Successful national workshop to assist Tonga Customs in enhancing its disaster preparedness

03 October 2022

The WCO COVID-19 Project, funded by the Government of Japan, organized a five-day workshop in Nukuʻalofa, Tonga from 12 to 16 September 2022 to assist Tonga Customs in enhancing its preparedness to face natural disasters through the drafting of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the clearance of relief consignments.

This is the second capacity-building activity held as part of the Project for Tonga and follows on from the online workshop conducted in August 2022, which was dedicated to assessing the response to the tsunami that hit the island in January 2022.

The in-person workshop brought together over 30 participants representing Customs, the National Emergency Management Office, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Trade, the Ministry of Agriculture, airport and port authorities, and humanitarian actors.

During the opening ceremony, the Chief Executive Officer of Tonga Customs, Mr. Kelemete Vahe, expressed his appreciation for the WCO’s assistance to his Administration and thanked the Government of Japan for financially supporting the COVID-19 Project. He went on to underscore the role played by Customs in disaster response and encouraged participants to gain the maximum benefit from this capacity-building activity.

Prior to the SOP drafting sessions, participants took part in focused discussions on the WCO instruments and tools of relevance to disaster relief and ways to implement them at the national level. The WCO experts highlighted the crucial role that SOPs play in streamlining Customs procedures and processes and how they enhance the operational readiness of Customs staff.

Participants’ active involvement in working groups to draft SOPs helped produce an initial outline of a holistic tool that further refines roles and procedures with a view to facilitating the processing of relief consignments. The workshop concluded with a scenario-based discussion exercise to test the SOPs’ robustness by going through the key topics, including the establishment of a list of essential and relief goods, coordination mechanisms, and cooperation with other government agencies.

Finally, and importantly, the workshop underlined the key role of Customs in managing disruptions and the perspective of humanitarian actors alongside the operational challenges they are facing, providing a platform to unite efforts and strengthen cooperation among disaster management stakeholders in Tonga.