Business Maverick


SARS commissioner Edward Kieswetter elected chair of World Customs Organization

SARS commissioner Edward Kieswetter elected chair of World Customs Organization
Commissioner of the SA Revenue Service Edward Kieswetter. (Photo: Freddy Mavunda)

Edward Kieswetter is the new chair of the World Customs Organization. His appointment places South Africa again at the centre stage of the global customs industry, with the opportunity to influence best practice standards.

The commissioner of the SA Revenue Service (SARS), Edward Kieswetter, has been appointed chair of the World Customs Organisation, becoming the second South African to chair the Brussels-based intergovernmental body.  

The World Customs Organisation is recognised as the voice of the global customs community. It is responsible for, among other things, setting security standards for international cargo shipments, harmonisation of customs procedures, trade supply chain security, the facilitation of international trade, and lobbying against the movement of counterfeit products. The World Customs Organisation has 185 countries as members, representing more than 98% of all international trade. 

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, who is also a former SARS commissioner, chaired the World Customs Organisation between 2001 and 2006.  

The appointment of Kieswetter as the chair of the World Customs Organisation, after being elected during the intergovernmental body’s council session on 24 June in Brussels, places South Africa again at the centre stage of the global customs industry, with the opportunity to influence best practice standards. 

Kieswetter said his appointment as the World Customs Organisation chair acknowledges the leadership of SARS and its efforts to turn the tax collection agency around following a decade of State Capture corruption.  

Two commissions of inquiry (the Zondo and Nugent commissions) have placed former president Jacob Zuma, former SARS commissioner Tom Moyane and the US-based management consultancy firm Bain at the centre of capturing, restructuring and destroying SARS.  

In one of many examples, Moyane awarded Bain a tender in 2014 to restructure SARS’s operations, including overhauling its IT infrastructure and changing its organisational/governance structure. The restructuring, which was not needed in the first place, destroyed key SARS units, including its large business centre, legal and compliance units, and enforcement capacity. About 200 senior managers were displaced, and several skilled employees left SARS, weakening its world-class capacity to collect tax revenue. 

Kieswetter, who was appointed four years ago as the SARS commissioner, has focused on rebuilding capacity at SARS, bringing back skills and business units that were lost to State Capture corruption. Today, SARS can collect taxes that even overshoot the government’s initial projections.  

“Leadership is an inordinate responsibility and a rare privilege to assist international efforts to bring matters of customs to the centre of international trade facilitation. This election is ample evidence that the leadership of SARS in matters of customs is acknowledged after many years of State Capture,” said Kieswetter about his appointment. He succeeds Ahmed Al Khalifa, the director-general of Bahrain’s customs services. 

Kieswetter has targeted at least two priorities or agendas during this chairpersonship, which usually runs for five years.  

The first aspect of this agenda includes working with his colleagues and peers from the 185 member countries to listen actively and to ensure that the World Customs Organisation’s strategic intent finds practical expression. The second aspect of this agenda will advocate greater inclusivity, with a strong focus on women and people with disabilities. DM


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