By HAIDEE V. EUGENIO
Division of Customs Director Jesus Muña said he will be turning in his courtesy resignation today, after the Inos administration offered yesterday to transfer him to another agency.
At the same time, Rep. John Paul Sablan (Cov-Saipan) cautioned against pulling out three customs officers from joint anti-drug task forces with federal and local agencies before Muña steps down.
“We don't want to create a bad relationship with federal and local agencies especially because we need to be working closely together to address the drugs problem in the CNMI. We want to keep this relationship strong,” Sablan told Saipan Tribune last night.
Muña's resignation comes at a time when Customs' personnel count has gone down to a critical level. Its K-9 unit no longer functions due to the lack of any certified handler for its drug- and bomb-detector dogs since June 2012.
Sablan, who worked at the Division of Customs for 14 years before becoming a lawmaker, said the outgoing director plans to meet today with all Customs personnel, including two that were designated to serve on the joint NMI task force with the Drug Enforcement Administration, and one other that's assigned to the local anti-narcotics task force.
“We're hoping that these three customs officers will not be recalled from those task forces,” he said.
The freshman lawmaker said he will continue to push for more funding for Customs, adding that he has gotten more support for this in the last few days.
Muña, in a separate interview, said he has made a lot of positive changes in the division since becoming the Customs director in 2006. Those changes included cost reduction so that they would be able to live within their means.
“There will always be differences in leadership style,” he added.
Muña said he was offered yesterday a post at the Veterans Affairs Office. But he said he will turn in his resignation today.
Press secretary Angel Demapan, when asked for comment, said yesterday, “At this time, the current director has yet to submit a resignation letter. Once a resignation is received, the secretary will then have to either appoint an acting director or a new director.”
Saipan Tribune sources said that former Customs director Joe C. Mafnas, who is still with the Department of Finance, will replace Muña.
House Ways and Means Committee chair Tony Sablan (IR-Saipan), for his part, said he would want to ensure that Customs will have full-time employee positions and funding to hire K9 handlers.
Sablan said he is also drafting a resolution urging Gov. Eloy S. Inos to continue the NMI-DEA partnership to help combat drugs in the community.
Sources said the market price for a gram of “ice” on Saipan, for example, has gone down to a few hundred dollars from an average of $1,400, an indication that there is a large supply on island.
The Customs K-9 unit has been idle for at least nine months now due to the resignations of all certified handlers of drug- and bomb-detector dogs. Customs cited lack of funding among the reasons for not replacing the certified dog handlers that left; the last one was before the end of June 2012.
That has resulted in four highly trained dogs sitting idle. The dogs are used to detect drugs and explosives in incoming cargo, luggage, and passengers.
For now, Customs personnel manually inspect these incoming cargo, luggage and passengers, although the inspection time is longer than when they had the aid of these drug- and bomb-sniffing dogs.
The Customs' K9 program, which has been receiving federal funds, used to train dog handlers not only in the CNMI but also from Palau and American Samoa.