Government cannot afford to drop TA form, Senate told
The highly controversial Travel Authorisation form will stay in place even if all other emergency Covid measures are dropped because the Government needs the money it generates, a senator has said.
Arianna Hodgson, junior health and finance minister, told the Upper House getting rid of the $40 payment before its planned end date of March next year would mean cutting services, raising taxes and borrowing money.
Ms Hodgson dismissed opposition concerns about the TA as the Senate backed the extension of emergency orders intended to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
She said: “The emergency order will continue to be necessary again as long as the public health emergency that we see worldwide continues to exist.
“The TA system would definitely remain in place if the emergency powers were to end today.
“And I want to make it clear that the two do not rely on each other.
“Obviously, we recognise that Covid-19 has had a dramatic impact on travel and tourism, and our local economy.
“However, the TA system was the one element, I would say, that made it possible to protect our health system, to protect our borders and to delay the arrival of the variants of concern on our island.
“We can understand the politics surrounding the matters, and the inconvenience ... expressed by a small percentage of persons.
“I truly believe that the benefits outweigh the inconvenience. The alternatives ... to scrapping the TA would mean cutting services, raising taxes and borrowing more money.
“And, unfortunately, we are not in a position to do those things. And so, yes, the TA will be around until March 31, 2023.”
Ms Hodgson said that the public should do more to help the TA system work efficiently.
She told senators: “The ministry encourages all travellers to apply for the Travel Authorisation as early as possible.
”I think that the public can do their part in assisting the team by applying as early as possible.
“We are making the efforts and I think that the public can do their part. Generally, our tourism sector is showing signs of recovery.
“While there have been some challenges, I think that the general consensus is that our TA is doable.
“I think that we will take the necessary steps to streamline the process as much as possible.”
The minister insisted the overall extension of emergency Covid powers was needed.
She stated: “The emergency order is necessary for the mask mandate. We have to protect those in our correctional facilities, those within our rest homes, those within our hospitals, and we definitely want to protect our airport.”
The One Bermuda Alliance has repeatedly called for the TA to be scrapped as they insist it is damaging the tourism sector and putting travellers off coming to the island.
OBA senator Douglas De Couto told the Upper House that the TA was now about finance, not public health.
He said: “We know that this is really about the money. We know that the Government has budgeted for this money.
“So, it’s hard for me to reconcile the concept of an emergency order that must be regularly reviewed with something that has been put into the Budget.
“It is just another fee that this government is placing on the people, like the sugar tax.
“These taxes are piling up. The Government is getting them, but what is the average Bermudian getting for that money? That’s my concern.
“This is just a way for the Government to grab tax.”
The TA, which was $75 until last March, generated an estimated $14 million for the Government last year.
It is budgeted to bring some $22 million in during the current financial year.
Arriving passengers must pay for the form, introduced in 2020, and are barred from entry if they fail to fill it out correctly.
The rules mean visitors aged 2 and up need the approved TA to travel to the island.