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Statement By Premier and Minister of Finance Dr. The Honourable Orlando Smith, OBE On The Progress Of The Territory's Recovery Post Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
  • POST ON 18 Dec 2017

Madame Speaker, I am pleased to provide this update to this Honourable House on the progress of the Territory’s recovery from the devastations of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

You would recall that on November 13th, I gave a statement in the House where among other things I advised that my government has been developing a comprehensive recovery and development plan which will identify short, medium and longer-term objectives and rebuild our territory and restore the BVI.

Madame Speaker, I am pleased to report on the plan government has developed, which sets out a framework for our recovery. The document outlines key sectors and area specific priorities, the structure for delivering those priorities and costs and options for funding and financing the recovery and will now be subject to public consultation.

I strongly encourage you to participate in creating a new vision of our Territory.

The Plan

Madame Speaker, before I share some details of the Plan, let me commend the hard working team that put it together whilst at the same time contributing to the relief efforts to get our Territory back on its feet. The process of rebuilding out Territory is a monumental task and putting a proposed plan together over the past three months has been equally challenging. So a big thank you to the team who worked diligently day and night to get us to this stage.

You will recall from my previous updates that we have identified 6 priority areas for recovery and development. These areas are:

1)     Human and Social Services

2)     Infrastructure and Utilities

3)     Business and the Economy

4)     Governance

5)     Natural Resources and Climate Change

6)     Pride and Cultural Identity

These priority areas and their various action plans Madame Speaker, provide a vehicle to get us to our recovery destination. Our journey on the road to recovery must be guided by some fundamental principles such as learning from our past experiences, inclusiveness for all residents in the affairs of the Territory, full transparency in all we do, accountability, building a sound and diversified economy and ensuring resiliency in all we do.

Our recovery vision is therefore a stronger, smarter, greener and better BVI that is more resilient and sustainable. That means a BVI that is economically vibrant, socially cohesive, environmentally sustainable, structurally resilient and adhering to the principles of good governance and the rule of law.

Madame Speaker, this plan is our roadmap for our recovery vision. By following it, we hope to get back to a state of normalcy in the short term and to a stronger and more resilient BVI in the longer term.

At the core of our recovery plans is the rebuilding of the lives of the people of the Virgin Islands. As such, Human and Social Services is one of the key areas of focus for the Government. We are working to ensure that our homes are rebuilt in a timely manner, and to resilient standards, and that our education and health facilities are similarly restored and developed.

We must rebuild our education infrastructure incorporating smart technologies; revamp our building standards to be more resilient, expedite construction of our clinics, expand our secondary and specialist healthcare services, and review our NHI to inform its future development.

Madame Speaker, we have already begun to make significant strides with rebuilding our infrastructure and utilities.  However, much more is planned. We recognize that rebuilding our infrastructure and utilities is critical to catalyzing all other aspects of the rebuild, whether it is our livelihoods or our businesses and business sectors.

The plan therefore provides a heavy focus on repairing the electrical power distribution and transmission network throughout the Territory, as well improving its resilience by placing cables  underground and developing alternative energy sources.

Our infrastructure plan also calls for a rebuild of approximately 90 miles of road network as well, as drains, ghuts, walls and sea defenses.

Restoration of our sewerage network and treatment plants; as well as repair and reinstatement of water plants, networks (including metering) and all reservoirs are also high priorities.

Madame Speaker, our plans call for the restoration and rebuilding of our sea ports in order to enhance border control and provide for modern, safe and efficient inter and intra island transportation. Reconstruction and restoration of Government buildings in order to facilitate the continued provision of key public services is also critical.

Plans call for the Government to enhance the enabling environment for individuals and businesses to drive economic recovery and growth. Actions that support the existing business sectors, particularly SMEs and attract new investment are prioritised.

Madame Speaker, we also recognize that we must restore essential services to facilitate the return to BVI of those persons in the financial services sector who temporarily relocated when firms implemented their disaster recovery plans. We have given high priority to facilitating the return of the well-respected Commercial Court to BVI.

Our plans recognize the critical importance of extending the runway at the TB Lettsome International Airport in supporting a rapid economic recovery and positioning the Territory to respond more effectively and efficiently following future disasters, should they occur.

Our plans recognize that climate change is real and our environment is vulnerable. We must therefore accelerate our mitigation and adaptation interventions to ensure our natural resources are used sustainably and are available for future generations.

The plan seeks to strengthen the institutions of law and order recognizing the importance of the rule of law. It calls for a paradigm shift to a more service focused public service with more efficient and technologically driven operations.

Madame Speaker, the task of reconstruction in the aftermath of the triple disaster that struck the BVI is enormous and the road to full recovery long. It requires a strong institutional structure with significant and sustained financing to drive the economic and social recovery needs and future growth of the Territory.

We therefore propose to create the British Virgin Islands Recovery and Development Agency to implement the proposed plan.

The Agency will be established through legislation, and managed by an independent board supported by a Secretariat. Its purpose is to guide the delivery of Recovery Action Plans in a transparent and accountable manner.

Recovery plans will also require a ring-fenced Resilience Fund, which will hold funds in custody for the BVI recovery effort. The Agency will rely on the contributions from a variety of sources including investors, donors, government borrowing from financial institutions as well as individuals and corporations to support the implementation of the activities outlined in the Recovery and Development Plan.

The Plan calls for an estimated $721 to finance the recovery. Government is committed to contributing $58.9M and is seeking $52.7M from grants, $221.7M from loans, $331.4M from private/NGO/Statutory sources and $56.7M from insurance payouts.

The Government is in discussion with a range of potential donors and lenders to secure sustainable financing. The UK has already pledged a loan guarantee of up to £300M in lending and to provide a grant of £10 million. We are also currently in discussions with Caribbean Development Bank about borrowing an initial USD$65 million for rehabilitation purposes.

I wish to thank everyone for their contribution to our recovery thus far – whether financially, in kind or helping hands. We are very grateful for all you have done and continue to do.

We would like to recognize your kindness and generousity as well as ensure full transparency and accountability in relation to use of donations you have made. For these reasons, we will be launching a Donors Registry in January which will be publicly accessible and online.

Madame Speaker, the Registry will provide a complete listing of all donations received and the use to which they were put. It will also maintain a list of persons and organisations registered with the Government of the Virgin Islands as fundraisers. You can therefore be assured that the causes and institutions you wish to support will benefit from your much appreciated donations.

Madame Speaker, I also wish to thank the residents of the BVI, whether currently in the BVI or temporarily abroad, for their patience and understanding as we work our way through this difficult situation. You are at the centre of this recovery because it is about you and helping you to rebuild your lives.

Many of you, both here in the BVI and temporarily in other parts of the world, have made  significant contributions to the development of the BVI. You are part of the BVI family and we are very grateful for your contributions. We recognize that there are deficiencies in our policies related to residency and belongership.

This is an issue my Government began to review before Hurricane Irma and was prepared to advance by year end. However, the disruption of the hurricane has changed our focus temporarily. At the same time, it has increased the need to bring complete resolution to this issue.

Madame Speaker, my Government will therefore be proposing changes to our residency and belongership policies in the first quarter of 2018 to address many long-standing and newly emerging issues in this area. We will of course consult with the public on this very important matter.

Madame Speaker, let me close by reminding you that opportunity sometimes comes disguised as adversity. The greater the adversity, the greater the opportunity. Let’s seize this opportunity to build a new BVI. A BVI where we all work together in an atmosphere of mutual respect and open communication. Let us work together in an atmosphere of mutual respect to blending over 100 cultures into one BVI.

Let us work together. Stronger together, greener together, smarter together and better together.

Let us be BVI Strong!

Thank you Madame Speaker.