As he opens WCO-WCA Directors General Conference
By Omar Bah
President Adama Barrow has renewed his government’s commitment towards customs digitalisation as he address the Conference of Directors General of World Customs Organisation West and Central Africa Region being hosted at the Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara Conference Centre. The meeting is being attended by senior government functionaries, international customs experts, and members of the business community yesterday.
The president also appealed for more support from the WCO to help the GRA complete its transformation agenda.
“We are looking forward to receiving more assistance as we seek to modernise our customs services which calls for imploring new techniques and utilising the latest information and communication technology tools,” he said.
The president commended the management of GRA for hosting such distinguished personalities in The Gambia when the country is seeking for solutions.
He said the theme of the conference is quite captivating and thought provoking and mirrors the aspirations of the African continent to strengthen the south-south cooperation for self-reliance and the attainment of “our development goals”.
“With the creation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area by the African Union, the need to share knowledge continues to increase by the day.
Through cooperation, African customs administrations can work together more efficiently and effectively to deliver better resources. Indeed, cooperation is a sure means for developing and applying joint solutions to remove barriers that hinders progress as we seek to fully integrate our economies. I implore you all to carve ways for fostering cooperation and the culture of sharing perspective. We recognise the crucial role customs plays in promoting economic growth and ensuring national security and facilitating international trade,” the president said. He commended the WCO for providing tremendous support to the GRA over the years through technical support and capacity building which has improved the efficacy of the authority.
Finance Minister Seedy Keita told the gathering that the growing dynamics of the international trade and activities only made it imperative for nurturing the next generation of customs officers through promotion of a culture of knowledge sharing that will establish a knowledge base culture and professionalism in customs organisations.
“It is important for many reasons, first among which are the young custom officers often possess general strength but, in most cases, custom duties require specific skills, knowledge and knowhow hence the reason for continuous learning, knowledge sharing and peer learning to mitigate cross border revenue losses and secondly revenue systems are considered to be one of the most dynamic systems as they are transnational activities. Therefore, a forward-looking attitude anchored on the exchange with actors engaged in cross border trade as well as service providers and academia is the only sustainable means for converting these crimes and nurture the next generation of professional customs officers to detect, mitigate and provide the necessary safeguards,” he said.
Minister Keita encouraged customs organisations to enhance processes and methodologies for knowledge management, transfer of skills and to work with the World Customs Organisation to form a group of Eminent Persons to spearhead this transformational agenda as a sustainable change management.
“It will allow customs administrators to attract and attain talent as well as inculcate a sense of professional pride in customs officers. This will ultimately advance customs cooperation of revenue administration, national security and trade facilitation,” he said.
He said The Gambia remains fully committed to the transformation and modernisation of the general tax administration systems in which the customs administration is a central pillar.
GRA Commissioner General Yankuba Darboe said the conference will focus on exploring innovative ways to strengthen cooperation and collaboration among various customs administrations.
“Through collaboration, we can find innovative solutions to our common problems, improve our operational efficiency, and promote greater transparency and trust between customs and the business community. As we advocate for more collaboration and knowledge sharing among our various customs administrations, we must also focus on nurturing the next generation of customs officers. We must provide them with the necessary tools and resources to succeed, including access to training and development programs, mentorship opportunities, and exposure to international best practices,” CG Darboe said.
Dr Kunio Mikuriya, the secretary general of the World Customs Organisation (WCO) expressed satisfaction with The Gambia Government’s political commitment towards supporting the GRA.
“This is important to ensure the authority lives up to expectations during these crucial times of global economic challenges. I also commend the GRA Commissioner General for his commitment and dedication. This is why we brought a lot of experts here to ensure that we share ideas and good practices. The WCO places great emphasis on training and building the capacities of our member states and we are committed to continue supporting the Africa Free Trade Agreement and integration process which is important,” he said.
He said the WCO is also moving towards digitalisation to ensure stronger policies and guidelines that would help customs organisations to be able to realise their potentials.
“There is a growing focus on Africa because of its young generation and the opportunities that come with it. This is why we need to invest in capacity building of the young generation,” he said
Nigeria’s Comptroller General of Customs and vice chair of the WCO-WCA retired Col Hameed Ibrahim Ali calls for concerted efforts to address the insurgency, insecurity, economic crisis, incomplete digitalisation of customs processes, poor infrastructure, non-compliance to customs regulations and procedures by traders and inadequate capacity building among others that continue to affect the role of customs officers in Africa.