NASSAU, BAHAMAS — An auditor general’s report into The Bahamas travel health visa (BTHV) has found that contracts for this system weren’t executed in accordance with the country’s financial regulations.
Based on the report tabled in Parliament yesterday, 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 on the time it was more focused on customer experience than providing the required monthly accounting data in a digestible format.
Because of this of the chronology of events, there have been actions taken that will ordinarily be frowned upon within the grand scheme of governance.
– Deputy Prime Minister Chester Cooper
The report noted that the Bahamas Department of Transformation and Digitization was initially engaged and commenced the software development process in July 2020, nevertheless, because of a shortage of programmers available on the time, Think Easy was brought on to finish the engagement.
Each Think Easy and Alpha Tango Media, which managed the 120-plus approved testing labs and day-five tests, were introduced by former Tourism and Aviation Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar.
CG Atlantic, which provided the travel medical health insurance, was paid $16.78 million between November 2020 and August 2021, and likewise commenced its services with a verbal agreement.
The report noted that COVID-19 “necessitated some realities that aren’t reflected within the financial regulations”.
It noted that considering the $16.78 million paid to CG Atlantic, it will have been “prudent” to get a minimum of one other quote despite the pressing time limitations.
The report stated: “We noted that the contracts for the BTHV program weren’t executed in accordance with the financial regulations 1975 Section 21(58), which stated that ‘all awards of contracts for supplies, works and services required by the federal government in excess of $250,000 shall be made by Cabinet’.”
Based on the report, services relative to this system commenced initially with only a verbal agreement, with contractual agreements executed weeks or months later.
The Ministry of Tourism, for its part, acknowledged the shortage of competitive bidding and the failure to execute contracts prior to the launch of the present version of the Bahamas travel health visa, citing time constraints as one in all the explanations for doing so.
The auditor general’s report noted that while the Ministry of Tourism did ultimately submit fully executed contracts with the businesses involved, there was no contract officially executed with Kanoo.
Based on the Ministry of Tourism, the corporate was brought on because of the urgent need to supply an electronic payment solution for the travel health visa.
Between November 2020 and August 2021, the corporate was paid $456,992.83, in response to the report.
Based on the auditor general: “The opening of the checking account with Kanoo on the Bank of the Bahama is in violation of the Financial Administration and Audit Act, Section 24, which states ‘no one shall open an account with respect to public money with any bank without the written approval of the minster and no bank shall permit an overdraft of any such account unless such overdraft has been authorized in writing by the minister’.”
While the auditor general has asserted that only the minister of finance has the authority to open a checking account on behalf of the federal government, the Ministry of Tourism contended that Kanoo received written authorization from the management of the ministry to open the checking account on its behalf.
Based on the Ministry of Tourism, the Promotion of Tourism Act empowers the minister of tourism to enter into contracts “because the minister may deem vital”.
The ministry also said it “has at all times operated accounts into which receipts were disposed and from which disbursements were made using its long-established system of internal controls for paying vendors”.
Based on the report, the Ministry of Tourism reported gross revenues of $34,442,104 (net of value added tax), total expenses of $23,657,900 and net amounts of $10,784,204 for the 10-month period of November 2020 to August 2021.
Extraordinary steps were taken to make sure the travel health visa was implemented as directed by the federal government of the day.
– Deputy Prime Minister Chester Cooper
While just over $34 million was collected, the report noted a variance of $21,388 when the sum was reconciled with the Treasury’s Financial Management System.
The report noted that accounting records were producing discrepancies of as much as $62,471 in understatement of revenues.
The report also noted that Port’s International had been overpaid by $43,947.68, with the auditor general recommending that the sum be recovered.
The Ministry of Tourism explained, nevertheless, that the agreement with the corporate called for advanced payment at the start of the month and by the tip of the month, reconciliation of previous months would occur, thereby leading to payments netting out at the tip of the contract.
Tourism, Investments and Aviation Minister Chester Cooper, commenting on the report yesterday, noted: “Because of this of the chronology of events, there have been actions taken that will ordinarily be frowned upon within the grand scheme of governance.
“These were extraordinary times and I’m advised by the technical people within the Ministry of Tourism that extraordinary steps were taken to make sure the travel health visa was implemented as directed by the federal government of the day.”