$180K seized in last 18 months—DOF

The Department of Finance seized about $180,000 in undeclared cash that various people were attempting to sneak into the CNMI in the last 18 months, according to a department representative.

According to captain Jesse Atalig of the Customs Division during a meeting with the House Committee in Ways and Means yesterday, “…That’s just a rough estimate.”

He said during yesterday’s budget hearing for the upcoming fiscal year 2019 budget that the undeclared cash originated from Guam and Asia. He was unable to disclose the exact origins of the undeclared cash.

Atalig said the Department of Finance, of which the Customs Division is a part of, is looking at securing a dog trained in sniffing out concealed currency.

Called currency dogs, Atalig said each one costs $12,500.

Currently, there are six drug-detecting dogs as well as two patrol dogs for the Department of Public Safety as well as a couple more dogs for the Department of Lands and Natural Resources, according to Atalig.

“We will definitely look into that [request],” said House Ways and Means Committee chair Rep. Angel A. Demapan (R-Saipan). During discussions, Rep. Francisco Dela Cruz (R-Saipan) suggested four currency dogs instead, but Demapan said discussions about this would continue with DOF since more dogs would mean additional costs for the department, due to the additional handlers.

DOF wants a budget of over $8.18 million for fiscal year 2019, while Demapan said Gov. Ralph DLG Torres had proposed about $7.6 million.

In fiscal year 2018, DOF got a budget of about $5.2 million.

The majority of the difference in the budget, according to Demapan, would go to the DOF enforcement division funding. He explained that up until recently, the enforcement division was funded by the hotel occupancy tax.

“…They have been moved out of the hotel occupancy tax to be funded by the general fund. That is the biggest factor in the…increase,” said Demapan, adding that $1.7 million is for the enforcement division alone, which has about 37 employees.

Overall, Demapan believes the DOF budget request is something they “can work with.” While tax collection hindrances also affect the CNMI, beefing up collection efforts through investments could make a difference for the government, he said.

“Oftentimes, we sacrifice…programs and services in the government to make up for the loss,” he said.

Erwin Encinares | Reporter
Erwin Charles Tan Encinares holds a bachelor’s degree from the Chiang Kai Shek College and has covered a wide spectrum of assignments for the Saipan Tribune. Encinares is the paper’s political reporter.

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