STATEMENT BY HONOURABLE PREMIER D ORLANDO SMITH – OCTOBER 19, 2017

19 October, 2017

Ladies and gentlemen of the Virgin Islands, today for my weekly brief, I bring to you an update on my meetings with the World Bank and its partners that I attended last week along with Minister for Health and Social Development, Hon Ronnie W. Skelton, and a housing update.

Last week Friday and Saturday, Hon Skelton and I attended several meetings that were part of the World Bank’s annual meeting on an invitation facilitated by the United Kingdom’s government. I had the opportunity to participate in a high-level roundtable discussion that looked at the financial implications of the recent hurricanes in the region as well as discussions with regional and international funding agencies such as the Caribbean Development Bank, the European Union, and the UK’s Department for International Development. Also, I attended a discussion by Prime Minister for Grenada and CARICOM Chairman, Hon Dr Keith Mitchell and Sir Richard Branson on the development of a regional plan for recovery and reconstruction.

Throughout those meetings and discussions, I continued to make the case that despite our middle to high annual GDP, the Virgin Islands needs greater access to funds to help us successfully recover from this disaster. As I stated before, my administration sees a responsible mix of grants, and affordable borrowing as the best way forward to fund our reconstruction. My meetings in Washington, DC were positive and secured confirmations from partners such as the CDB and the EU to support finding responsible ways to fund our recovery.

Based on the initial plan from the newly formed Disaster Recovery Coordinating Committee, government is looking at critical areas of our economy and development and identifying the best funding options. Central government funds from our disaster, reserve and relief funds will help with immediate relief, road clearings and government operations.

Funds from insurance coverage will assist across sectors in the redevelopment of both public and private properties. We are seeking to utilise grants and donations that have been pledged and some already received for relief and response efforts and supporting health initiatives. Grants from international partners will help with the reconstruction of schools, agriculture and fisheries industry, and health services. We will also be seeking financing on concessionary terms to develop our primary infrastructural needs further and providing housing for residents.

Immediately following the passage of Hurricane Irma, Government began discussions with key long-standing and new partners locally and internationally to assist us with the massive response that is necessary following such a catastrophic disaster as Hurricane Irma. These partners have been high profile private residents and businesses, regional and international NGOs and response agencies, as well as service groups such as our Rotary Clubs. Rotary has played a vital role in supporting logistics and coordinating various groups that have come to our aid. On Thursday, my team and I had productive meetings with the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean who will be assisting us by providing a large team of technical persons to help undertake a detailed damage and loss assessment across all sectors. This will be undertaken in the coming weeks.

Housing continues to be of critical importance to my administration. We are actively working to support the rebuilding of homes and apartments. The Ministry of Health has launched a Household Assistance programme where they are partnering with several NGO’s and International Agencies such as the Department for International Development (DFID) to ensure that displaced residents can resettle. As part of this programme, the Ministry has also partnered with the Red Cross to provide further assistance to vulnerable households such as families with low or no income, families with children under 5 and those with persons over the age of 65, single parent families and households with members with severe health issues or disabilities.

And finally, as we look at the road ahead and our reconstruction, I have had the chance to speak with many residents that are keen to see us rebuild, but rebuild more sustainably. I have listened to many of you expressing your desires for us to make the switch from being powered by fossil fuel to greener forms of energy such as solar and wind. We have spoken about the redevelopment of a stronger public service and even discussions about how we will use this opportunity to build a stronger generation of Virgin Islanders.

To you the residents of the Virgin Islands, I say let us continue to engage in these conversations. For my administration, a successful rebuild will be one that is done jointly with our community and one that is more sustainable and resilient. The exchanging of ideas and even spirited discussions is necessary for us to come together as a community to build one BVI.

While I look forward to restoring the BVI to its pre-Irma state, I also look forward to building a better Virgin Islands, one that will be an even higher beacon of hope and opportunity for its residents and even the greater Caribbean. I invite you to join me in a conversation on rebuilding next week Monday, October 23, from 5 PM to 7 PM on radio ZBVI 780AM and live on my Facebook Page. I look forward to our conversation, and as always, I encourage you to remain, BVI Strong.