WHEN it comes to the ins and outs of Customs work, Robert Taylor is the man who would probably know a lot about the way things work having spent over four decades in the profession.
The former head of the Oceania Customs Organisation Secretariat in Suva recently joined a group of consultants working towards improving Customs law in Palau by developing a draft legislation that integrated various components of border protection, security, trade and travel among other issues.
Speaking to The Fiji Times about his work, Mr Taylor says he went straight into the workforce a fresh-faced 17-year-old from college.
Originally from Thames Valley in New Zealand, Mr Taylor remembers the day he joined as if it were yesterday.
"It was at the beginning of 1966 when I joined Customs in Wellington," he says.
"In fact, I phoned the office in the Bay of Plenty but the Customs officer at the time said he'd just taken his cadet for the year.
"He told me if I was keen that I should try the Wellington office.
"I rang the Wellington office on a Friday morning and they told me to start the following Monday.
"So that was me joining Customs as a 17-year-old straight out of college.
"In those days, it was a requirement to be on probation for two years before our appointment was confirmed so I was on probation for two years.
"Throughout my career, I've worked in a wide range of Customs functions.
"I've got a fairly good background on law enforcement and in more recent times, I was heavily engaged in Customs law reform in New Zealand."
Mr Taylor says his interests lie in helping out wherever possible and strengthening Customs ability to administer its roles and responsibilities effectively. He says being involved in the field is a privilege he finds very gratifying.
Of course there are challenges to be expected when bordering on the frontline of international and regional trade.
"One of the challenges for Customs is the volume of trade and travel," Mr Taylor says.
"When you examine statistics over the years, you'll see on the graph that it goes upwards.
"Take Fiji for example. I'm sure tourism has grown significantly here since the 1980s.
"Sometimes the resources available for customs don't correspond with that of the growth of trade and travel.
"Customs has to be a lot more clever in the way it goes about its work.
"You'll hear terminology like applying a risk management strategy.
"We can't intervene with every group, every person or every craft, so we say we'll risk assess through getting advanced information and determine where we'll need to make an intervention — that's about risk management.
"Otherwise if we looked at everything, it would really impede trade.
"I don't think travellers will be very happy queuing up at the Nadi International Airport for two hours when they've only been on a two-hour flight from some destination.
"We have to look at smart ways to improve processes and practices, continuously lobby our government to get equipment and resources we need to do our job.
"The world has changed, people's expectations are they don't want to have barriers put their way, they want speed-it-up processes — there's a huge move towards technology and tech solutions to deal with some Customs in place."
Mr Taylor says every day on the job brings new experiences, one rewarding in particular is the minute he apprehends an offender.
"There's an expression, it takes a thief to catch a thief.
"I don't consider myself to be a thief but it's like being a policeman.
"How would I do something, what am I doing about identifying how I would do it, how are others doing it and how would I go about catching them?
"Those are some of the questions I work around.
"While we are sitting here talking, there are people out there looking to exploit weaknesses.
"What we want to do is close those loopholes," he said.
Mr Taylor was head of the Oceania Customs Organisation Secretariat from 2006 to 2008.
He retired at the end of 2008, went back to New Zealand and returned to Fiji in March the following year.
With approximately 43 years of service with Customs, Mr Taylor has seen membership in the regional customs organisation grow to include 24 countries, the latest to join being Timor Leste.
He says in the initial stages, the regional customs organisation started in Fiji with a secretariat of six staff.
Today, 21 staff members are based at the Suva office, handling and offering support towards member countries.
"My personal interest is seeing how we can assist the region in capacity building — that's one of the key areas of focus — helping its membership with technical assistance and capacity building," Mr Taylor says.
"The whole issue is that most people think of Customs as revenue collectors only but they don't think about our other responsibilities for combating things like trafficking.
"In fact there is an expectation that Customs being a frontline at the border will have in place mechanisms to deal with organised crime or the threat of terrorism.
"It (terrorism) has happened in our region before. It happened in New Zealand in 1985 with the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior."
Mr Taylor says his background in Customs legislation reforms includes working for the New Zealand Customs service.
He was leader of a team that took the New Zealand Customs Bill through parliament in 2004.
"That was our response then to the issues around 9/11 and the subsequent events such as supply chain security and the likes.
"Customs is often seen as a somewhat mysterious organisation and a lot of people don't recognise the breadth or work that Customs do.
"You have a picture of Customs officers at airports, searching people's bags and collecting duty, some maybe entering and clearing locks, they also collect domestic taxes which are also described as excise taxes on stuff like beer, wine, spirits and fuel for example if it's manufactured domestically; so Customs doesn't just operate at the border but beyond the border."
Mr Taylor says work in Customs like any other job should be enjoyable.
"I would encourage anybody wishing to join Customs to do so. With my 40 years plus experience, I enjoyed every day on the job," he says.
"It's an interesting career and a very rewarding one as well."