Last week Leader of the Opposition Hon. Marlon Penn and Second District Representative Hon. Melvin “Mitch” Turnbull blasted the government’s plan to implement a seven percent (7%) fee on remittances by foreign workers to their countries.
During the 17 April debate of the Bill entitled, “Financing and Money Services (Amendment) Act, 2020” the two opposition legislators announced their concerns about the imposition of a seven-percent fee on all monies sent out of the Territory through money transfer agencies such as Western Union and MoneyGram.
In his explanation of the objectives and reasons of the Bill, which was subsequently passed Premier and Leader of Government business Hon. Andrew Fahie explained, “The fee applies only with respect to monies transferred outside the Territory and is to be collected by the licensed transmitter to be paid to the Financial Services Commission (FSC).”
Hon. Fahie explained that the money will be later transferred to a fund that will be used to satisfy various needs in the Territory. “In order to maximise the revenue that will be available to support these initiatives, the monies collected by the Commission will not be subjected to the statutory sliding scale percentage withhold and deducted by the Commission, and other revenue that the Commission collects and pays over to the government under the Financial Services Commission Act.”
According to the Premier, the government has already earmarked uses for the soon to be collected monies. The BVI Leader mentioned that of the fees collected 20 percent will go to the agriculture industry, 20 percent towards programmes for senior citizens, 20 percent towards educational programmes, infrastructure and scholarships; and 20 percent will go towards a Land Bank and first-time homeownership programme.
During his presentation of the Bill, the Premier announced that he expected the Opposition to be against the suggested fee. The Premier declared, “I stand by this initiative, this is not a tax on the poor.”
He further stated that he can stand by the decision: “The question is: can I live with 7 cents on every dollar going towards the seniors, education, the fishing industry, the farming industry and to first-time landowners and homeowners? I search my soul, and the answer is ‘yes’. I could live with it.”
However, Hon. Penn and Hon. Turnbull disagreed with the Premier and announced that the Bill was indeed targeting an already overburdened expatriate community.
While explaining that he believes that the areas highlighted by the Premier should be funded Hon. Penn said that he did not feel that poor members within the community must be the only ones paying for this. “I am proposing that we look at other avenues to fund these instruments, not on the backs of what I call the most vulnerable amongst us,” he added.
Hon. Penn stated that the Government would be better served by targeting areas where millions of dollars leave the Territory such as bank transfer. He also said that the Government can also get monies for the mentioned needs by collecting outstanding revenues and fixing cracks in the system.
While boldly declaring that it is a reverse Robin Hood plan Hon. Penn further decried the fee. “Putting a tax on our working-class people is not going to fix the systematic problems that we have. Our efforts are better put if we address the inefficiencies in our system. We need to rethink this, rethink our approach. But, not on the backs of persons who struggle, who all they want to do is take care of their families that they left behind,” he announced.
In his criticism of the new fee Hon. Turnbull declared that when added to the other obligations the expatriate population is already laden with: “If I look and do some calculations, the average person living in this territory is supposed to pay eight percent on their income — four percent on Social Security [and]3.75 percent on National Health Insurance (NHI) — and now seven percent on the monies that they would have to send out of this country,”
“There is an additional five percent that is charged by the merchants of these money services businesses per transaction. So, based on the rough calculations that I did, we are looking at persons that would be sending monies out of this country having a tax of 27.75 percent,” Hon. Turnbull added.