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 constantly critical of this system and called on the federal government to supply “up-to-date audited statements of visa expenses, revenues, and charges”.
He slammed the federal government’s decision to award Kanoo the contract and questioned the strategy by which Kanoo collects funds on behalf of the federal government via the health travel visa initiative and holds them in a Bank of The Bahamas account.
He also suggested on the time that the federal government is circumventing the procurement process to “hide the main points 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 concerning the efficacy and proprietary of the arrangement, the way it’s arrange and the report has now revealed what we said.
“The opposite thing we now need to do is follow the cash.”
The Bahamas Health Travel Visa was launched amidst the COVID-19 pandemic because the country sought to mitigate the importation of new cases into the country but proceed tourism travel.
It has been adjusted several times since its rollout, based on local and global changes with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Based on 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 on 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 businesses involved, there was no contract officially executed with Kanoo.
Based on the Ministry of Tourism, the corporate was brought on resulting from the urgent need to supply 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 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.
The prime minister said the matter requires “further inquiries”.
“I’m advised by the relevant technocrats in our ministry that this inquiries shall be engaged and the relevant agencies which have charge of inquiry for those matters shall be engaged to do it,” he said.
Davis nevertheless couldn’t indicate whether the federal government will determine to take legal motion within the matter.
“That might not be a matter for me to choose that may be a matter for the authorities to choose.”