Senate says Rapi-scan fees are too high — People will be heavily impacted

Customs Chief: People’s safety more important
fili@samoanews.com

Several senators disagree with the X-ray scanner fees proposed by the Lolo Administration in a bill, which authorizes the Customs Office to use scanners for customs inspections, arguing that it’s the public that will end up paying these fees. The Senate is looking at reducing some of the proposed fees.

The fees for the scanner equipment will place a “burden on our people,” Sen. Magalei Logovi’i said at least three times in his statement directed to chief customs officer Moetulu’i Fuiava during a Senate committee hearing on the bill last Thursday. Deputy treasurer Tina Onosa’i was at the hearing accompanied by Moetulu’i.

Sen. Laolagi F.S. Vaeao asked Moetulu’i as to how much ASG is projecting to get from the proposed scanner fees, and he responded only based on the 40-foot containers and 20- foot containers, but not the rest of the other fees cited in the bill.

Samoa News should point out the two highest fees outlined in the bill are: for a 40-foot or more containers is $350; and, containers less than 40-feet, including all 20-foot containers is $250.

Moetulu’i said there were 11,400 containers — both 40 feet and 20 feet in 2015 and based on the proposed rates in the bill, that’s over $3 million a year, but that doesn’t include the other proposed scanner fees, such as loose cargo pallets and that means the government is expected to receive a lot more money with the use of the scanner equipment.

Magalei said his concern is that fees imposed on businesses would be passed on to the public, and further, the government is currently charging a 5% excise tax, but will now also impose scanner fees. Additionally, the $350 and $250 fees being proposed will come down to the “end results” of the public being impacted.

He said there should be a plan that takes into account the serious impact these fees will have on the public. He explained that the Senate is looking at the $2 million matching funds to be funded by the scanner fee — but it also needs to look at the public not being heavily impacted.

The senator said there must be a balance in which the government benefits and the community survives — but not for the government to survive, but the person does not.

Moetulu’i says that the “security of our people” is important and therefore there is no getting away from paying the fees. “My main concern is the safety of the people of American Samoa,” he said. The money that we get from the [scanner] equipment is a side bar from the safety of the people of American Samoa.”

“Because if we don’t do it now when are we going to do it,” he said and alleges that people are “standing at our high schools and grade schools dealing drugs.”

Magalei quickly responded, “So why are you charging and putting the burden on our people? If you’re concern is about the safety, why charge the fee? Your concern is safety and so are we. But its also our concern the heavy burden put on our people and that’s why we’re trying to see a way so we can remedy [the situation].”

“Your concern is well taken and I credit you for your passion and it’s all our concern,” said Magalei, but reiterated that the Senate’s concern is the “burden on our people” who will suffer as they will pay the costs been passed on by the businesses.

“So we’re trying to see how can we help so that the government grow and so as the people,” said Magalei, who reminded Moetulu’i that he has been in the government for 4 years as Treasurer and is fully aware of the issues faced by Customs — which comes under the Treasury Department — in efforts to protect the local border.

However, Magalei said the public needs to survive just like the government. He said, “We can’t let people die” by paying for the fees, while the government survives.

Responding to questions from Magalei, the chief customs officer explained that in 2014 customs inspection fee revenue totaled $133,846 and in 2015 it totaled $155,112.

According to a summary customs revenue report, a total of $26.48 million was customs collection in FY 2014 and $25.39 million in FY 2015. The report, which was distributed to senators, covers all revenues collected by customs i.e beer, alcoholic beverage, tobacco, 5% general excise tax.

Other senators also raised concerns about the high fees and the impact it will have on businesses and the community.

Responding to other committee questions, Moetulu’i said the first three scanners — one each for the airport and post office and the third a van equipped with scanner that can travel around the island — are scheduled to arrive later this month. The 4th scanner — the larger one for containers is scheduled to arrive the last week of October.

Additionally, six Customs officers have been selected to attend scanner training in Torrance, California and the group departs Sept. 23rd for the 10-day training.

COMMITTEE DISCUSSION

The committee has decided to table the bill while additional information is been sought with ASG and there were suggestions during the discussion to reduce some of the fees.

Meanwhile, the House version of the bill is now with the Senate and will be take up by the committee early this week along with the Senate version for a final decision.

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