Suva, Fiji, 08 March 2021 – In 2019, the OCO held its inaugural Change Management on Gender Equality workshop, which suggested there should be gender equality in all aspects of OCO’s work program. This suggestion was endorsed at the 2020 OCO Annual Conference. In 2020, OCO member countries were encouraged to celebrate International Women’s Day in their own administrations and to share their activities widely. This year, OCO is dedicating the month of March to our women. The Pacific Women in Customs Series is a collection of stories of women who are working in Customs in their various countries and we hope to inspire more women to join this field of work.
Matafeo Avalisa Viali-Fautua’alii has been at the helm of Samoa’s Ministry of Customs and Revenue (MCR) for the fifth year now. Two decades ago, she started at the Ministry as a tax inspector. She is now the CEO and is one of three females that lead a customs administration in the Oceania region.
This is her story.
For the past five years, Avalisa’s biggest challenge has been the overall volume and scope of work of her ministry.
But of course.
The mother of six masterminds revenue collection for the Samoan Government with 212 employees who work in the two departments that make up her Ministry – Customs Services and Inland Revenue Services.
With COVID-19, she needs to balance that role with keeping Samoa’s borders safe from the virus.
“The degree of responsibilities in both departments/ – Customs Services and Inland Revenue Services are highly complex and because of the volume of work on a daily basis, I need to have an effective system in place to ensure that work is completed and on time,” Avalisa says.
“However, it does not mean that I relax- I need to constantly monitor our activities.”
Avalisa pursued her tertiary studies in Fiji at the University of the South Pacific graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Management and Economics in 1992 and joined the Ministry as a tax inspector.
Two years later she was promoted to the senior assessor for Companies Income Tax Assessing Unit and by 1997, Avalisa was the Assistant Commissioner of Income Tax or Assistant CEO. During this period, she pursued and completed a Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting from the National University of Samoa. In the same period, she passed the Final Qualifying Exam of the Samoa Institute of Accountants (‘SIA’) and was admitted as a Chartered Accountant (CA) of the SIA.
Twenty years after joining the Ministry, Avalisa was promoted to Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Inland Revenue, a position she held until 2015 when she was promoted to Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry.
In her tenure as CEO, the Ministry has been able to achieve annual targets and milestones, as well as their commitments and obligations to various regional and international the two divisions, are affiliated to.
“Being members of regional organisations such as the Oceania Customs Organisation, World Customs Organization, and the Pacific Islands Tax Administration is beneficial as they offer capacity building opportunities for our staffs,” she says.
“And this is important as I believe the ministry’s workforce needs to be well qualified, upskilled and well trained, respectful but professional, and possess the much-required integrity to achieve our strategic directions and targets.”
Samoa’s State of Emergency restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way in which the ministry conducts its normal day-to-day operations. With a reduced number of employees on shifts at the airport for incoming repatriation and cargo flights and at the wharf for incoming vessels, there is more time for Customs staff to do targeted intelligence and investigation work.
This has resulted in the Border Operations special team with the assistance of the Joint K9 unit with the Samoa Police Services, intercepting an importation of illicit methamphetamine (‘ice’) and concentrated marijuana seeds with a street value of more than about US500k worth (i.e. about ST$1.4milion).
“The role of Customs has also changed during this pandemic,” Avalisa says. “While we work with regional partners to combat transnational crimes such as the importation of illicit drugs and human trafficking, we also need to use the same resources to prevent COVID-19 from coming into our borders.
“During this pandemic, we have more staff attending virtual workshops, seminars and training during and after official working hours, depending on where the host organization is, and this is critical to keep our staff skilled and alert on global trends.”
Like many working mothers, having a work-life balance is very important to Avalisa.
With husband, Sefo Fautua’alii they are parents to five sons and a daughter aged between 27 years and nine years.
Being of the Laulii and Falefa villages’ Catholic congregation has also allowed her to cope with the rigorous life of being a wife, mother and CEO.
“My Christian values and principles complement my work ethics,” she said. “And I would not be able to achieve all these without the support of my husband and family. My family and the church have been my pillars of strength, helping me overcome the many challenges of this position and enabling me to lead and manage the Samoa Ministry of Customs and Revenue effectively and efficiently.”
Avalisa credits her accomplishments to God.
“Seek God earnestly, and we shall find him in everything that we do,” she adds.
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