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By Ulysses Torres Sabuco

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Sept. 8) – The Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Senate will not conduct an investigation into an alleged smuggling incident involving a Tinian lawmaker.

Senate President Joaquin G. Adriano said the lawmaker, who he revealed is from Tinian, "did not commit any violation" when he allegedly tried to influence Customs personnel not to open a Tinian-bound container on Saipan.

The cargo purportedly contained $20,000 worth of cigarettes.

"I am not sure who this lawmaker (is) because there are four of us (from) Tinian. But we have been asking who is this lawmaker in question," Adriano told Variety yesterday.

Aside from Adriano, the other Tinian lawmakers are Se ns. Joseph M. Mendiola and Henry H. San Nicolas, and Rep. Norman S. Palacios – all Covenant Party members.

While he claimed he did not know who the lawmaker in question is, Adriano (R-Tinian) said the lawmaker was only asking that the cargo be inspected on Tinian, the final port of destination. Saipan was the first port of entry.

"The (Marianas Variety) article said there was an illegal smuggling of cigarettes. But that is not the case," Adriano said. "A official from Tinian (was only) asking that the container be inspected on Tinian."

Adriano added, "The only situation here...(was) we were just trying to give (local) businessmen on Tinian the convenience in getting their cargo faster."

The Senate President made these statements, even as the Senate is scheduled to meet with agencies that have jurisdiction over cargo shipments and visitor entry into the Commonwealth. This is the first step toward easing screening and inspections which local businessmen and an airline company complained about.

The Senate wants to "lessen, if not eliminate barriers" that may affect local commerce, Senate legal counsel Michael Ernest separately said yesterday.

He said they will "solicit inputs" from the Customs Services Division, Division of Immigration, Commonwealth Ports Authority, Transportation Security Administration, and the Federal Aviation Administration.

"We want to eliminate barriers to level the playing field here. Our meeting is to help identify potential problems," he said.

Ernest describes the Senate’s plan as "balancing efficiency for residents without compromising (public) safety and security."

"This involves the people...the passengers and the goods that are being shipped here. We obviously have to find out what these agencies think," he said.

Aside from complaints of local businessmen on restrictive customs screening, Continental Connection has aired its concern on transiting passengers through their Guam- Saipan route via Rota, who are subjected to multiple screenings.

"The Senate certainly does not want to step on their (Customs’s) shoes, but we are acting cautiously seeking their input before legislation is introduced," Ernest said.

Adriano lamented how Tinian and Rota-bound cargo – while awaiting inspection on Saipan – are slapped "wharfage fees and parking fees" when they can be inspected upon arrival at port of destination.

"This is very discouraging," said Adriano. "This is the case that we continue to argue: Why implement such rules when we are one Commonwealth and we are only separated by water?"

September 8, 2004

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