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Customs officer inspires next generation

Thursday 16 May 2024 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Features, Weekend

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Customs officer inspires next generation
Chief customs officer Maria Matua-Ioane highly recommends young men and women to explore a career in Customs. MELINA ETCHES/24051501

In celebration of the International Day for Women in Maritime to be observed tomorrow (Friday, May 17), Maria Matua-Ioane, the chief customs officer, shares her insights to inspire the next generation to consider a career in this dynamic and fundamental sector.

Matua-Ioane started her career in Customs in 2004, dedicating 14 years to active Customs operations.

Since 2018, she has served in senior leadership positions, and with a wealth of experience and a deep understanding of the intricacies of the customs field, she stepped into the role of chief customs officer two years ago.

“There is never a dull moment, each day brings about new challenges and discoveries,” says Matua-Ioane who oversees customs operations, which include border protection, trade and travel facilitation, and revenue collection.

In the early years, she says some challenges were being overlooked to participate in vessel rummages and cargo inspections – possibly due to gender bias.

However, despite these challenges, she persevered, has grown in confidence, and upskilled.

“Today, the situation has improved immensely with more encouragement for women to pursue these roles,” says Matua-Ioane.

“Despite historical gender bias, Customs actively strives for gender balance in its workforce.

“Now a new challenge is that fewer women are showing interest in applying for these positions, nevertheless, we currently have one woman working in our maritime and cargo team.

“There is a shift now to get women interested in customs work and women are now working in cargo work.

“Overall, there is a balance of men and women working in customs.”

Matua-Ioane brings a wealth of experience across various sectors of the Revenue Management Division, including Tax, VAT, counter services, IT, and Customs.

“Customs stood out for me as particularly exciting so I decided to focus on this area,” she says.

Matua-Ioane’s first hands-on experience involved clearing a cruise vessel, which piqued her interest and guided her career path in customs operations. She subsequently moved through cargo, enforcement, trade, airport, and maritime divisions, inspecting sea freight and assisting with two boat rummages.

She also experienced clearing vessels such as fishing boats, cargo ships, fuel tankers, research vessels, warships, and yachts.

Matua-Ioane’s work has also taken her to the Pa Enua, some of which are not international ports of entry, and even overseas.

“In this dynamic working environment, time management and patience are essential skills,” she says. “I was also fortunate to have two excellent mentors – the late senior officer Pokoina Matara and former chief customs officer Ngapoko Tamaine.”

Customs offers many career pathways and roles such as an intel officer, investigator, trade officer, and client services officer.

Matua-Ioane encourages young men and women to look at a career in Customs as a stepping stone for other career opportunities.

“Customs offers a dynamic and diverse work environment that is both intellectually stimulating and rewarding. It plays a vital role in safeguarding national security, facilitating trade, and protecting the community from illicit activities,” she said.

The theme for this year’s International Day for Women in Maritime is “Safe Horizons: Women Shaping the Future of Maritime Safety”. Cook Islands Women in Maritime will be hosting an event at Are Tapaenga, next to Slipway Takeaway at the Avatiu Harbour, to celebrate the occasion.