Q&A with Samoa's Customs boss

By Shalveen Chand 03 April 2024, 4:30PM

Meet Fonoti Talaitupu Lia Taefu, the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Customs and Revenue, whose journey in Customs began in January 2003 as a Post Compliance Audit Officer in the Samoa Customs Department.

Over the years, she has progressed through various roles, culminating in her appointment as CEO in April 2023. Despite facing challenges and the perception of Customs as a male-dominated field, Talaitupu remained determined and committed. In this interview, she shares insights into her professional journey and the challenges and opportunities for women in leadership roles in Customs.

Here is a set of questions and answers with Fonoti done by the Oceania Customs Organisation.

Can you share the journey that led you to your current leadership position in Customs in the Pacific?

My journey in Customs began in January 2003 when I joined the Samoa Customs Department as a Post Compliance Audit Officer. Over the years, I progressed through various roles, including Training Manager, Principal Tax Officer, and Assistant Chief Executive Officer. In 2020, I was promoted to Deputy CEO - Customs, and in 2023, I became the CEO of the Ministry of Customs and Revenue. consecutive terms until I was promoted to the role of Deputy CEO – Customs role in the year 2020.   I was appointed to the current position of CEO for the Ministry of Customs and Revenue in April 2023. This journey spanned 21 years, with more than 12 years in management and leadership roles. It was not always smooth sailing, but I faced challenges with determination and commitment, eventually finding my place in this male-dominated field.

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing women in leadership roles in Customs?

Being recruited to Customs under the government direct placement program for returning scholars was not easy. One of the biggest challenges I faced was the perception of Customs as a male-dominated field. It was difficult to fit in, especially considering my lack of experience initially. I applied to a number of Customs technical positions but never succeeded.  Despite facing rejection and negative opinions, I remained determined and eventually earned my place. It takes perseverance and a strong commitment to overcome such challenges in this field.

How do you promote diversity and inclusion within your organisation?

Gender equality and encouraging women to be more open-minded about Customs roles and functions is key to promoting diversity and inclusion in our organisation.  We have a Women in Customs group where women discuss related issues in the workplace and challenges faced by women in our workplace, and the drive for inclusion has been made easy with the government’s efforts and push for gender equality.  I believe that when governments prioritise gender equality and the inclusion of women in leadership roles, this is the best strategy that I know will ensure women are inspired to lead in the Pacific.

What advice would you give to young women aspiring to leadership positions in Customs or related fields?

My advice to the young and female officers is, “Be yourself and challenge yourself to be better! We can do it together and find inspiration in yourselves to lead for a better future in Customs.” 

By Shalveen Chand 03 April 2024, 4:30PM
Samoa Observer

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