Sitting waiting for a plane. The story of my life. Saturday afternoon. Waiting. Waiting. The reality for a capacity builder.
Sasja kadetten (Boys92) still in the race for the Belgian title
Martin's handball team, KV Sasja played four games in the play off league today, Saturday. This was the third round from the end. The two teams at the top of the league after the last round play the Flandern finals. The winner of that final plays the Vallonian/German region champions for the Belgian Championship title. The Sasja team was second in the play off league before this round. Today our guys played the leading team Kortessem and the fourth place team Zandvliet. Sasja one won, played two equal games and lost one game (10-10, 12-9, 10-11, 11-11). It was very close between the teams. In total 4 points (out of 8). Martin scored 8 goals. Also Kortessem and Zandvliet got 4 points each. Sasja is now in the third place of the play off league. Two more rounds to go. The dream of a Belgian championship for the Karlsson family is still alive......
Good meeting with our partners from Norway
Last week I also had a positive annual follow-up meeting with the Norwegian Development Agency (NORAD). The WCO has a development cooperation agreement with NORAD since a few years ago. We are working closely with our colleagues from Norway and it is a positive and good cooperation. Also this meeting was carried out in a very optimistic and positive way. Our two organizations will certainly continue to work very closely together and we will also explore the a potential for and even more developed partnership and cooperation.
Meeting Swedish donors and capacity builders
In the beginning of this week I had very positive meetings with the Swedish International Development and Cooperation Agency (SIDA) at their headquarters in Stockholm. SIDA has over the last years been one of the major donors to the WCO. We have a number of programmes that are sponsored by SIDA and the Swedish Government, like e.g the WCO-EAC project, WCO-SACU project and SIDA support for West Africa (approx. 5 million Euro), SIDA support for activities in East and Southern Africa (approx. 3 million Euros), SIDA support for the Regional Office for Capacity Building in the East and Southern Africa region and support for the WCO language fund (approx. 1 million Euro), we are also talking about further geographical areas for support. In Stockholm I met with a number of people to discuss and further develop our relations. Secondly, I also visited the Swedish National Board of Trade. During these meetings, both organizations stated that they are positive to the WCO work in the field of capacity building and that they are prepared to continue the cooperation in the future. This is of cause very important for our organization and our members in emerging economies. I am pleased with the discussions that we are having and the progress that has been made.
A better website on the way
One of my priorities right now is to improve the capacity building domain of the WCO official website. I am aware of the fact that the content of the website is not updated frequently enough and there are not enough exiting items on the topic available. The website content does not reflect the WCO business in a proper way. This will now change. And it is not rocket science to do so, even though communication is always a difficult and challenging task. There are many different studies showing that any website, regardless of topic, that wants to serve the purpose needs to have some fundamental key elements to be successful. These key elements for a website to be considered as a proper communication channel are; the need for 1) user availability (right design and functionality for the targeted user group), 2) content update (all information on the website needs to be accurate) and, 3) frequent updating (the website needs to be "alive" - meaning updated at least once every day). The Capacity Building Directorate is responsible for a number of very important and prioritized areas for Members as well as other stakeholders like the public sector, the private sector, international institutions and the donor community. The Capacity Building Directorate is doing a lot of work that is not presented to the world around us in the way I want to be presented. We need to improve our communication with out partners. This has always been a very important matter to me and I will now initiate change and improvements in the way we present our activities. I have initiated a prioritized internal project that will develop the content and the e-services of the capacity building topics sub-site of the official WCO web. An internal info-master has been appointed to work together with our webmaster. New services will be introduced and all information and material will be updated on a daily basis. Everything to make transparency, increased communication and coordination a prioritized task. You will start seeing improvements already next week. The website will then continue to improve over the months up until the Council session in June 2009. I hope that you will appreciate this effort.
Today we have a meeting with the Norwegian Development Agency (NORAD) in Brussels. NORAD is supporting the WCO and the Columbus programme with a capacity building fund. We will now have a follow-up and also discuss further cooperation.
Visiting SIDA, one of our main partners
Today I will visit one of our key partners in capacity building the Swedish International Development and Cooperation Agency (SIDA) in Stockholm. We have a number of projects running around the world, especially in Africa, with support from SIDA. I will discuss these projects but also some new initiatives in the field of trade facilitation, as well as our negations on expanding our partnership and cooperation to new geographical areas. We are very pleased and happy about the support from SIDA for the WCO members through capacity building. I am looking forward to an even more developed relationship in the future.
On my way to my capitol city
This morning I travel to Stockholm for meetings with some of our key partners in capaity building. It is always a pleasure, even in winter time, to visit the beautiful city of Stockholm. I worked in Stockholm during eleven years and know the city very well. However, Stockholm is one of those cities that are always changing with the weather. It is great city.
And the Oscar goes to......
A few hours ago on the Oscar Awards the prestigous prices were handed out to last year's best performances on the big screen. I am a happy man, since "Slumdog Millionaire" owned the entire show and got 8 very well deserved Oscars this year (as expedted). "Slumdog Millionaire" was awarded for the Best Movie and Best Director and also won another six awards. Kate Winslet and Heath Ledger also got their well deserved awards (which you could read that they should and would in an e-letter nearby a few weeks ago). The only one I missed out on was, the Best Male Actor award that did not go to Mickey Rourke (for the Wrestler, which I still think would have been the right choice. Now the award went to Sean Penn, who is a brilliant actor though I have not seen the film he was awarded for yet.
At the National Board of Trade
This afternoon I will visit the National Board of Trade (NBT) at their headquarters in central Stockholm. The National Board of Trade is an expert authority for trade facilitation, trade negotiations and public/business partnerships and cooperation. It is a sister organization to Customs that has the specific task by Government to support Swedish trade policies and to work for global trade facilitation. The WCO has over the last years worked closely with the National Board of Trade on trade facilitation matters and I have been invited to discuss further cooperation in the future in the field of capacity building. I am lookoing forward to this meeting since it actually was some years ago I visited my friends and colleagues at the NBT headquarters.
Important meetings coming up
Last week we had a number interesting informal pre-meetings for the High Level Working Group on Capacity Building, Technical Assistance and Training (HLWG). We met with Chair, Canada, and with some other Capacity Builders for informal meetings to prepare for the important meeting in April (15-16/4).
If you have not read the Millenium triology crime novels by the Swedish author Stieg Larsson yet - now is the time to do it. These books are the best selling books ever in Sweden and the novels are now conquering the world. We are talking about really great books. This weekend the first film based on the books, will be in the cinemas back in Sweden. For those of you that have started to read the books, you probably already know the story behind. Stieg Larsson was a famous Swedish journalist, internationally known for his fight against political criminal elements. At the age of 45 he wrote three crime novels and sent them to a publisher. Before the books were published the author suddenly and very tragically died. So these books are the only to be written by this master pen. The first book, in Swedish called "Men that hates women" (my translation) is available internationally under the name, "The girl with the dragon tatoo". The second book has just been published in English under the title "The girl who played with fire". If you haven't read them - buy and read today. I promise you that you are up for a great experience.
Preparations for upcoming meetings
In a few months the WCO Capacity Building Directorate will arrange a number of very important meetings. Primarily the High Level Working Group on Capacity Building, Technical Assistance and Training on 15-16 April. But also meetings for the Regional Offices of Capacity Building and Regional Training Centers. We are now working hard on the preparations for these meetings. While being under the pressure from the Global Financial Crises, after years of food crises and oil crises, the need for capacity building is huge. It means that it is vital that we can keep the momentum going on support under the WCO Columbus programme. For this reason we are now working hard to make the upcoming meetings successful. We need to identify the drivers, the challenges, the obstacles and potential to continue our walk on the successful path of capacity building.
The Global Financial Crises
I guess that many economists were kind of hoping for many Christmas presents this year since a raising demand from consumers and increased consumption is considered to be one of the solutions to the Global Financial Crises.
An interesting observation is that this is really the first crises that is a direct result of globalization effects. We have now seen what a crises in a globally connected network, like the global financial system, look like. As a consequence and result of the crises in this new globalized world, that we really know so little about, it is obvious that also solutions have to be global solutions rather than anything else. We already know that nobody managed to meet the Global Financial Crises with national or even regional initiatives and solutions. The global crises has to be solved globally with global solutions. The interesting thing is that not even world leading and acknowledged economists seems to know anything about how deep the crises will be, or how fast the markets will recover. The reason for this remarkable lack of common view in relation to the crises and its effects is probably that this type of situation has never happened before so there is no reference material. We are seeing the first real global crises resulting from globalization. New phenomena. What will be the result? Global regulation. For sure. New global political initiatives? Very likely.
Will it happen again? Of cause. In fact the next global system that will be infected is likely the global trade system. The good news in that respect is that there actually is a global solution for the global trade system in the international standards developed by the WCO and its Member. I am talking about the SAFE Framework of Standards and the Revised Kyoto Convention. Increased use of these models is actually one of the answers to the Global Financial Crises, since the use of these standards - especially initiatives like the WCO Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) model - will make increased trade possible through facilitated and secure trade lanes. I am convinced that increasing trade is part of the answer that we are seeking. There has never in history been real development without increased trade. So trade facilitation through secure international standards could have a major impact on the recovery of the global economy. We need more implementation and application of these international standards for trade facilitation all over the world. We need more capacity building. Only through capacity building can we support emerging economies and developing countries in implementation of standards. The developing world needs trade facilitation since the vital revenue income from imports are going down as a result of the global financial crises. And this crisis arrives to a developing world already suffering from oil crises and food crises since before! In addition, emerging economies risks getting multiple negative effects from the global financial crises since we unfortunately already see a trend of increased protectionism and since many developed countries will likely be in a less favorable position in relation to submitting aid and donor sponsor support to developing countries. This must not happen. In fact now is the time to increase all efforts for capacity building in the developing world. We need to invest in the future. Customs capacity building for developing countries is probably one of the most cost efficient measures to positively impact the financial situation in world at this moment.
Customs Capacity Building, reform and modernization, needs to become a prioritized global project.
Yesterday I watched "Slumdog Millionaire" for the second time and it was just as good the second time. This is an amazing film. Extraordinary. Probably the best film I have seen since I saw the Shawshank Redemption" the first time in 1995. And I do see a lot of movies. This film, directed by Danny Boyle, is a masterpiece. It is strong, heartbreaking, frightening, powerful and hopeful in a very cleaver and innovative way. This is a "must-see" film. If you haven't seen it yet. Go now.
Feed the world!
UNICEF yesterday appealed for 1 billion US dollars to respond to overlooked emergencies that are causing worsening hunger, disease and poverty for women and children, especially in Africa. UN says that there is a need for 17 percent more money in 2009 than the previous year due to increased needs in eastern and southern Africa.
Handball, what a great sport
The 21st World Championship in the world’s best sport, Olympic Handball, has just been finalized in Croatia. The final was played between the home favorites from Croatia and the Olympic champions France.
France, won the final 24-19 and they are now both Olympic and World Champions at he same time! A great team. Congratulations France! The French team was the strongest in the tournament and the convincingly beat all other teams. In the final they outplayed the home team Croatia with a great goalkeeper and magnificent defense. Thierry Omayer in goal and the left wing player Guigou were the best player of the final.
Sweden, five times World Champions and four times European champions, was back on the big scene after a few years in the shadows building up a new team. A new generation of top players were almost ready to aim for the medals of a world cup. Sweden played very well in the opening round, beating the former champions from Spain and several other teams, but due to an unlucky draw in the creation of the playing schedule had to play both Croatia and France early in the tournament. The team was not ready for that yet, but will be soon. Sweden ended on 7th place, not a bad result for a young dynamic team still learning and gaining experience. Other surprises of the tournament were Korea, Norway and Brazil. All these teams over performed and did very well. The bronze medal went to Poland that played a good tournament.
My all star team from the tournament,
Goalkeeper: Omayer (France)
Pivot: Vori (Croatia)
Left 6: Guigou (France)
Right 6: Cupic (Croatia)
Left 9: Hansen (Denmark)
Mid 9: Karabatic (France)
Right 9: Lazarov, FYR Macedonia
Fighting for a better world
In September 2000, the world committed to tackle poverty and the largest-ever UN gathering of world leaders adopted goals to be reached by 2015, the so called Millennium process. The eight Millennium Development Goals represent commitments by all countries to reduce poverty and hunger by 50 percent, put every child through primary school, protect women's rights, limit the spread of disease and preserve natural resources. Some progress has been made. 15 years ago one in three people lived on less than one dollar a day. We are now at one in five. There are changes and concrete results achieved, but with the 2015 target date fast approaching there is still a lot to do. One billion people still live in extreme poverty. More than one billion people lack access to safe drinking water. 6000 people die of AIDS every day. 750 million people adults cannot read. And those who carry almost zero responsibility for climate change are bearing the consequence of its effects. It is time for change. Whatever we can do, and it is a lot, needs to be done to support the millennium goals. Customs has a role to play in supporting the Millennium process. There has never in history been significant improvement of development and increased living standards for people, without increasing trade between people. Trade foster development. To increase trade we need to reform and modernize customs and we need to implement international standards. We need customs capacity building to work. We need concrete results, on the ground, in real life, all over the world. It is our responsibility build own capacity to manage change over time. To make customs capacity building work a success story and an example for other areas to follow. What we do, every day, makes a difference. It has a meaning. If we do it good, it makes a bigger difference. Let's do it good and let's do it better.