Customs chief tells chamber of commerce: I come in peace

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CUSTOMS Division Director Jose Mafnas said he “came in peace” when he attended the Saipan Chamber of Commerce’s monthly meeting at the Pacific Islands Club Charley’s Cabaret on Wednesday last week to explain his support of the legislation to eliminate the 30-day grace period in paying excise tax.

Customs Director Jose Mafnas speaks before the Saipan Chamber of Commerce during its meeting at the Pacific Islands Club on Wednesday last week.  Photo by Emmanuel T. Erediano

Introduced by House Floor Leader John Paul Sablan, House Bill 21-104 proposes to remove the 30-day grace period when paying the excise tax. Major local businesses such as Joeten and Herman’s Bakery opposed the bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives by an 11-5 vote with one abstention. The bill is now in the Senate.

Mafnas told members of the chamber that Customs “is not in the business of closing businesses.”

Taking away the 30-day grace period, he added, will help Customs deal with tax evaders.

He said these are usually one-time or short-term importers who may try to evade paying the excise tax. Removing the 30-day grace period will force them to pay upfront, he added.

Mafnas said the measure would “give high-risk importers no chance to walk away and hide.”

It would also “bring fairness to the importers who pay their taxes faithfully,” he added.

“I hope you understand my position. I’m not your enemy. I am your friend,” Mafnas told the chamber members.

Prior to passing H.B. 21-104, the House included Rep. Janet Maratita’s floor amendment that would allow the Customs director to promulgate rules to accommodate long-term importers who are considered “low-risk” for customs violations.

Mafnas informed the chamber that Customs has prepared forms that long-term, low-risk or “A++” importers can fill out if they wish to be given a 15- to 30-day grace period.

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