Unfazed by difficulties in probing the alleged high consumer prices in the CNMI, Rep. Melvin O. Faisao has asked the involvement of the Federal Maritime Commission to determine whether shipping rates have dictated retail value of imported goods sold in local stores.
In a letter to Harold J. Creed, commission chairman, the representative said information on the tariff charges imposed on ships plying the U.S.-CNMI route would help the government in the ongoing investigation.
According to Faisao, questions such as whether the rates fall under international or interstate tariff charges or whether the CNMI is considered international destination and not domestic will need answers to assess their impact on consumer prices.
The lawmaker has been alarmed by the disparity in consumer prices between the CNMI and Guam and has asked several government agencies to investigate shipping companies, wholesalers and retailers who may be responsible for jacking up the cost of goods sold on the island.
The move followed complaints on the expensive products that have pushed the cost of living in the CNMI as one of the highest in the nation, said Faisao.
So far, the Department of Commerce and the Attorney General’s Office have come up with findings pointing to several factors that dictate the prices of these goods, including shipping rates.
The AG has initiated talks with a law firm, Levinson, Friedman, Vhugen, Duggan & Bland, to represent the CNMI in court actions which the government would file against carriers serving the island.
This is the same firm that represented Guam in their lawsuits against these shippers before the Federal Maritime Commission and the Surface Transportation Board in effort to bring down the prices.
However, the CNMI has yet to formally lodge complaints as the government does not have the funds to take the same legal route, which reportedly has cost Agana more than $6.5 million in attorney’s fees.
Government lawyers instead have suggested that island officials bring the matter to the U.S. Congress which controls shipping rates here.