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Guyana says T&T’s foreign currency law is bad business for transit passengers

Foreign Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett in the background addressing the House’s Foreign Relations Committee.

Guyanese travelling with large sums of US dollars, declared before departure, are being fined in Trinidad and Tobago- a concern that Foreign Minister, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett plans to again raise with her counterpart.

Addressing the House’s Foreign Relations Committee, she said that although Guyanese would have declared US$10,000 in keeping with local laws, they are being fined by Trinidad and Tobago authorities because the legal limit there is US$5,000.

“I have written the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Winston Dookeran) on this matter because in this day and age of business, people will travel with more than five thousand and Trinidad appears to be one out of a few territories where the limit is five thousand,” she said.

She plans to raise the issue again with Dookeran on the margins of next month’s summit of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders. In addition to writing Trinidad and Tobago’s Foreign Minister, Winston Dookeran, the Guyanese Foreign Minister said she has already raised the issue with CARICOM Secretary General, Ambassador Irwin La Rocque.

The Guyanese Foreign Minister said her country’s nationals, who are transiting Trinidad and Tobago to the United States and other countries, should not be punished for carrying more than US$5,000.

She explained that the practice of prosecuting Guyanese with more than US$5,000 appeared more frequent when they changed airlines because passengers are required to complete a Trinidad and Tobago customs form. “It’s when you go through customs you have this problem,” Rodrigues-Birkett added.

Chairman of Foreign Relations Committee, Bibi Shadick suggested that the issue appeared to be a legal one that should be sent to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). “They should ask for some kind of interpretation by the CCJ, for instance, because this thing here has far ranging implications,” said Shadick, a practicing lawyer.

A Partnership for National Unity’s (APNU) Winston Felix, who is an opposition member of the Foreign Relations Committee, urged the Foreign Ministry to forcefully represent Guyanese who are being criminalized unnecessarily. “We should be very forceful in representing our citizens because it would appear to me that citizens are being criminalized once you are in-transiting Trinidad for having breached their laws which, in my view, is not correct,” said Felix, a former Police Commissioner.

Felix appealed to the Guyana government to ensure that nationals of the CARICOM member state do not endure another in the list of indignities.

Foreign Minister Rodrigues-Birkett noted that in one instance, Surinamese authorities seized a large sum of money from a Guyanese businessman. However, the cash was returned months after the Foreign Ministry in Georgetown intervened. Guyana has since asked Suriname to amend its customs form to include foreign currency declarations.