Customs revamp separates tax assessment, inspections
As 11 completes 2nd cycle of basic customs training
Tag: Capital Hill, ceremony, CNMI, San Antonio
“The restructuring will further beef up the operations and will make the services more efficient—both in revenue collection and enforcement of laws against contrabands. It is really working right now. We’ve been testing this [restructuring] for a long time and we’ve finally done it,” Customs director Joe Mafnas told Saipan Tribune on Capital Hill.
On Friday morning, the governor and the Customs director, along with Finance Secretary Larrisa Larson and lawmakers, presented certificates of completion to 11 new and longtime customs personnel for undergoing the second cycle of basic customs training.
The governor himself said he was once a customs officer in the “early ‘70s” during Trust Territory days.
Inos said customs operations have since drastically changed in function and operations, citing that nowadays, customs personnel are more trained and more equipped than their predecessors of decades ago.
“I’m really proud to see a group of professionals like you all out there. The uniform that you wear has significance and I would like to ask that you uphold the duty that you’ve taken oath of office for and our administration—I’m sure [also] the other members of the Legislature who are here today—will continue to provide the kind of support that you need to do your job,” Inos said at the training graduation ceremony at the governor’s office.
One of the 11 that completed the second cycle of basic customs training, 46-year-old customs inspector Benusto Lifoifoi Piteg, said the eight-week training was “very educational.”
While the father of three has been with the Division of Customs for almost eight years now, he said the training taught him more—from tax assessment to review of importation documents, container inspections, postal inspection, and learning more about regulations and laws.
Customs inspector Jay S. Torres, the youngest to complete the second cycle of basic customs training at 21, described it as a “very informative” eight-week classroom setting and on-the-job training. Torres has been with Customs for only six months.
After completing the training, he said he came out as a better prepared and equipped customs inspector.
Torres said it’s always been his dreams to work as a law enforcement officer, coming from a family of law enforcement personnel.
The Customs director said of the 11 who completed the training, four are from the Workforce Investment Agency, one new employee, and the remaining six have been with Customs for years.
Wearing two hats
The Division of Customs, one of the agencies under the Department of Finance, assesses excise taxes on incoming goods, inspects containers and packages at the seaport, airport, and post office, and runs the K9 facility or the drug-detector dog training facility, among other things.
Mafnas said the division still performs a dual function, but to make the operations more efficient, they have separated the two functions wherein customs personnel tasked to do tax assessments will focus on such responsibility while those assigned to inspection duties will concentrate on that function.
Inos also cited recent successful interceptions of illegal items and undeclared goods at ports of entry.
“I can say that you folks are really doing a good job and you ought to be commended for those, for doing the kind of job that you do to protect our Commonwealth community,” the governor said.
The governor also acknowledged the Division of Customs Services’ role as the “first line of defense in our port of entry,” along with the Division of Quarantine and other agencies.
“As the economy grows and more investments pour into the CNMI, your responsibility becomes ever greater. …There will be instances where things will slip through occasionally, but as long as we do our job, I think we can give our people the level of comfort that we’re out there to protect their welfare and their livelihood,” the governor said.
In an interview later, the governor said there’s “definitely” going to be additional hiring of customs personnel, given the major developments coming up such as the construction of new hotels and that means “lots of importation activities.” He said this means more personnel needed to inspect cargo and assess taxes, among other things.
One new hotel will be built in Marpi, and another one in San Antonio. A 2,000-room casino resort facility is also expected to be built on Saipan. Other existing hotels are also renovating or expanding their facilities, as tourism picks up once again.
Customs has at least 47 employees, including the director.
The Customs director recently reported that its tax collections grew by $3 million during the first six months of fiscal year 2014 compared to the same period in 2013. He attributed it mainly to vigilance and proper enforcement of tax laws