By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Association of Bahamas Marinas (ABM) yesterday voiced frustration that the entry process for incoming boats and yachts has been made “more complicated and difficult” for 80 percent of the market.
Peter Maury told Tribune Business that, behind the government’s glowing press release about cruising permit applications and fee payments going online, “another step” has been added for charter vessels that currently account for most of The Bahamas’ business.
He disclosed that charter vessels seeking to operate in The Bahamas must now manually obtain a “commercial transire”, a shipping document normally used by cargo vessels in relation to duty payments, before they can get their cruising permit and pay associated fees to the Port Department.
And, in launching its own portal for cruising permit applications/fee payments via its Click2Clear platform, Mr Maury said Customs has also ordered the ABM to shut down its own online portal that was performing exactly the same function and remitting due funds to the Port Department and Public Treasury.
Describing the situation as “a joke”, he told this newspaper: “We signed an agreement and licence with the Government to provide an online payment service for the Port Department and cruising permits for vessels coming into the country.
“Customs is now asking us not to collect it on our site but for boaters to use theirs. Their no longer accepting payment via the marinas’ site. But the biggest problem is 80 percent of the traffic we have is charter business, larger and mega yachts.
“Customs has put another step in there in that they have to have a commercial licence. You come into the country on a cruising permit, and have to apply for a charter licence from the Port Department. Now, in order to get approval for a charter licence, you have to get a transire from Customs,” Mr Maury continued.
“You have to go back to Customs to get the transire, which is a manual process and not online, and then get the charter permit and pay the fees. Instead of getting vessels in and people to work, we’ve added another few steps.
“What was simple before has got more challenging. We were hoping to put everything online to make it a simple process. We had our portal online for six months, and were able to publicise it in January, but we’ve been asked not to do cruise permits and for everyone to use Customs. Like everything else it’s got more complicated and more difficult.”
It is unclear whether the transire requirement is an attempt to better police the charter boat sector, which has been seen by the Government as a source of major revenue leakage, but Mr Maury said: “There’s no duty on people last time I checked.
“Instead of getting the whole thing moving in the right direction online, it’s a more difficult process in my opinion. We’ve just made what has worked for the last three to four decades and turned it into something else. We need these vessels to make money in the country, and hopefully they’ll bring their wealth.”
Mr Maury said the extra bureaucracy and red tape was especially ill-timed as the marinas geared up for a charter boat show within the next few weeks to promote The Bahamas as a major destination ahead of the March/Easter season, and with the economy still attempting to recover from COVID-19’s devastation.
There was no mention of the “transire” or request for the ABM to close its online portal in the Ministry of Finance’s announcement of Customs’ own facility for cruising permits and fees.
“This is another great milestone achieved by the Customs Department, which has been leading the way with the modernisation of Government services. The new cruising module on the Click2Clear platform provides a seamless and cashless collection process for cruising permit fees with online applications and payments by credit card,” said Kwasi Thompson, minister of state for finance.
“This is all a part of our digital transformation agenda. It addresses a long-standing pain point for boaters who have been clamouring for a fully digital process. It also minimises the opportunity for revenue leakage.”
The release said the Customs Department last week met with the Association of Bahamas Marinas, representatives from the Bahama Out Islands Promotion Board, the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association, and Ministry of Tourism on the initiative.
“The Ministry of Tourism applauds the implementation of the Click2Clear cruising permit module by the Customs Department. We are looking forward to the new system helping us to enhance the boating experience and grow the boating traffic in The Bahamas,” said Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, who has responsibility for the boating market.
Dr Geannine Moss, comptroller of Customs, added: “The Department of Customs is committed to embracing modern technology to fulfill its mandate in an efficient and innovative manner. We are pushing aggressively and have had tremendous success rolling out the Click2Clear platform. The cruising permit module is the latest advancement we are happy to bring to the market, and there is more to come.”