Customs Director Joe Mafnas has pledged to rid the division of corrupt personnel due to concerns raised on their possible connivance with unscrupulous businessmen in the smuggling of imported items into the Northern Marianas.
“We are in continued monitoring of our customs officers assigned at both the airport and the seaport because we do not want the Division’s image be tainted by corrupt personnel who succumb to bribes,” Mr. Mafnas said.
He said, however, that the problem is still within manageable levels although he is concerned that a concrete action should be immediately taken because these customs officers have access, thereby, can maneuver the system.
Mr. Mafnas said the activities of all personnel have been placed under strict monitoring to identify those who may still be conniving with importers to smuggle goods into the islands.
Last year, marking a first in the Commonwealth’s customs history, Customs employees were linked to and have been charged because of alleged participation in smuggling operations.
Involvement of customs personnel in smuggling activities is believed the main reason why untaxed luxury items continue to flood the local market despite strict efforts by the government to curb such operations.
Mr. Mafnas also blamed in part illegal activities by some customs personnel on the declining collection of excise taxes which started dipping in 1998 at $25.1 million from the previous year’s $33.5 million.
In 1999, excise taxes suffered yet another drop reaching only $24 million although finance officials are confident this year’s collection will exceed that of last year mainly because revenues from the category already totaled $21 million in the first nine months of the Fiscal Year 2000.
Officials attribute the dramatic drop in excise tax collection to the Japanese and Korean travelers’ weaker spending power primarily caused by the depreciated value of the yen and the won against the U.S. dollar.
A government report showed that the average excise tax quarterly collection fell to $4.9 million in Fiscal Year 1999, from $6.1 million during the previous year. In 1997, the CNMI government collected an average of $7.3 million in excise taxes per quarter, higher from the 1996’s figure of $6.25 million every quarter.