Recovery Efforts Update by Premier The Honourable D. Orlando Smith
12 October, 2017
Ladies and gentlemen of the Virgin Islands, I am pleased to provide this update to you on where we are presently in our recovery efforts. For several weeks now members of the National Emergency Operations Centre, along with various regional and international agencies have been assessing damages caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria to all of our islands. I am pleased to announce that Cabinet has approved a Disaster Recovery Plan and the establishment of a Disaster Recovery Coordinating Committee (DRCC). The Coordinating Committee is to be chaired by the Permanent Secretary in my office, Mr Brodrick Penn.
We continue to meet humanitarian needs, clearing debris and restoring sufficient amenities to allow public services and businesses to restart. The second phase and the longer term reconstruction programme will rebuild the Territory in a manner that is consistent with our national development plans and covers rebuilding all sectors of the economy.
Damages sustained to the Territory has affected every area of business and life and now requires a calculated strategy moving forward to restore and improve life for residents and significantly, the Territory’s economy. A critical part of our task will be identifying and fostering relationships to support the financial resources and technical skills that are now required for our reconstruction. Based on preliminary assessments, the estimated damages to the Territory is in the area of $3.3 billion across all sectors.
My administration has had several meetings to discuss the cost of the Territory’s rebuild and how it will be financed. Immediately following the passage of Irma and even now, it continues to be a priority for my office to ensure that local businesses continue so that goods and services can be provided to residents and so that jobs remain in our economy. To support the rebuild for residents and to provide some level of financial ease, we have waived customs duties on building supplies, generators and now we have also added items such as food, clothing, vehicles and other non-luxury items. While our financial services industry has successfully continued serving clients, we know that with losses to our tourism sector and to our local economy our gross domestic product will be substantially impacted, yet we must fund our rebuild.
My administration has decided the best way forward for the Territory is to utilise an appropriate mix of financing, including grants and affordable borrowing to fund our reconstruction. We continue to foster relationships with private investors and companies, donor agencies, countries, lending institutions, international investors and the United Kingdom government to facilitate the funding needed. In addition, we have already received some financial contributions and pledges from our regional and international friends.
In light of the effects of the recent hurricanes around the Caribbean, the World Bank will be hosting a discussion this weekend as part of its annual meetings. In attendance will be the President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim. I will be using this opportunity which is facilitated through the United Kingdom’s membership and participating in a round table discussion in Washington, DC on Friday, October 13 to highlight the Territory’s position. I will be making a case for the Virgin Islands to have greater access to financial support to fund our reconstruction.
We are also exploring options with international investors to look at reasonable and responsible opportunities for financing our rebuild. While we are reminded daily of the importance to get our islands back to its pristine landscape, we also know that our financial actions will have a significant impact on our future development. To this end, we are seeking all possible options to fund our rebuilding responsibly.
And finally Virgin Islanders and residents, I have heard your complaints and constructive criticisms of how we can improve our coordination and address the essential matters of reaching aid and support, shelter and even job opportunities for residents. Know that as Government makes decisions, every Minister has brought up your concerns. We are working to improve our response and also our communication to the public.
As I have stated before, the task before all of us, not just for elected officials, but also for public servants, the private sector, workers in our economy and even parents will be a challenging one. It will require all of us to dig deep and demonstrate continuous resilience as we find ways to rebuild our Territory. I acknowledge that all of our lives have drastically changed, but we must find the strength and willpower to do the urgent and necessary work to restore our islands. As your Premier, I ask that every resident prepare themselves for the next three, six and twelve months to demonstrate our collective commitment and pride in these islands.
Moving forward, my updates will now be in the form of a weekly brief with information from Government on how we are moving forward with rebuilding plans and important notices. It remains my honour to serve you, and I will continue to work diligently with my administration to restore the BVI. May God continue to bless us all and let us all remain, BVI Strong.