Posts tagged WCO

Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s Speech at the Opening of the World Customs Organisation’s Regional Training Centre

Secretary General of the World Customs Organisation;

Members of the Diplomatic Corp;

Board Members of the Fiji Revenue & Customs Authority;

Head of the Oceania Customs Organisation (OCO) Secretariat;

Heads of Customs Administrations in the Region;

Invited Guests;

Ladies and Gentlemen.

Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

I wish to welcome all those from abroad who have travelled to Fiji for this event. Although your visit to our shores may be short visit, I hope it will be memorable.

At the outset, I wish to thank the World Customs Organisation (WCO) and its Secretary General, Mr. Kurio Mikuriya, who has travelled from Brussels to be here today. The WCO has been unwavering in its support and recognition of Customs reforms in Fiji and the other Oceania Customs Organisations (OCO) members.

It was exactly three years ago when I spoke at the opening of this new Revenue & Customs Services Complex.  Today, we are here to celebrate the launch of the new WCO Regional Training Centre in Fiji.

That is tremendous progress, and it speaks to the pivotal role Fiji is playing in this region. Our central location makes Fiji a convenient hub for the South Pacific, and hosting the Customs Regional Training Centre in Fiji is a significant step towards greater regional collaboration.  It is a concrete sign of Fiji’s willingness to contribute in a major way to regional prosperity.

But I am proud to say that the quality and development of our infrastructure, the vigor of our institutions, and the skills and education of our workforce are equally important. Without those, Fiji would only be a potential hub, a potential regional leader, a potential source of economic growth for the region.

Now, potential is nice, but I prefer to see this country–and all of our neighbours–reach our potential. And more importantly, I prefer to see us set high expectations for our people and then surpass those expectations.

Of course, if we are to reach our potential and exceed our own high expectations, we need to demand competence of ourselves. We need to choose capable and energetic leaders. And we need to foster an environment of individual responsibility, integrity, and commitment to high standards. And all of us—all of the nations of the South Pacific—need to do this in lockstep. And that first locked step is uniform regional training.

Three years ago, the Fiji Revenue & Customs Authority (FRCA) began discussions with the Regional Office for Capacity Building (ROCB) for the Asia Pacific Region on the viability of establishing a regional training center in Fiji for the Pacific region.  Strong support from our neighbours and the OCO helped make that idea a reality.

Regional Training Centres are a key component of regional capacity building. The regions are best placed to identify and respond to their country’s training needs, foster standardized practices among close neighbors and trading partners, and form links among Customs officials from neighbouring countries. And, of course, we can do more with our resources by working together than we can do individually.

The proposal to establish a RTC in Fiji is in line with FRCA’s strategic vision to be a leading revenue collection and border management agency and helping other Pacific Islands Countries (PICs) towards international best practice in Customs matters.

Training and training methodologies vary widely globally depending on the cultural dynamic of the society they serve.  Given that the OCO Secretariat is already located in Fiji, the launch of the RTC today would further enhance the development of Customs administration in the Pacific region, through the delivery of regionally relevant and adapted training and training services.

We also know of the huge challenges faced by Customs administrations today.

We live in a world in which trade has been revolutionized and our ability to move goods quickly and efficiently from one country to another must constantly catch up to the volume of trade. The proliferation of trade agreements means that we must constantly modernize and co-ordinate amongst neighbouring countries.  The changing nature of global production, with growing trade in intermediate goods and inputs, underscore the importance of having efficient customs administration at every stage of trade.

Certainly, trade in the Pacific region is on the rise, for all of us. My Government has been actively engaged with the international community in order to strengthen trading and formal diplomatic links, and has recently opened new embassies in South Africa, Brazil, and Korea, and will soon send a mission to the United Arab Emirates.

In our endeavor to boost trade, Fiji has also been negotiating Double Tax Agreements with a number of countries.

All of this presents challenges, particularly for developing countries. One of the main ones is the need to eliminate obstacles to moving goods across borders quickly, reliably and cheaply.  In most of the developing countries, the border control procedures have not kept pace with the changing trading environment.

There is also a great deal of unpredictability, partly because of a lack of automation and insufficient use of information technology. Modernization of Customs and other Government agencies and co-operation among them, are critical.

Customs administrations in developing countries are struggling to meet these constantly increasing demands and the new priorities being placed on them, and they urgently need to embrace reform and modernization.  This means an equally aggressive and permanent campaign to simplify and harmonize customs procedures, which will be the key to facilitating trade.

This also means, Ladies and Gentlemen, a campaign against corruption and fraud. We must not only put in place modern customs laws, but we must also diligently ensure compliance with those laws. Customs Officials are at the front line of revenue collection- they are our representatives at the borders. If they fail to uphold high standards and diligently perform their duties, they bleed the country of tax dollars that can be used to build hospitals, schools and roads.  We need to ensure that a system is in place where any sort of dishonest or fraudulent behavior is detected and reported, so that it can be met with the full force of the law to let it be known that we are serious about operating in a corruption-free environment.

In Fiji, we are aware that there are short-comings. That there is an opportunity to increase the efficiency and improve the organisation of our customs procedures. That there is a need for the Customs Authority to understand that it does not operate in isolation. That the failure to perform their duties effectively in a short amount of time can have a damaging knock-on effect in the economy.

Therefore, it is clear that this training centre is about much more than training Customs officials. Customs modernization is important precisely because it makes trade easier. And if it makes trade easier, it helps economies grow. And when economies grow more people work and prosper.

We are small, island countries that live by trade and that must expand trade in order to live better. We all are called on to play our part—Government, business, ordinary citizens, and you.

Customs officials, through this RTC, your governments and the WCO and OCO have committed to provide you with the tools you need to do what is needed: to modernize, to co-operate, to find creative uses for technology. And in the end, with those tools, you will help build the modern economy of this region. You will help build an integrated regional economy that creates opportunities for our children and encourages them to stay here and build prosperous lives.

I call on you also to remember that you do not work in isolation. You are part of a larger system and a larger process.

In Fiji, in the past, there has been a trend amongst certain sectors and certain groups to remain confined only to those forums that are seen to be directly relevant to them.

Ladies and Gentlemen, reform and development must be broad and encompass all areas of society. Reform in one area can be easily undermined or undone if it is not met by reform in other areas. In order to achieve comprehensive reform, all of us must adopt a wide vision and a broad focus. We must, each of us, see the big picture.

Because reform, Ladies and Gentlemen, is not simply a top-down process. Yes, it can start that way by establishing the appropriate frameworks and structures, such as the economic, electoral, and constitutional reforms put in place by my Government.

But reform must also be a bottom-up process. In order to truly penetrate to the very core of a society, it requires broad participation and active engagement by all. From all backgrounds. From all areas. From all professions. Young and old, women and men alike.

With those words, I wish the Regional Training Centre well, and it is with great pleasure that I declare the RTC officially open.

Thank you and vinaka vakalevu.