Suva, Fiji, September 12, 2021– The newly appointed chairperson of the Oceania Customs Organisation (OCO), Xavier Mitchell is your typical islander with a great love for fishing, in particular game fishing.
But what many would not know is that the head of Cook Islands Customs Service and Inland Revenue also has a passion for the adrenaline rush of drag racing and American muscle cars.
The father of three has set his eyes on acquiring a 1968 Dodge Charger if his wife, Erin will allow him. However, for now he is driven to lead the Cook Islands Customs Service and the OCO through one of the most trying times our region and the world has faced.
What is the best part of your job?
Being able to make a real difference in driving the strategic direction of Cook Islands Customs Service and Inland Revenue, and leading continuous improvement of the division to strengthen everything we do. This starts with developing our people which is very important for me. Our people are committed to their work and they are very proud that they can make a difference in the country through their roles in revenue collection, trade facilitation and border security. The best part of this job is seeing our people continuously developing their skills and together we are making a difference in the various roles we carry out.
What is your vision for the Cook Islands’ Customs Service and Inland Revenue?
About two years ago, we collectively created a vision statement which is to “become the leading customs and tax administration in the region”. We have set an extremely high benchmark and vision of where we see ourselves in the future. However, I am proud to say that we have made great progress over the past few years and have no doubt this is something we can achieve.
How has COVID-19 changed the way your customs administration operates?
We have been lucky as we have received increased support from the New Zealand Customs Service throughout the pandemic.
However, in terms of revenue collection, we have had to be more flexible and consider that people are under increased financial pressures due to the impacts of the pandemic.
We have also increased our collaboration with other agencies here in the Cook Islands and across the region, obviously in preparation for the opening of our borders and operating under the “new normal”. This involved creating new ways of working and standard operating procedures at all our points of entry. The focus of the new procedures were legislative and other requirements that were necessary following the arrival of the pandemic.
What are some of the critical challenges Cook Islands Customs Service and Inland Revenue faces apart from the COVID-19 pandemic?
Like other small Customs organisations across the Pacific, we have a smaller staff number, but we must still cater for all aspects of Customs – trade facilitation, revenue collection and border security – all of these amidst the ongoing impacts and threats of COVID-19. We still need to carry out all the work larger customs organisations do but do so with limited staffing.
Other work like upgrading our Customs systems must also continue despite the pandemic and the challenges it brings. Our current system is about 15 years old and nearing its useful life, so it is time for an upgrade. Having the Automated Systems for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) World is crucial for us to carry out our role in trade facilitation and we are thankful for the PACER Plus funding support from Australia and New Zealand.
If you were not the head of Customs, what would be your ideal job?
I am not sure what I would do. But in saying that, I would probably be an entrepreneur. My wife has started a few businesses and I think would create an online start up business. I love the idea of creating something from an idea and turning it into a successful business.
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.