NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Prime Minister Philip Davis said yesterday that he feels vindicated after an auditor general’s report revealed several discrepancies with The Bahamas travel health visa (BTHV) prorate launched under the Minnis administration.
While in opposition, Davis and the Progressive Liberal Party were continuously critical of the program and called on the government to provide “up-to-date audited statements of visa expenses, revenues, and fees”.
He slammed the government’s decision to award Kanoo the contract and 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.
He also suggested at the time that the government is circumventing the procurement process to “hide the details of contracts awarded to the family, friends, and donors of the FNM”.
“My hunch was right,” Davis said.
“My concerns have been manifested by the findings of this report.
“We were concerned about the efficacy and proprietary of the arrangement, how it’s set up and the report has now revealed what we said.
“The other thing we now have to do is follow the money.”
The Bahamas Health Travel Visa was launched amidst the COVID-19 pandemic as the country sought to mitigate the importation of new cases into the country but continue tourism travel.
It has been adjusted several times since its rollout, based on local and global changes with the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the report tabled in Parliament on Wednesday, just over $34 million in gross revenue has been collected from the health visa program, which launched in November 2020.
The report noted that revenue was not transmitted to the Consolidated Fund on a timely basis, which the Ministry of Tourism acknowledged but said that at the time it was more focused on customer experience than providing the required monthly accounting data in a digestible format.
It revealed that while the Ministry of Tourism did ultimately submit fully executed contracts with the companies involved, there was no contract officially executed with Kanoo.
According to the Ministry of Tourism, the company was brought on due to the urgent need to provide an electronic payment solution for the travel health visa.
While the auditor general has asserted that only the minister of finance has the authority to open a bank account on behalf of the government, the Ministry of Tourism contended that Kanoo received written authorization from the management of the ministry to open the bank account on its behalf.
The prime minister said the matter requires “further inquiries”.
“I’m advised by the relevant technocrats in our ministry that this inquiries will be engaged and the relevant agencies that have charge of inquiry for those matters will be engaged to do it,” he said.
Davis however could not indicate whether the government will decide to take legal action in the matter.
“That would not be a matter for me to decide that would be a matter for the authorities to decide.”