The House of Assembly has passed a Bill through which the government is seeking to have all visitors to the British Virgin Islands (BVI) start paying $10 into a fund that is yet to be established.
The Bill, which is entitled Environmental Protection and Tourism Improvement Fund Act 2017, was passed with amendments yesterday, April 18.
However, those amendments are not yet clear to the press as final changes to Bills are done in private.
Before lawmakers went behind closed doors to add their finishing touches to the Bill, they debated the proposed law in the open House of Assembly.
Premier Dr D Orlando Smith, who piloted the Bill, explained that the fees will be charged in tickets.
According to Clause 3 of the Bill, “An environmental levy at the rate of $10 shall be levied on and payable by each visitor arriving in the Virgin Islands by air or sea. A specified sum of money shall be included in the cost of a ticket collected by the owner, master or any agent for any vessel, or by any person through whom passengers are brought into the Virgin Islands.”
Clause four of the Bill, in the meantime, outlines the purposes for which the money collected should be used.
“The minister shall direct that the monies of the fund be applied towards activities related to environmental protection improvement, climate change and other matters affecting the environment, the maintenance and development of tourism sites and other tourism-related activities throughout the territory, and the marketing of the territory as a premier tourist destination,” said the Bill, as read by Premier Smith.
Contributing to the debate, Opposition lawmakers Julian Fraser and Andrew Fahie cautioned against the government’s appetite for price increases, adding that such hikes may discourage visitors from coming to the BVI.
They also wondered if persons who will collect the new fee in tickets will ensure it is paid over to the Government. “When you talk about the owner of a carrier collecting the government money, you not going to get it,” Fraser said. He, as well as Fahie, think the fee should be paid directly to the government’s Ports Authority officers at ports of entry.
Fraser, in the meantime, stated that the purposes for which the new levy will be spent are too broad.
“The categories are broad; they are not conclusive; they are just broad…. Very little of it (levy collected) will go towards the environment unless it’s specified here in the Act what percentage of it shall go towards the environment… And I do not agree that it (a portion of the new fee) should go towards the promotion of tourism,” Fraser further reasoned.
Penalty for not paying over
Responding to the concerns, Premier Smith said he does not think the $10 will be too onerous for visitors.
“In many cases, especially in Europe, a similar fee is applied daily for each day of the visit. But, here in the BVI, it should be a one-off fee for the visit,” he said.
Premier Smith also noted that a penalty is proposed in the Bill for the operators of airlines, ferries and other carriers who collect the environmental levy from visitors, but refuse to pay them over to Government.
Junior Minister of Tourism Archibald Christian, also noted the penalties. He said the government’s Financial Secretary will have the power to seize the ferry or any other carrier belonging to the offender until the funds collected from visitors are paid over.
“And the master or owner of the vessel would be liable to a fine not exceeding $5,000 in addition to the amount of the levy [not paid over t Government],” Christian further said while making reference to the proposed law.
Residents should pay too – Christian
Christian, in further contributing to the debate, said he thinks tourists would be willing to pay the additional $10.
He also stated that, if it were up to him, residents would also be required to pay the environmental levy.
“If anyone will argue that a tourist is going to complain about making a contribution towards a fund that will ensure that whenever they arrive at this destination that their experience would be second to none, then I think that person would be fooling themself. I haven’t come across a visitor yet that has indicated they don’t mind paying…” Christian said.
He added: “If I had my way; if it were me alone crafting this bill – but its not me alone – this bill would have some contribution to be paid by us as well; we who reside here. But, for today, it’s about tourism and the environment..”
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