LETTER TO THE EDITOR FROM SENATOR FRED MITCHELL – A FEW QUESTIONS FOR THE MINISTER OF TOURISM

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PLP Chairman Senator Hon. Fred Mitchell.

Dear Business Editors:

I note and respond to a 30 November 2020 news story in which the Tourism Minister responded to a number of questions I raised in the Senate on 27 November and by follow up press statement on 29 November. The questions raised were in regards to payments for a health Visa and the relationship between the government and a company called Kanoo.

Since the Tourism Minister is claiming transparency with nothing to hide, l have several additional questions and unexplained issues I wish the Minister to answer and bring clarity to. l raise these issues in the public interest.

Why was the Government’s own payment gateway not utilized? This gateway now allows for online payments to be processed for Passports, VAT, Business Licence and Real Property Tax. It could have been used for this purpose for a nominal one time cost for programming and a low per transaction cost?

Why did the Government not use its existing e-visa platform for this initiative?  This platform which is being provided by Canadian Bank Note was selected precisely because of its flexibility.  The cost of using this platform for health visas would also have been nominal.

Is this not the whole reason for the e-government initiative at considerable investment of taxpayers dollars?

Under what authority can the Minister of Tourism manage the fees collected for Government services such as the provision of the health visa? The Financial Administration and Audit Act is clear that these funds should be deposited into the Consolidated Fund Account and any withdrawal of these funds can only be done by the Minister of Finance?  

The Minister of Tourism said that the 15% processing fee or $6 per transaction seemed reasonable. How can he reconcile this with the advertised fee of $0.99 per transaction on onlinepaymentsbahamas.com? I have also been advised that using the Government payment portal would result in even lower fees? This therefore begs the question of how does this commercial arrangement with Kanoo advance the public interest? It is clear that Keith Davies’ private business interests are being handsomely advanced.

Can the Minister of Tourism explain how doing business with Keith Davies, the full-time CEO of BISX, a company where the Government of The Bahamas is the largest shareholder with over 45% of the outstanding shares is not an apparent conflict of interest?

Can the Minister of Tourism advise exactly what service is Kanoo providing? It would appear that Kanoo is only a broker between the Government and payment gateway. This could mean that the collected revenue which rightfully belongs to the Government is being illegally deposited into Kanoo’s bank account providing Kanoo with an unearned and an unreasonable benefit.

Can the Minister identify the other service providers for this scheme, how were they selected, what service are they providing, and what is the cost of the service which they provide?  

In light of the foregoing, it is unfortunate that the Minister’s response and that of Mr. Keith Davies only confirm what many suspect – that the health visa is not in the best interest of the Government of The Bahamas but was only created to allow political cronies and insiders to profit from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Minister must say whether this is anything other than an enrichment of politically connected benefactors.

The Minister of Tourism and this government are reminded that the role of the government is to use the instruments and institutions of the state to continuously improve the lives of the citizenry, not to enrich party insiders and political cronies. In the process, please do not offend Article 25 of the Bahamas Constitution.

Yours sincerely,

FRED MITCHELL
Chairman – Progressive Liberal Party

30 November 2020