Suva, Fiji, September 13, 2021– On weekends you will find John Tarkong Jr either out at sea fishing or in his “rest home” away from the noise and the hustles and bustles of city life, probably strumming his guitar and singing a note or two over a few beers. Sometimes he is just building things around the home. The father of two sons and a daughter is the head of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection in Palau, a role he has had for over two decades.
What is the best part of your job?
In my first heads of Customs meeting, I remember being the youngest and now I feel like I am one of the oldest. Over the years, I have met a lot of people and I have been able to learn a lot and there is still so much to learn. I enjoy working with people and it gives me great pleasure to see my staff grow, to work with them and resolve issues and tackle challenges together. I feel like I am more of a mentor to my staff.
What is your vision for the Bureau?
Our vision is to do our best in having a secure and safe border, which has become critical during COVID-19. While things have changed during the pandemic, our vision has not changed.
How has COVID-19 impacted the Bureau?
Like many Customs administrations, COVID-19 has impacted us as well. We are now moving from “safe border” to “open border”, which necessitates several measures to be in place. If you are travelling to Palau, you need to be fully vaccinated or otherwise you must have a negative COVID-19 test. In the absence of both, we will impose a 14-day quarantine. As we open our borders, we need to have necessary procedures in place and more importantly we need to keep our own front liners safe. We also must learn to work with other border agencies such as the Ministry of Health to ensure we have a collaborated approach at the border. And we have also had continuing challenges such as yachts arriving unannounced.
Apart from COVID-19, what are the other critical challenges faced by the Bureau?
In 2015 Customs was reorganized from a Division to the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection and this year, the Immigration and Biosecurity became part of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection. We have many agencies serving at the border and each with their own processes and requirements. Our challenge is to streamline the requirements and processes. We need reforms and updating of our processes, regulations, and legislations. We also need to automate our processes and better integrate as border agencies. All these will take a bit of time.
If you were not the head of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, what would be your ideal job?
As I am nearing retirement in a few years’ time, I am beginning to think of what sort of jobs I would like to occupy myself with. Ideally, I would like to turn some of my passions into money making ventures- I love fishing, working with cars and building things. I will probably go into construction. Or probably become a consultant to share my knowledge and expertise in Palau and in the region.
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.