By Mellica McPherson
As of June 1 sea bound passengers will be required to pay a $5.00 security tax at the various seaports. However, at the recent House of Assembly sitting, Opposition Member and Third District Representative, Hon. Julian Fraser boldly asked “what service is being delivered for the $5.00”.
The $5.00 security fee and the increase in the departure tax was announced last year amidst criticism from the public. The tax increase was confirmed by the Premier, Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith in the House of Assembly on 14 May 2013. During a statement to the House the BVI Leader said that the departure fee would be required of persons travelling to the United States Virgin Islands. He also described the move as a necessary revenue earning measure.
According to Dr. Smith the new fees will now require BVI residents to pay $10.00 and non-residents pay $15.00 at departure ports. In fact, the Premier stated that the adaptation of the proposal would result in an equivalent rate of $20.00 that is charged for passenger tax at the airport. He said: “For non-residents $15.00 per person plus a security fee of $5.00. In effect, residents will realize moderate increase on a tax rate that has been constant for almost 20 years.”
In other words the increase meant that residents will pay $15, $10 departure tax and the $5 security fee. While visitors will pay $20, $15 for departure tax and the $5 security fee. However, in August when the fees were enacted only the departure tax increase went into effect and it was later explained that the Port Authority absorbed the security fee for a period, and that the fee will be enforced in June 2014.
However, Hon. Fraser said that he does not see the feasibility of the increases and told his colleagues: “We just raised the passenger tax for ferry travelers, we just raised that — was it fair at that time: absolutely not! Now, I heard that they are going to implement a security tax. That security tax for sea bound passengers is a wrong tax unless you provide the service that that security is supposed to provide, you cannot take that $5 from the people.”
Hon. Fraser explained that seaport departure tax increase should not be compared to the increased that was done to airport departure tax, because the airport departure tax was justified: “It was implemented at the airport. There is a history behind that, it’s justified. When it became mandatory for all whole baggage to be x-rayed…it was the responsibility of the airlines, but because of the size of facility the airlines asked the government to be the custodian of that service and that is how government got involved in that…. for that $5.00 that we charged at the airport we provide a service, we x-ray those bags. What are you going to do at the seaports for my $5.00 and call it a security tax?, nothing. You cannot just go on taking money from people like that. These are the same poor people out there who are struggling right now,” Hon. Fraser said.
Amidst criticism over the decision to increase the tax paid at the various sea ports Premier, Smith announced that plans are being made to minimize the burden to frequent ferry travellers with a money saving card.
Speaking in the House of Assembly on 26 July 2013, the BVI Leader announced that Government intends to create a card system that would give a 20 percent discount to frequent travellers. The Premier explained that the card will be for a one week or a one month period.
The BVI Leader further mentioned that Government also intended to introduce an administrative system that would allow individuals to purchase passes to enable travel without the payment of passenger tax when leaving the Territory. He noted that the passes will be valid for predetermined periods of time.