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Dean one of the last

Solomoni Biumaiono
Sunday, February 10, 2013

He is one of the last customs officers who had served under the old customs and duties regime of the British colonial government and had been part of the modernisation of the customs services to what we know of it today.

Jalal Ud Dean who retired as the Customs & Excise general manager three years ago was first recruited as an assistant customs officer in 1968.

Throughout his 42 years of service with his one and only employer, Dean had a fascination and clear dedication to his work which he never lost along the way.

He has a clear understanding of the history of the customs department when it was first established in the early 1800s and later when it was formally known as His Majesty's Customs Service and before it changed again to be known as the Fiji Customs Services after Fiji became independent in 1970.

His historical figures put the earliest form of trading that took place between the native iTaukeis and the plundering traders from the West from as early as 1806 when sandalwood was the sought after commodity.

Due to the absence of government at the time, Dean says trade was done on an ad hoc basis until much later when the Cakobau government and later the British Crown governed the land.

Some degree of control was established with the new customs comptroller, directly appointed by the British colonial government.

The first head of Customs in Fiji was naval Captain R C M Bentley who took up his post soon after the 1874 cession.

He was transferred from Royal Navy to become the collector of Customs in Fiji and in those days he was basically the head of British civil service affairs in Fiji and he reported directly to Governor.

The Customs department was the first official Government department established in Fiji under the British colonial government.

All these developments were still done at a time when Fiji as a colony hadn't developed wharf facilities and only had Suva and Levuka as port of calls. Nadi and Lautoka were only added after they grew in importance to merit the building of wharf and airport facilities.

After the capital was relocated to Suva in 1882, Suva did not have a proper wharf and shed facilities but only a pier which was located at what is known as Pier Street today and facing towards the current Post Fiji building.

The Suva wharf was originally rebuilt in 1912 as a wooden structure, it was barely sufficient for large motorised ships; and the new concrete deck wharf was built in 1962, together with 12 new cargo sheds.

Nadi and Lautoka grew in importance through the years due to the developing sugar industry. Later, Nadi became a transit stop for long haul flights between the USA and Australia.

"The Comptroller of Customs was also responsible for registration of all commercial ships and aircraft in that era. Nadi international airport also had exit-gate control and Customs were located there as well, at the railway lines' crossing at the entrance to the airport.

"In 1953, this was changed to Her Majesty after coronation of Queen Elizabeth the second. The port, harbour and marine responsibilities were designated to the Comptroller of Customs.

"In reality, the harbour master's office, wharf management and docking of ships were all designated under the responsibilities of the Comptroller of Customs.

"Customs held keys to all cargo sheds, all gates, entrances and exits, all deadhouses, and all facilities which included South Gate, Escort Street Gate, Renown Street Gate (aka Middle Gate), North Gate, Walu Bay Wharf Gate, Suva Slipway and Repair Berth Gates in Suva. Similar arrangements in terms of control also existed at Lautoka and Levuka," Dean said.

"In those days of 1960s, Nausori airport was not an international airport but occasionally used for flights to neighbouring Pacific islands because the small aircraft used by Fiji Airways then, did not have sufficient fuel range to operate directly from Nadi. In those days Customs did not have official transport and Customs officers used their private cars and drove over to Nausori Airport whenever needed," Dean said.

Apart from controlling the inflow and outflows of cargo, exports and imports at these main ports of entries, customs officers have to act as harbour masters. That is way before the Ports Authority even came into existence.

Dean said even though he did not serve in the Marine Unit, it was the precursor to the current Marine Department and which later evolved into the Ports Authority of Fiji because their marine unit was responsible for all the regular maintenance of all lighthouses all over Fiji.

"That Marine unit was set aside for Officers who were very conversant and skilled with ethnic and culture protocol matters of the fijian provinces, because they had to present the sevusevu to the koro headman and then camp in the bure at the villages, as part of the lighthouse maintenance program. In those days, we had lighthouse keepers who lived inside the lighthouse tower because the lighthouse had to be lit every night with kerosene lamps. The Customs (Marine) officers had to take along with them the lighthouse keeper's wages, lighthouse glass cleaning paste and food rations for the lighthouse keepers and most importantly, drums of kerosene supplies to the lighthouses throughout the year," Dean said.

In 1957, the colony's Customs Department underwent another change by adding the word Excise into their signage to make it became the HM Customs & Excise.

"The 'Excise' aspect was added when Carlton Brewery commenced brewing in Fiji, later followed by Fiji Tobacco Company and Carreras of UK. They were all located in Walu Bay," Dean said.

Dean noted that the Comptroller of Customs was very much part of the colonial government's decision-making process and said that when he joined the service in 1968 the Comptroller was part of the executive council, which is one tier above the Legislative Council.

The executive council consists of all heads of all government departments and among them sits the Comptroller.

"The Comptroller of Customs used to sit in the executive council, in full uniform of white and white tunics and 4-bar epaulettes, navy cap and white shoes; he also wore his (British) military medals when he attended the executive council, in as much as the commander of the Fiji Military Forces and the Commissioner of Police attended in full uniform," Dean said.

This had Dean lamenting about the good old days when the Customs officers usually have ranks before that system was taken out in a move towards modern corporate identity.

"The community's appreciation and their value of Customs in those days were very highly respected, as Customs was a disciplined and uniformed organisation. Almost all senior officers from ranks of Collector and upwards were retired servicemen from British Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force who actively served in World War II in their younger days.

"When I joined Customs, the Comptroller of Customs & Excise was E T J Mabbs who was a retired colonel of the British Army, after his service in British Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where he was the British Army commander and later served as deputy Comptroller of Customs in British Rhodesia, before coming to Fiji," Dean said.

* Next week…Opium dens, raw detection techniques and mordernisation

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