Despite the increase in their revenues, the Division of Customs still doesn’t have the ability to purchase equipment needed to secure the ton of cargo and baggage going into the islands.
Speaking at the Rotary Club of Saipan’s weekly meeting at the Hyatt Regency Saipan, Customs Director Jose Mafnas highlighted the need for machines to scan the multitude of items coming in.
“My first and foremost mission now is to really seek funds so that we can get the proper equipment to place at the ports of entry,” Mafnas said.
According to Mafnas, 6,000 containers (not including loose cargo), 540 vessels, 5,766 crew members, and 1,715 passengers passed through the seaport in fiscal year 2014. For the airport, 500,000 passengers, over a million checked in and hand-carry baggage, and about 5,397 flights passed through during the same timeframe.
With this overwhelming number, it is not surprising that the division is swamped with things to do, especially since everything is done manually.
“All these data that I gave you passed through Customs and we inspect it manually. We don’t have any equipment to assist us,” said Mafnas.
The Customs Division earned $5.9 million in revenue last year because of the fines that they imposed on those who tried to evade taxes or tried to smuggle prohibited items into the CNMI. But even then, because it goes to the general fund, they couldn’t afford to buy the machines.
More than $600,000 is needed for the equipment that Mafnas eyes for the seaport and airport, including a portable x-ray and an ion scan.
“We just turned in an application for FEMA to see if we can get the equipment for the seaport,” said Mafnas, speaking about the $434,000 grant he requested.
Choking the ‘beast’
Mafnas is appealing to everyone to realize the need for this equipment, particularly because of the important role ports play in terms of controlling and eliminating the entrance of methamphetamine or “ice” into the Commonwealth.
“[Crystal meth] is a beast that has been infiltrating our islands and I feel bad, I cringe even mentioning it. As the person in charge of ensuring to protect our doors at the ports of entry, I feel bad that this stuff continue to penetrate us,” Mafnas said.
With added equipment to check every single box or bag that arrives on the islands, Mafnas is positive that it can have an impact on the war against ice as well as combating contraband.
“I cannot guarantee that I can stop the infiltration of contraband into the CNMI, or the drugs, “ice” especially. But I can almost guarantee that we can choke the infiltration and slow the process of the smugglers bringing in the drugs,” he said.
“If we can choke the entry of the drugs, it will have a ripple effect. It will cause the cost of meth to go sky high, making it unaffordable for the user to purchase it outright and deter criminal elements,” Mafnas added.