Following a debate that took days, the Cruising Permit (Amendment) Act, 2017, which raises the cruising permit fees, was finally passed in a final sitting on 6 June.
During the presentation and debate of the Bill during the 29 May sitting of the House of Assembly it was noted that the legislation aims to raise the cruising permit fees for guests by some 300 percent.
The legislation amends the Cruise Permit Ordinance Cap 203, and upgrades the fees that have been in place for more than 20 years. Once enacted charter boats based in the Territory will pay $6 per person and charter boats not based in the Territory will pay $16 in season, which spans from 1 December to 30 April.
During the off season, which lasts from 1 May to 30 November, 30 home based charter boats will pay $2.25 per person for their cruising permit; while foreign based charters will pay $8 per person for their permit.
Prior to the amendment non-BVI based charter yachts paid $4 per person per day year round, and BVI based yachts paid $2 per person per day during the winter and $.75 per person per day during the summer season.
The fact that the fee is being increased by 300 percent was defended during the debate on 29 May. Minister of Health and Social Development Hon. Ronnie Skelton said that he has heard the concerns about the increase, but noted that the cries are exaggerated.
In fact the Minister described the complaints as ridiculous: “This is becoming so ridiculous that a couple of my friends met me and (said) we are chasing charter boats out of the country because they are telling them that we are increasing the fees 300 per cent …And they are quite right that’s what we did 300 per cent, from $2 to $6 and $4 to $16.”
The Health Minister explained that it is unfair that persons want improved infrastructure, but are unhappy about the fee hike: “Everybody wants the government to provide facilities –docks, immigration, customs clearances; want government to keep the water clean, anchor buoys in the water but no one wants to pay for these things.”
“Arguing about $2, $6 sends the wrong message. The charter boats owners should not do this, the guests will be paying…We need to raise revenue to do the things we need to do,” Hon. Skelton added.
In his endorsement of the fee increase Minister of Education and Culture, Hon. Myron Walwyn declared that the concerns that visitors will stop coming because of the increase has no merit; and he pointed out that the BVI should have no qualms about valuing what it has.
Hon. Walwyn said: “Why should we be afraid to charge for what we have? We … must know what we have and take care of it properly…Don’t tell me that people will stop coming to the beautiful BVI because we are charging $6 per day to be on a vessel, we have to be realistic… Make sure that once we raise the revenue we put it to good use for the preservation of the BVI.”
“I don’t think there should be discrimination for in-season and out-of-season; there should be one season…The rates of $6 and $16 are reasonable rates throughout because the very same issues we have to address we have to address them year round,” the Education and Culture Minister added.