New law aims to free up millions from tourist levy

The content originally appeared on: The BVI Beacon

For more than six years, the government has been collecting a $10 levy from most non-cruise ship visitors as required by the 2017 Environmental Protection and Tourism Improvement Fund Act.

The law requires this pool of money — which should now exceed $10 million — to be used to combat climate change, protect the environment, and bolster the tourism industry.

But leaders have said they have been unable to tap these funds because of legal complications.

On Tuesday, the House of Assembly took action to address this problem after years of delays.

“The act should have been brought into force and it was not,” Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley explained while introducing the Environmental Protection and Tourism Improvement Fund (Validation) Act 2023.

“In essence, it is essentially for us to now validate the [actions] which took place under this act and to protect the government from legal challenge.”
He added that such legislative errors are not isolated to the eco-levy law.

“Madam Speaker, as we speak about doing things correctly and building institutions, there have been some measures which have not been properly done in passing legislation and, therefore, this bill has come to the House to correct some of those things,” he said.

After Dr. Wheatley’s brief introduction on Tuesday, legislators discussed the new bill in a closed-door committee session. Then they returned and passed it with amendments without further public debate.

Earmarked

The original law — which legislators passed in April 2017— requires 40 percent of the levy funds to be earmarked for activities related to climate change and environmental protection, with another 40 percent going toward tourist sites and tourism-related activities and 20 percent devoted to tourism marketing.

Among other effects, the ongoing funding freeze has stalled the work of the Climate Change Trust Fund, an independent body established under a 2015 law to finance climate change mitigation and adaptation initiatives in the territory.

Though the CCTF’s board initially was appointed in 2017, the body has never received significant funding.

Instead, its members were left to spend their own money on basic initial steps like creating an operations manual and logo.

Then, shortly after the 2019 general election, the board’s membership was revoked by then-Premier Andrew Fahie’s Virgin Islands Party government — a move the Commission of Inquiry later found to be unlawful.

Dr. Wheatley reappointed the board last June, apologising to members for their previous treatment and assuring them that the government would provide the trust fund with the “necessary seed funding” to get up and running last year.