The Division of Customs, which is under the Department of Finance, will welcome additional x-ray machines and more personnel with supervisory capabilities if it gets more funding.
Customs Director Joe Mafnas last week said the additional machines will be installed at CNMI airports and seaports, and the additional manpower will complement the division’s existing staff.
Customs is requesting for $2.4 million in funding, but the government is proposing only $1.3 million.
Mafnas said the division badly needs agents, particularly during this time that the entry of illegal drugs into the CNMI is increasing at an alarming rate.
“I just need adequate personnel and proper equipment,” Mafnas said.
For Rep. Joseph “Lee Pan” (R-Saipan) Guerrero, the division should get more. He noted that Customs agents are always on the front line and that he is concerned that the division is not getting more funding.
Guerrero said he understands the importance of the Finance secretary’s functions, but he suggested streamlining some of the budget to go to Customs.
Mafnas, however, clarified that the Finance secretary is “very supportive” of the needs of the division. Mafnas is asking for 18 more personnel to add to the 46 staff currently manning the Customs Division.
Rep. Edwin K. Propst (Ind-Saipan) earlier noted that Customs personnel remain the lowest-paid government employees.
He stressed that the Customs needs more funding for it to continue its campaign against illegal drugs in the CNMI, particularly methamphetamine or “ice.”
He acknowledged that funding has always been a concern for the two departments, particularly Customs.
“Customs [staff] are the lowest-paid among government employees. We will try to help them be at a level with the police and pay them adequately, considering that they are at the front line,” Propst said.
He said there currently are no estimates as to how widespread “ice” is, but the Department of Public Safety and Customs agree that the problem is “staggering.”