Is the government manipulating commerce on Guam in favor of big businesses? A local businessman raised this question as he expressed frustration with the stalled release of hand sanitizer products confiscated by Guam
Department of Public Health and Social Services from small retailers.
Monte Mesa, general manager of the Guam Premier Outlet, said while several retailers have been waiting to retrieve their merchandise that were seized in April, Public Health continues to confiscate hand sanitizers.
“Is the government regulating the sale of hand sanitizers now? Is there a new rule that you cannot sell hand sanitizers if you are not K-Mart, PayLess, Home Depot or any favored business?” Mesa asked, speaking on behalf of the retailers at GPO. “This is not right. This should be looked into.”
Despite presenting documentation, Mesa said, the retailers were told that the merchandise could not be released pending legal opinion from the Attorney General. Upon inquiry, Mesa learned from Public Health that 40 vendors have pending appeals for merchandise release.
“It’s already May and Public Health is still holding the products,” Mesa said. “This does not make any sense. Why does the AG have review this and why is it taking long for the AG to review these cases? What kind of appeal process are they setting up?"
Mesa said GPO has allowed retailers at the mall to sell hand sanitizers in their stores amid the spiked demand for hygiene products in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said the confiscated hand sanitizers were purchased from the U.S. and the vendors had documentation proving they are valid products certified by the Food and Drug Administration.
The vendors’ pleas for the release of their merchandise have not been acted on due to the government shutdown following the governor’s public health emergency declaration. When Guam moved to PCOR2, the governor partially reopened the government and allowed shopping malls resume operations.
“The vendors have been waiting for the government to reopen. Everyone is on the payroll but no one is working. This is crazy,” Mesa said.
“Before they were only confiscating face masks and alcohol. Why are they still confiscating hand sanitizers?”
In April, DPHSS authorized the Customs and Quarantine Agency to confiscate a list of products that may be “subject to control, restrictions and regulatory powers” of the department. These items include face masks, Covid-19 test kits, vaccines, serums and pharmaceutical devices among others.
“The exercise of this authority is imperative due to the need to ration supplies for the purpose of responding to the public health emergency as well as to prevent the importation of counterfeit items,” the department stated in a memo to importers.
Mesa said if Public Health is holding the hand sanitizers for its own use, then the vendors should be properly compensated.
When sought for comment, the governor's communications office issued a statement, reminding businesses "that Covid-19 related commodities, such as hand sanitizers, alcohol, antiseptic wipes, masks, and test kits are all regulated items pursuant to local and federal laws. Although some regulatory requirements have been relaxed due to the current emergency, minimum requirements must still be met to import and sell these items."
DPHSS said the Division of Environmental Health, which enforces the importation, distribution and sale of drugs and medical devices, has responded to several detentions of seized products at ports of entry.
"These detainments are undergoing a regulatory process, which includes assistance from the Office of the Attorney General and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the department said. "Businesses are reminded that it is their responsibility to ensure that their products are in full compliance with governing laws. Businesses that fail to comply with the law are subject to having their merchandise denied entry and/or criminal penalty."
An email to the Office of Attorney General was not returned as of this writing.