Suva, Fiji, October 28, 2021– It’s almost a year since Mr. David Towe was appointed as the Chief Commissioner of Papua New Guinea (PNG) Customs Service. Mr. Towe, a holder of a master’s degree in International Law and Customs Administration, started his professional career as a Customs officer in 2000 working up the ranks and eventually was appointed as Deputy Commissioner in 2011. His decision to leave PNG Customs Service in 2012 to join the private sector has given him valuable experiences which he believes is helping him in his role as the leader of PNG Customs Service. The nature of his work keeps him very busy, however, Chief Commissioner Towe always prioritizes to spend time with his family at home or in their church and providing community service.
What is the best part of this job, which has drawn you back from the private sector?
When I left PNG Customs Service about nine years ago, it gave me an opportunity to view business from the private sector perspective. I did not really leave Customs work as my new role evolved around taxes, the laws, and the illicit tobacco trade. The opportunity gave me an insight into what needed to be done to support the private sector in a resilient and sustainable way so that they can pay taxes to the government- to create a level playing field for every taxpayer to comply with the laws.
Having seen and experienced the issues the private sector faced, being appointed as the Chief Commissioner offered the opportunity to drive the changes and solutions needed to serve our customers well, and more importantly to make PNG Customs Service a better, modernized and more effective organization. I am motivated to drive PNG Customs Service to become a world class leader in terms of modernization. PNG Customs Service is one of the most modernized government sector agencies in PNG and I foresee opportunities for further development to be a more efficient and effective Customs administration.
What is your vision for PNG Customs?
My vision for PNG Customs Service is to continue to deliver on its mandated role which is trade facilitation, border security, community protection and revenue collection using appropriate modern technologies.
In the first six months since my appointment, my priority was to focus on strengthening the foundation of the organization which included looking at the loopholes in our systems and procedures, fixing them and making sure that all our compliance mechanisms are in place for us to effectively deliver our organization objectives.
We looked at all our relevant Customs procedures and processes, compliance mechanisms, targeting and profiling, intelligence led risk management, cargo processes, investigations processes, prosecution, and revenue collection. So far, we are doing well, and we now have streamlined processes. We have been able to plug the loopholes in the system and our compliance level has increased significantly in the last six months to date.
With a stronger foundation, we have also spent the last six months reviewing our corporate plan and to decide on what will be the strategic direction or goal of PNG Customs in the next five to 10 years.
As a leader, it is important that your team shares your vision. Great leaders produce great things and great results – our senior management team have had leadership workshops that will equip us in mapping the future direction of PNG Customs Service. I believe we are ready as a team with the same vision to set PNG Customs Services to where we think it should be in the future at the same time embracing international best practices.
How has COVID-19 affected PNG Customs?
Like elsewhere, COVID-19 has impacted our operations. Trade inflows and outflows have consequently decreased, and this has in turn affected our revenue collections. While the volume of trade has decreased, we still need to maintain our revenue collection target. We have strengthened our compliance audits which is helping to offset the reduction in revenue collection.
When I came on board, I noticed there was limited focus on the red lane entries. We have now strengthened our profiling and targeting of imports and improved our intelligence and more importantly improved compliance.
Whilst the revenue has declined due to the decline in trade, there has been an increase in compliance.
We have also executed our Business Continuity Plan (BCP) during the global pandemic ensuring that business continues whilst our officers are well protected. We have embarked on the practice of contactless interaction with officers and traders at the ports of entries. We try as much as possible to limit the exposure of our team to COVID-19.
What are some of the other critical challenges faced by PNG Customs?
We have had issues with staff shortage. This year, we have been able to recruit 50 people into areas that are critical to our operations.
We have also identified the need to train our existing and new staff on skills that are critical to them fulfilling their respective roles as Customs officers.
We also need to improve our resources – we are looking at building a second container examination facility in one of the major ports of operations.
We still need to work towards having a robust system, removing duplications and overlaps to be more effective.
We need to improve our governance mechanisms, removing complacency, corrupt practices such as collusion with importers so that we collect the appropriate taxes that are due to the State.
Overall, we must be transparent, resilient, efficient, and effective to maintain the confidence of our customers – the private sector, the supply chain stakeholders and the wider public.
If you were not the head of Customs, what would be your ideal job?
My view is that once you become a Customs officer, you remain one – you cannot go away until you die. I am and will always be a Customs officer.
For more information, queries, or interview requests, please email MediaOCO@ocosec.org
About OCO: OCO is a grouping of 23 customs administrations in the Pacific region. It facilitates regional cooperation, information sharing and capacity building of its members with the overall target of supporting economic growth and improved border security in the Pacific.