Customs-Quarantine merger draws supports from DLNR, Customs chiefs
Department of Lands and Natural Resources Secretary Anthony Benavente and Division of Custom Services director Jose Mafnas Sr. both support an executive order that transfers the Agriculture Quarantine Section of DLNR to the Custom Services of the Department of Finance.
At a hearing before the House Committees on Natural Resources and Judiciary and Governmental Operations, Benavente said that combining Custom Services and Agricultural Quarantine Section in one office is the best way to protect the CNMI’s borders.
“I know that there might be some disagreement, but believe me, they’re in the first stage. It always feels that way. But as time comes along, things work out,” Benavente said.
Last April 27, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres issued Executive Order 2021-09 transferring the Quarantine Section of DLNR to Finance and combining it with the Division of Custom Services, thereby creating the Division of Customs and Quarantine.
Custom Services Director Mafnas said his meetings with both Tinian and Rota have shown him that Quarantine officers have a positive reception to the merger.
“They are happy,” said Mafnas, who emphasized that Quarantine officers are not subordinate to Customs and that they are equal.
Mafnas said they will change the officers title into Customs and Quarantine officers and they will create a biosecurity unit in their organizational chart because of the Quarantine officers’ knowledge and expertise on agriculture matters.
“They will focus on the agricultural enforcement. They will be the point of contact with the [U.S. Department of Agriculture],” Mafnas said.
The director assured everyone and the House committees on Natural Resources and Judiciary and Governmental Operations chaired by Reps. Sheila Babauta and Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan), respectively, that enforcement at the ports will be enhanced. Mafnas said it is the same position—with Customs having zero tolerance for illegal drug, and Quarantine having zero tolerance for invasive species or pests.
“I already informed the officers, ‘You open a container [and] you see a bug flying, close it immediately and we will not allow those kind of bugs to enter our islands,” he said.
In his executive order, Torres said the integration of the Agricultural Quarantine Section with the Division of Custom Services will bolster the effectiveness of enforcement of protections against unwanted or illicit importation products, items, or goods that are harmful to the environment, economy, and quality of life of the people.
The director of Customs Services shall become the director of Customs and Quarantine.