“UNNECESSARY”: Opposition leader claims PLP-led govt would axe COVID travel visa if elected

“UNNECESSARY”: Opposition leader claims PLP-led govt would axe COVID travel visa if elected

“The travel visa is a burdensome, unnecessary tax on Bahamians at a time of widespread economic pain”

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Leader Philip Brave Davis promised yesterday that a PLP-led government would end travel health visa requirements for Bahamians and visitors immediately upon taking office.

In a statement yesterday, Davis reiterated the party’s position held throughout the COVID-19 pandemic — which hit The Bahamas in March of last year — and called on the government to provide “up-to-date audited statements of visa expenses, revenues and fees”.

“The travel visa is an unnecessary tax imposed by the FNM (Free National Movement) government on Bahamian families and businesses when they can least afford it,” Davis said.

Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis.

“The PLP does not believe Bahamians should be charged to travel within their own country, nor should Bahamians be charged to return home after traveling abroad.

“…Any testing or insurance requirements related to COVID may be kept in place as needed without the travel visa; there is no purpose for the visa that justifies the additional cost burden.”

The PLP leader also alleged the travel visa makes The Bahamas’ tourism product “less competitive” when compared to other Caribbean destinations that do not require a travel visa for each family member on top of other testing and insurance costs.

The Bahamas Health Travel Visa has been adjusted several times since its rollout, based on local and global changes with the COVID-19 pandemic.

For visitors staying in The Bahamas longer than four nights and five days, a rapid antigen test is required on day five of the visit.

The fee for the day five rapid antigen test is covered through the Travel Health Insurance fee associated with the mandatory health visa for entering The Bahamas.

All vaccinated individuals traveling domestically can obtain a travel visa without cost.

As of July 1, all vaccinated and returning residents returning home from overseas can also obtained a health visa free of charge.

Digital payments provider Kanoo was engaged for the program, which has been the topic of controversy recently.

Davis yesterday once again slammed the government’s decision to award Kanoo the contract.

He questioned the method by which Kanoo collects funds on behalf of the government via the health travel visa initiative and holds them in a Bank of The Bahamas account.

“The people’s money staying in a private account — where are the auditor general and the attorney general?” Davis questioned.

He suggested the government is circumventing the procurement process to “hide the details of contracts awarded to the family, friends and donors of the FNM”.

“If the competent authority and Ministry of Tourism want to address the concerns of the people, they can begin by providing up-to-date audited statements of visa expenses, revenues and fees,” Davis said.

“They call this a travel visa, but really it is functioning as a new tax on the people.

“However, instead of going into the government’s consolidated fund, the money has gone — and stayed — in the account of a hand-picked private company with ties to senior FNMs.

“…The travel visa is a burdensome, unnecessary tax on Bahamians at a time of widespread economic pain. The PLP will end it.”

While defending its decision to engage Kanoo, the Ministry of Tourism has said 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.

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

It also noted 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.

About Sloan Smith

Sloan Smith is a senior digital reporter at Eyewitness News, covering a diverse range of beats, from politics and crime to environment and human interest. In 2018, Sloan received a nomination for the “Leslie Higgs Feature Writer of The Year Award” from The Bahamas Press Club for her work with Eyewitness News.