In April 2017, legislators passed the Environmental Protection and Tourism Improvement Fund Act, establishing a $10 levy for non-cruise-ship visitors entering the Virgin Islands.
The law — which took effect on Sept. 1, 2017 — was designed to stockpile funding in part to bankroll environmental and climate change resiliency initiatives.
That has yet to happen, however: More than a year after the levy was launched, cash raised through the tax is still sitting stagnant in a government account.
In August, Financial Secretary Glenroy Forbes told the Beacon that about $800,000 had been raised. According to the law, 40 percent of that should be earmarked for activities related to climate change and environmental protection and improvement; another 40 percent should be spent on “the maintenance and development of tourist sites and other tourism related activities throughout the territory;” and the last 20 percent should be devoted to tourism marketing.
An “active debate” within government, however, held up that process, Mr. Forbes explained in August.
“Government has set up a Climate Change Trust Fund board and they are now lobbying and requesting that they get a 40 percent cut of those funds, but what I do know is that the 40 percent was meant for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour, meaning that ministry’s subjects, which includes things like the environment, which includes things like the Climate Change Trust Fund,” the financial secretary told the Beacon. “Whether or not the ministry wants to give the 40 percent to the Climate Change Trust Fund is a matter that would basically be determined by Cabinet.”
The debate may be borne out of ambiguity: The law does not specifically mention the Climate Change Trust Fund or the ministry as the designated recipient of the first 40 percent.
Fund board needs money
Mr. Forbes could not be reached for comment last week about whether that debate is ongoing, but Edward Childs, the chairman of the trust fund, said the fund has yet to receive any money from the levy.
“The board [of the trust fund] remains fully committed to supporting the BVI community through the fund, promoting projects based on sustainable development which will establish the BVI as a leader in climate change initiatives,” Mr. Childs, a director at Smiths Gore’s Virgin Islands office, said in a statement sent to the Beacon. “The board is working with the government of the BVI with respect to receiving funding through the environmental levy, which was established in 2017, and which is essential to establishing the fund on an operational basis.”
Neither NRL Minister Dr. Kedrick Pickering (R-D7) nor Permanent Secretary Ronald Smith-Berkeley could be reached for comment. BVI Tourist Board officials also could not be reached for comment regarding whether they had received any cash to fund promotions.
In March 2015, lawmakers passed the Climate Change Trust Fund Act, legally establishing the framework for an independent entity designed to finance climate change mitigation and adaptation initiatives. It was the first jurisdiction in the region to do so.
However, government did little to get the fund’s wheels turning until more than two years later, in July 2017, when its independent board was appointed after a public application and nomination process.
After the passage of Hurricane Irma that September, the board members began meeting monthly “to establish the operational requirements of the board, including the passing of the operations manual; the opening of bank accounts; creating the fund website and logo; and undergoing training with respect to the operations of the board,” Mr. Childs explained in his statement.
The $10 environmental levy applies to visitors arriving by air or sea, though it has certain exemptions, including cruise ship passengers.
The act also exempts United Kingdom warships; pleasure yachts; passengers under age 2; officers of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court; guests of the government; foreign government representatives; and crewmembers on vessels.