While the average Bahamian is struggling to get by, wealthy businessmen have formed third party companies paid handsomely by the Minnis Administration to collect government revenue on behalf of various agencies, including the Customs and Immigration Departments.
Civil servants fear this scheme is a ploy by the Minnis Administration to grease the palms of its wealthy political donors.
The Gallery understands this unnecessary initiative, which takes funds out of the Public Treasury and places it in the pockets of the elite, is being aggressively pushed by Financial Secretary Marlon Johnson and Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar, who is looking out for his business buddies.
In February, the Ministry of Finance announced an agreement, called SeaZPass, with the OMNI Financial Group and Association of Bahamas Marinas (ABM) for the collection of charter fees from mega yachts and other charter operations in The Bahamas.
OMNI, which is owned by Michael Alexiou, the Tomlinson family, Dr. John Rodgers, Mike Maura and Jimmy Mosko, is being paid $11 per transaction.
Foreign yacht charters go to the company’s website and pay charter fees online.
However, those charters could just as easily go to the Customs Department’s website and pay fees online without OMNI taking a cut.
In addition to OMNI collecting charter fees online, it is also collecting funds on behalf of Customs from boaters submitting declaration forms.
This has sparked outrage among Customs officers who say they have no way of verifying how much money Omni actually collects as Customs has no access to OMNI’s systems.
Staunch Free National Movement supporter Siobhan Reilly, who has campaigned for Dr. Hubert Minnis in the Killarney constituency, was hired to assist government agencies in transitioning to cashless systems.
However, the Ministry of Finance has announced it is also working with other government agencies, including the Port Department and Fisheries, to develop additional payment and licensing solutions that will benefit other “private sector service providers”.
After wealthy businessmen convinced the government that it needs their help to address revenue leakages, the government went to Parliament to amend the Customs Management Act to enter into partnerships with vendors who would “charge, collect and retain a processing fee, as agreed in consultation with the Minister, in respect of every application made and temporary cruising permit.”
The government is now signing agreements with other third party companies in the absence of their technical teams and forcing them to go along with the scheme.
Last year, the National Insurance Board entered a similar agreement with Island Pay, which is paid to issue unemployment assistance payments to laid off workers.
Island Pay, which is owned by millionaires Jimmy Mosko, the Holowesko and Tomlinson families, has been plagued with issues resulting in the late payment of benefits to unemployed Bahamians.