The World Customs Organisation (WCO), known as the Customs Cooperation Council until 1994, is not as well known as the World Trade Organisation (WTO). This is odd, since the WCO was founded on January 26, 1952, while the WTO was founded several decades later – on January 1, 1995.
Part of the reason for this could be that, although it was not immediately formalised into an institution, the WTO has been around in ‘spirit’ through the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which was signed on October 30, 1947, and took effect on January 1, 1948. If it was not for the withdrawal of US support, January 1, 1947, would have the founding date of the International Trade Organisation (ITO). Ironically, the US is threatening the very existence of the WTO.
The ITO would have completed the trilogy of international organisations, the other two being the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which is better known as the World Bank and was founded in 1944 (the exact date is unknown), and the International Monetary Fund, which is better known by its acronym – IMF – and was founded on December 27, 1945.
Although the WTO is better known than the WCO, it has only 164 members (member countries), compared with the WCO’s 182 members (customs administrations). I have an affinity for the WCO, since it is the domain of the subject matter specialist, while the WTO is the domain of politicians.
In keeping with its commitment, the WCO’s secretary-general has invited applications for its seventy-ninth fellowship programme, which runs from September 23 to November 1. The application deadline is May 24. The fellowship programme is an integral part of the WCO’s Leadership and Management Development Programme. It aims to invest in middle managers with high potential and develop their abilities, skills and knowledge to ensure that they can actively participate in their administration’s reform and modernisation processes and in ongoing organisational development initiatives under the WCO Capacity Building Programme.
You might recall that, a few years ago, the WCO’s Capacity Building Directorate was headed by a South African. This is a very important directorate, with responsibility for the development of customs services globally through the implementation of WCO conventions, guidelines and tools. While on the topic, when next will a South African head one of the WCO’s three directorates: Tariff and Trade Affairs, Compliance and Facilitation, and Capacity Building?
The fellowship programme should be a stepping stone for South Africans. It would be interesting to see how many of its specialists the South African Revenue Service will recommend for participation. The fellowship programme forms part of the Leadership and Management Development Programme and WCO’s initiatives to develop member administrations’ management capacities. Its aim is to assist customs administrations with their organisational development by equipping managers, selected on the basis of their potential for development within their administrative structure, with the technical knowledge and capacities required for their administration’s reform and modernisation activities.
The fellowship programme has been run since 1985, with two taking place each year, one in English and the other in French. A Spanish version was first offered in November 2010.
The fellowship programme lasts six weeks, with the first week entailing the study of the WCO secretariat’s activities, as well as its conventions and legal international instruments. During the second week, participants attend the Leadership and Management Development workshop, while, during the third and fourth weeks, they work with their tutor on their chosen area of study and prepare a research paper. During the fifth and sixth weeks, a study trip to a national administration is undertaken, during which participants observe customs operations.
To date, almost 900 officers from 142 countries have participated in the fellowship programme. The WCO states that “a significant number of fellows have subsequently been appointed as Ministers, directors-general, deputy directors-general and to other senior positions”. It would be interesting to know how many South Africans are fellows and the success they have gone on to achieve.