workload stress that Mr Alexis expressed to us.
• Provide gender awareness training to Customs officers. Mr Alexis appears to have difficulty dealing with women.
Thank you for your attention to this matter Honorable Prime Minister.
Garry Donald, on behalf of,
• John and Anita Lack, Elk Grove, California, U.S.A.
• Jay and Suzanne Speck, Vacaville, California, U.S.A.
• Larry and Deborah Jarvis, Virginia Beach, Virginia, U.S.A
• Garry and Terri Donald, Lundbreck, Alberta, Canada
• Honorable Yolande Bain-Horsford, Minister of Tourism
• Honorable Elvin Nimrod, Minister for Carriacou, Petite Martinique Affairs and Local Government
• Mr. Carlyle Felix, Comptroller of Customs, Grenada
• Robin Swaisland, President of Marine and Yachting Association, Grenada
• Editor, Caribbean News Now, Grenada