Health visa purchases generate $2.4 million surplus

Health visa purchases generate $2.4 million surplus

Ministry of Tourism refutes electronic payment providers engaged for political reasons

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — While defending its decision to engage electronic payments provider Kanoo for its health visa program, the Ministry of Health said yesterday that up to March 31, health visa purchases generated $9.8 million, of which 82 percent derived from visitors and $2.4 million in surplus after expenses.

The opposition has called for transparency over the government’s decision to engage Kanoo and suggested the move was motivated by political affiliation — an assertion the government has refuted.

In a statement, the Ministry of Tourism said when airlines were approached, including American Airlines, Delta and Jet Blue, about screening their passengers for negative COVID-19 tests prior to boarding a plane to The Bahamas, the airlines advised their check-in personnel were unable to do so and recommended the government implement a system where travelers could upload their results.

The Bahamas Health Travel Visa was rolled out on November 1, 2020.

According to the tourism ministry, developing the website prior to reopening the country was a “huge undertaking” with six weeks to develop the software and meet the deadline for reopening the industry.

The ministry said given the tight time frame involved, it undertook a sole-sourcing arrangement as opposed to an open-bid process, which it said would have taken three months or longer to complete.

“Tourism was reopening in five days, the website was going live in five days and there simply was not enough time to develop and issue a request for proposals and then wait for and evaluate the proposals,” read the statement.

“This is not unusual in circumstances such as this. Indeed, even the imminent Public Procurement Act makes provision for limited bidding in similar exceptional circumstances.”

The ministry said Kanoo, which had previously worked with its online software developer, was engaged on commercial terms that were well within the Ministry of Finance’s guidelines for third-party revenue collectors.

“Further, the relationship of Kanoo to the software developer meant that the setup of the electronic payment system for the health visa would be able to be facilitated within the tight time frame,” the statement read.

“To say that Kanoo was selected because of some political affiliation between the governing party and its shareholders is wholly untrue.

“No such consideration was ever part of the decision-making process.”

There was no upfront fee to Kanoo, according to the ministry.

The service fee paid per transaction is 1.5 percent.

The government said this was well within the MOF’s fee structure and consistent with what is paid to other approved third-party payment providers such as Cash N’ Go, Sun Cash, Island Pay and Omni Financial.

The ministry contended that assertions Kanoo is controlling funds earned through the travel health visa process are “completely erroneous”.

It said providers hold the funds temporarily before remitting it to the government.

It assured that, at all times, the funds in the account are controlled and monitored by the accounting department within the Ministry of Finance and no funds are transferred out of the account without the express permission of the government.

Up to March 31, 2021, $9.8 million was received from the Travel Health Visa and $7.4 million in expenses were made — leaving a surplus of $2.4 million.

Around 82 percent of the revenue was derived from visitors while 18 percent was made up from returning citizens and residents, as well as domestic travelers.

Additionally, the ministry said 65 percent of expenses covered the cost of health insurance and 30 percent of expenses covered the cost of administering the rapid antigen test.

“We remind the public that all monies held on behalf of the government are subject to the review and audit of the auditor general,” read the statement.

“Further, during the current budget exercise, the government has taken an additional step to bring forward an amendment to the Public Financial Management Act, 2021 that requires the Ministry of Finance to report on all sums received and taxes collected by third-party entities when it prepares its annual report.”

All vaccinated people traveling domestically can obtain a travel health visa free of charge.

About Royston Jones Jr.

Royston Jones Jr. is a senior digital reporter and occasional TV news anchor at Eyewitness News. Since joining Eyewitness News as a digital reporter in 2018, he has done both digital and broadcast reporting, notably providing the electoral analysis for Eyewitness News’ inaugural election night coverage, “Decision Now 2021”.