By Horace Mills, BVI News Online Staff
Two members of the House of Assembly have recommended the merger of fees especially in the marine industry, adding that the move could result in more revenue for Government and less hassle.
Leader of the Opposition Andrew Fahie put the suggestion forward, and Government lawmaker Dr Hubert O’Neal supported it during a debate on the Cruise Permit (Amendment) Act, which proposes hikes in the current cruising permit fees.
The push to increase cruising permit fees comes weeks after lawmakers passed the Environmental Protection and Tourism Improvement Fund Act, which seeks to have each visitor to the territory pay $10 as an environmental levy.
Fahie, this week, urged his parliamentary colleagues to consider incorporating both the environmental and cruising fees into one.
“Re-look how we can charge more for the cruising permit but repeal the environmental fee,” he said.
“We are going to have more [visitors] coming through these cruising permits than we are going to have through the environmental fee. And we would make more money from it (the two fees being combined).”
The Opposition leader also cautioned that too many fees may result in visitors stop coming to the British Virgin Islands.
“We have to ask ourselves if we are not taxing ourselves out of the [marine] industry while saying that we are trying to protect it.”
“It is a question that must be asked and one that must be looked at, because we can’t just keep putting on a little bit there and a little bit there and a little bit there and saying it is not a problem – whether it is [for] visitors or whether it is local or whatever. We have to be careful,” added the Opposition leader.
He noted what, according to him, happened in the neighbouring US Virgin Islands.
“History will teach us…that our next-door neighbours had a good thing going with the cruising industry, but they keep adding on a thing here and a thing there and then it was gone,” the Opposition leader further told the House.
Meanwhile, a Government lawmaker, Dr O’Neal, threw his support behind the Opposition leader’s proposal.
“In terms of collection of the cruising permit fees, I kinda tend to agree too with the Leader of the Opposition that maybe we can combine these several fees. He mentioned about combining the environmental fees and other fees into one, I tend to agree with that,” said Dr O’Neal, who noted that he is a boat owner and sailor.
He further told the House, “When you are travelling and you are being nitpicked for every little thing here and there; I think it should all combine into one fee. It may be to our advantage; we would actually collect more in that regard.”
Dr O’Neal further stated that, during one of his trips from Jamaica, he stopped in the Bahamas to refuel and realized that a number of fees were combined.
According to him, he was charged US$300 for a cruising permit in the Bahamas. “I was quite alarmed. $300 seemed like an enormous amount of money; I wasn’t spending any time in Bahamas; I was just there in transit… Later on I got to find out that the entry permit included not only the cruising part of it, but it also included Customs and Immigration fees, and also a fishing licence as well. It was a combined sort of an entry permit,” Dr O’Neal further told the House.
He made it clear that he supports the proposed increase in the cruising permit fees. The proposal is for those fees to be increased up to $6 per person per day on boats based in the BVI, and up to $16 per person per day on boats based outside the territory.
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