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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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WCO-WCA DGs Conference recommends regional cooperation

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The World Customs Secretary General, GRA Commissioner General, senior regional and international customs and finance experts were among a glittering array of high-profile delegates at the just concluded 29th Conference of Directors General of World Customs Organisation West and Central Africa Region.

The Banjul conference opened by the audit and finance experts meeting was attended by Directors General and delegates from The Gambia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic Congo, Republic of Congo, Chad, Niger, Cameroun, Benin, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, Mauritania, Ivory Coast, Guinea Conakry, Togo and the Central African Republic was organised under the theme; “Nurturing the next generation by promoting a culture of knowledge sharing and professional pride in customs”. 

Gambian President Adama Barrow who delivered the opening speech last Thursday challenged the Directors General to consider capacity building of the young generation and customs digitalisation as a top priority.

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During the Conference, the Directors General reviewed and discussed the border challenges affecting West and Central African countries, progress in the Region, Customs modernisation, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), capacity building needs and recommended for greater regional cooperation from member states to address the region’s border security challenges. 

The conference also discussed ways on how to take advantage of the region’s untapped potentials to improve on areas of governance such as performance and impact measurement. This is expected to enhance effective and efficient utilisation of regional entities in collaboration with their stakeholders at the various levels of operations to achieve the sustainability of its objectives.

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Speaking to journalists shortly after bidding farewell to his guests, the Gambia Revenue Authority Commissioner General Yankuba Darboe said the Banjul Conference has put much emphasis on digitalisation, border security and capacity building.

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“All the member states agreed that we need to prioritise digitalisation of our systems to create more efficiency in terms of revenue collection. We also discussed the issue of capacity building and the WCO-WCA were urged to prioritise supporting member states to build the capacity of their staff to be able to collect more revenue. The conference also discussed in detail and with seriousness the issues of the continent’s porous borders and the challenges that surround them in terms of security,” he said.

He said discussions were also centered around the governance structures of the various customs administrations and the problems they face and how to address them.

“The experts were able to provide a holistic overview of the different governing structures of the various customs administrations for the Directors General and recommendations were made on how we can address these issues,” he said. CG Darboe said member countries were also encouraged to close ranks and address the challenges they face.

Elections

CG Darboe disclosed that Nigeria’s Comptroller General of Customs Hameed Ibrahim Ali was re-elected as the vice chair of the WCO-WCA while The Gambia Revenue Authority’s Director of Accounting and Finance Alhagie Saikou Denton was also re-elected as chair of the WCO-WCA Finance and Audit Committee which Senegal serves as a member.

Next host

He said Mali has been elected to host the 2024 WCO-WCA Directors General Conference while the Democratic Republic Congo will host the 2025 event.

In conclusion, Commissioner General Darboe commended the Gambian media for their support.

“I want to take this opportunity to also thank President Adama Barrow for taking time from his busy schedule to open this conference which attracted over 24 Directors General with their delegations. It has a lot of benefits for the country in terms of its image and economically given the amount of expenditure they made during their stay. So, I really want to thank the government, the minister of finance and all the other ministries who collaborated with us to make this meeting a success. It was a huge task to bring these people here, especially the WCO Secretary General, IMF and experts from the United States and other countries around the world,” he said.

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This, he added, demonstrates that people around the world have built trust in the GRA and his administration who raised the authority’s monthly collection from D100 million to D1.5 billion thanks to the digitalisation initiatives it implemented.  He commended his staff for their support to make the hosting of the conference a great success.

The World Customs Organisation (WCO) Secretary General Dr Kunio Mikuriya said the conference has discussed important policy matters and shared best practices under a good atmosphere provided by the GRA and the Gambian people. He commended the Gambian leader for taking time from his busy schedules to attend the opening ceremony.

“The presence of the president at the opening ceremony demonstrated his commitment to supporting customs modernisation and reforms and also his support for the West and Central Africa Regional Trade Agreement. The 24 Directors General who attended the meeting were impressed with the commitment of the president and that facilitated discussions among the members,” he added.

Appeal for support

Commenting on President Barrow’s direct appeal for the WCO to increase its support to the GRA to assist the authority in its transformation agenda, Dr Mikuriya said his organisation is aware of the important role The Gambia plays in facilitating trade in the region as an entry point for the African Continent.

“Of course, the WCO supports The Gambia directly in terms of how to use technology, implement global standards to make sure that the country’s economy is well connected with the external players. We are putting more emphasis on investing in young people. In response to the president’s appeal, we are more committed to investing in people and especially the young people in The Gambia and because of that we have been increasing our support through providing scholarships and opportunities for customs officers to come to Brussels to learn. So, I was happy to see that the president was serious about supporting the GRA for the sake of the country,” he said.

Porous borders

Commenting on the issue of the borders, Dr Mikuriya said: “We have observed that some parts of the borders have become fragile in the sense that there are armed forces who are very violent and this has been a trend globally.  So, without that security and stability at borders, customs cannot facilitate legitimate trade or collect revenue so in this sense border security has become crucial,” he added.

He said the role of customs is crucial especially when it comes to deterring traders from trading in drugs or firearms that pose a direct threat to citizens.

“We will continue to make sure that the GRA continues to function well but when it comes to the borders, we have recommended for countries to collaborate and address the continent’s border challenges. Customs should work closely with other security agencies and seek international cooperation because most of the goods imported into The Gambia goes to other countries. Therefore, enhancing major cooperation between these countries is of public interest,” Dr Mikuriya said. The WCO boss also extended commendations to the GRA staff and the Gambian people for the hospitality.

The event was chaired by GRA’s Head of Corporate and Public Affairs Ousman Bah. Delegates were presented with gifts provided by the GRA after the closing ceremony as a symbol of kindness.

Other partners, such as IMF, AFRITAC Central, Ecowas, WCO, Directors of ROCB and Regional Training Centres in Senegal, Burkina Faso, Republic of Congo, and Abuja also attended the conference.

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