Some 1,000 Customs officers have already benefited from the WCO Fellowship Programme
Since its launch in 1985, the WCO Fellowship Programme has run a total series of 80 sessions, enabling 950 participants from 143 Customs administrations in developing countries to acquire sound knowledge on internationally recognized Customs techniques and practices, and to bolster their management capacities in order to develop their administrations’ modernization efforts. Acknowledging the numerous benefits of this Programme, participants flock in ever increasing numbers year on year to enrol on the Programme.
The Programme’s administrators have, over the years, sought to improve it by proposing a format that is more in tune with the concerns and needs of the target administrations. They have, in particular, focused on:
- the development of leadership capacities with a view to endowing Fellows with the knowledge, methods, and processes needed to assist them in becoming responsive managers, and real agents for change in their administrations;
- the relevance of the research work to be undertaken by the Fellows under the supervision of an expert from the WCO Secretariat, ensuring that this work relates to a priority area for their respective administrations, or to particularly important WCO standards or tools (such as data analysis methods or e-commerce standards);
- the level of female participation, which, over the total 35-year period, is approaching 40%;
- participation by the maximum possible number of countries and, in particular, by countries which have not previously benefited from the Programme (for example, Iran and Timor-Leste have recently had the opportunity to participate for the first time in the Programme);
- oversight of the implementation of the recommendations advocated in the Fellows’ research papers by means of a survey reviewing the Programme’s impact on the administrations one year on.
Focusing briefly on this last point, the questionnaire, which is systematically sent out one year after participation in the Programme, allows the benefiting administrations and the Secretariat to assess the Programme’s impact with respect to the implementation of the recommendations resulting from the research carried out and the progression of the Fellows’ careers.
Brendah Mundia, the WCO Deputy Director of Capacity Building, took part in the Fellowship Programme in 2004. Her research paper related to the Revised Kyoto Convention. She explains, “when I went back to my administration, I could then head up the preparations for Zambia’s accession to the Convention, which would take place in 2006. Managing this and many other projects allowed me to come up through the ranks of my administration.”
Analysis of the results of the surveys conducted over the three sessions held in the 2017-2018 financial year has shown that:
- 86% of those surveyed consider that the Fellows make an effective contribution to the modernization of their administration;
- the recommendations have been implemented fully in 21% of administrations and implementation is under way in the others;
- in 93% of cases, the Fellow contributes to the implementation or oversight of the recommendations drawn up with the WCO tutor;
- a broad majority of administrations (93%) acknowledge that participation in the WCO Fellowship Programme has or will have an undeniable impact on the Fellow’s future career.
The Commissioner General of the Gambia Revenue Authority, Yankuba Darboe, was a Fellow in 2008. Responding to a question about his career path, he points out that, “a few months after I got back, I was tasked with managing the Customs Valuation Service. In 2012, I was appointed Deputy Commissioner General of the Gambia Revenue Authority and, in 2015, I was promoted to Commissioner General. The knowledge I acquired during my time at the WCO and the insight I gained, in particular into leadership and management, have certainly helped me on my career path, and are still helping me today.”
Dicksons C. Kateshumbwa, the former Commissioner of Uganda Customs and Chairperson of the WCO Council, provides further testimony: “on my return in 2011, I gathered together the Customs Audit Team that I was in charge of at the time so that we could jointly develop a new vision and mission for our department. This approach revolutionized the way we worked and made it possible for us to set ourselves apart from the rest of the administration. Four years later, in 2015, I was appointed Commissioner of Customs, a dynamic administration which, under my leadership, successfully implemented over 13 major reforms.”
Funding is needed in order to implement the Programme. Travel, accommodation, and other expenses incurred by the Fellows and the trainers overseeing their work are charged to the Secretariat, with generous support provided through donor sponsorship. Without these donors, there would be no Programme and no results. The contributions made are not merely financial ones: some administrations welcome Fellows on study trips at the end of the Programme, allowing them to observe the latest Customs practices in real-life situations.
The overlapping benefits of developing Fellows’ individual qualities, their professional skills, and their plan for modernization are the factors that determine the success and longevity of this Programme. The growing interest of developing countries’ Customs administrations in the Programme demonstrates its undeniable influence on the participants’ careers, and the administration’s path towards modernization. The impact of what may be regarded as a real investment goes beyond the mere growth of individual and organizational performance; the majority of former Fellows even consider themselves more capable of tackling extreme and unexpected situations, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic.
As Yvener Neptune, an agent for change in Haiti Customs and Fellow in 2018, explains, “because of the WCO Fellowship Programme, I learned not to give up in the face of adversity, but to turn the challenges into opportunities. Each of my actions is driven by the same ambition: to build a better Customs.” And we leave the final word to him: “taking part in the Programme gave me renewed hope that our community would have a brighter tomorrow. Long live the Fellowship Programme!”
 The Programme’s current donors are the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Economy and Finance and the Customs Administrations of Japan, France, and the People’s Republic of China. In the past, other financial contributors have included Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, the Netherlands, the Commonwealth, Sweden, Norway, and the United Kingdom.