Rapi-scan training to start, meanwhile House amends fees
Customs Office will be sending later this month selected customs officers to attend off island training in preparation for the Rapi-Scan scanners to be installed at the territory’s port of entries, with the X-ray equipment arriving next month, according to Chief Customs Officer, Moetulu’i Fuiava, during a House committee hearing Tuesday afternoon.
Moetulu’i along with Budget Office director Catherine Aigamaua-Saelua and an ASG senior official were called to testify on an administration bill, which authorizes the use of X-ray machines, or scanners, in American Samoa.
It also set fees for use of the scanners and there were some lawmakers who were concerned with the high fees for such service as such costs will impact the community.
However, not fully clear at the hearing is how much revenue the government expects to collect from the fees, especially in light of the government requesting that at least $2 million from scanner fees be included in the fiscal year 2017 budget as ASG’s matching funds for two Federal Aviation Administration funded airport projects.
Responding to committee question about having customer officers would be certified to operate the scanners, Moetulu’i said Customs has just went through the selection process and six employees will be sent off-island for training to operate these machines.
“And after that, we’re going through security checks and everything,” he said. “We are taking every measure, every step to make sure that the people we use to operate these machines are not only trained but we also have backups — a person who is going to look at the [scanner] screen originally, and that person is not going to be the only person that looks at it.”
He said the selected individuals for the training depart Sept. 23rd and they will receive a certificate if they pass. “Its very rigid training they have to go through,” he said.
Fees cited in the bill state:
A 40-foot or more container is $350; containers less than 40-feet, including all 20-foot containers is $250; a $100 fee is for a loose cargo pallet; $75 per vehicle or heavy equipment; and $10 per parcel imported for commercial purposes.
According to the bill, other scanning fees are determined by Customs and enacted by administrative rule making.
Responding to committee questions about the stats of incoming containers, Moetulu’i said that in 2013 there were 10,000 containers arriving in the territory; in 2014 a total of 10,500; and in 2015 it was 11,400. He explained that these containers include the ones with goods and also empties for storage on the dock.
Current Customs charges for container inspection is $60 per container per day, he said.
Some lawmakers including Vice Speaker Fetu Fetui Jr., said the proposed inspection charges are at least a 500% hike and Rep. Vailoata Eteuati Amituana'i pointed out that for the two canneries, which do a lot of exporting, these proposed X-ray charges fees will have an impact.
Asked by Vailoata if the administration made any contact with the canneries on the proposed fees, Moetulu’i responded “no”.
Vailoata said the private sector should have a voice on this issue because not only will the canneries be impacted, but wholesalers too.
Rep. Vaiaitu Mulinu’u Maluia asked if the Customs K9 unit will no longer be used to check containers on the dock, to which Moetulu’i noted that the K9 unit would still be needed at other locations such as at the airport and post office. “It’s going to work hand in hand,” he said.
“I think we need to make these costs reasonable,” Rep. Toeaina Faufano Autele told Moetulu’i, saying the fees are too high — for example, the $350 could be lowered to $250.
Asked if the K9 unit will be used to search fishing vessels, Moetulu’i said, “its very dangerous for the K9 to go into these fishing vessels. So what we’re doing, we’re putting our agents inside the vessels, going through storage tanks and other areas. And that’s where we’re catching all the illegal cigarettes”.
“We put enough inspectors on the vessel to get the results we’re looking for. But anything that comes out of those vessels, they will go through those machines,” he added.
Throughout the hearing, Moetulu’i defended the usefulness of the scanners, the same statements he made early this year during a Senate hearing on the scanners.
At the end of the hearing, he told lawmakers that people bring in contraband and are “five steps ahead of us so we have to counter” them.
“We’ve seen it when people mask drugs in coffee cans, in milk, in peanut butter [jars]. I can tell you many of the stories and these machines can detect contraband,” he said.
The bill was presented yesterday to the full House for vote in second reading and it was passed with amendments to the fees: a 40-foot or more container is $300; containers less than 40-feet, including all 20-foot containers is $200; a $50 fee is for a loose cargo pallet; $50 per vehicle; $75 for heavy equipment. Unchanged is $10 per parcel imported for commercial purposes.