Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) Commissioner for Customs Dicksons Kateshumbwa tells Julius Barigaba about his new role as chairman of the World Customs Organisation Council.
It has been a month since you were elected chairman of the World Customs Organisation Council. What does this mean for Uganda and the continent at large?
This is the first time an African country is chairing the Council, in the 67 years of its existence. And Uganda takes that honour. It’s a vote of confidence in us as a country, having beat the rest of the world including strong contenders like Russia.
This gives us confidence to do more because the world is watching us. This position has put us on the global stage. Therefore it comes with many positives for Uganda — the country’s image, tourism, opportunity to link exporters and grow our exports.
The WCO processes 98 per cent of global trade. So we can use this to boost our exports and general trade with other countries as well as grow the capacity of our staff.
How do you juggle WCO duties and your job at the Uganda Revenue Authority?
I will be chairing the WCO Policy Commission twice a year and the WCO meeting, which is like the annual general meeting, once a year.
That is not difficult. I have an office in Brussels, but there are events that will require my presence so I once in a while I will need to travel.
What’s your vision as chairman of the Council?
My first task is to implement the WCO strategic plan 2019-2022, which includes goals like trade facilitation, capacity building, managing supply chains and gender trade.
I want to enforce a harmonised system that classifies all products globally. The current one is complicated. We need to review and simplify it for traders to understand.
I intend to promote trade, trade facilitation and women in trade. I also want to use this position to increase intra-Africa trade. Finally, I intend to increase capacity building for developing countries.
You keep referring to Africa and the developing countries. Doesn’t that make you a biased chairman?
No, it doesn’t. I am bringing everyone on board. My approach is to be inclusive and encourage countries that are quiet to participate because we now have a bigger voice.
While developed countries look at borders in terms of export opportunities, developing nations continue to face challenges such as inadequate trade facilitation that would help to boost exports. This is why the developing world accounts for only 35-40 per cent of global exports.
Trade facilitation is a term often cited as the magic bullet for trade. How would you rate it with regard to trade in Africa?
For Africa, it’s not good. The level of intra-Africa trade is below 15 per cent. Compare that with Asia’s which is over 60 per cent.
This is because we have dysfunctional connectivity. Colonial borders for example create barriers to trade. We can’t trade among ourselves as a continent; to go to West Africa you first have to go to Europe.
The World Trade Organisation Trade Facilitation Agreement which seeks to speed up the movement of goods entered into force two years ago. It’s a good agreement, but the next step is implementation.
If fully implemented, this agreement will reduce the cost of doing business globally by 14.3 per cent because you then have systems in place that allow simplified Customs procedures to expedite the movement and clearance of goods. Once this is done, Uganda for example, should be able to take its goods to Ghana before Europe.
What is the state of Customs operations in Uganda?
We are making good progress. We have undertaken many reforms over the past 10 years, with many initiatives like the regional cargo tracking, we have upgraded Customs systems, established a one-roof 24 hour centre, and opened five one-stop border posts (Malaba, Busia, Mutukula, Mirama Hills and Elegu).
We are implementing the Single Customs Territory and automated all agencies. We have conducted auctions and facilitated women traders. We have installed scanners and managed compliance. What this means is that we are fighting smuggling relentlessly, and which translates into increased revenue for the country.
As a sign of the progress and reforms in Customs management, a number of countries including Nigeria, East Timor, Zambia, Ethiopia and Lesotho have come to benchmark our operations.
Are you succeeding in eliminating smuggling?
Smuggling will never be eliminated, and our objective is not to eliminate it but to suppress it, which we have done.
For example we have suppressed smuggling in form of round tripping on Lake Albert. Boats used to cross the lake pretending to deliver Congo-bound cargo, only to return and dump goods in Uganda. This, we have eliminated.