REMARKS BY PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE
HONOURABLE DR. NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
VISIT OF UN MISSION TO THE BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS
HIGH-LEVEL DIALOGUE ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
10TH-15TH JUNE 2023
His Excellency Mr. Didier Trebucq, United Nations (UN) Resident Coordinator for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean
Honourable Ministers and Junior Ministers of the Government of the Virgin Islands
Distinguished Members of the visiting UN delegation
Ladies and gentleman
A pleasant good morning.
Mr. Trebucq, on behalf of the Government and people of the British Virgin Islands, it is my great honour and privilege to officially welcome you and the members of your delegation to the Territory.
We have been looking forward to your visit and I greatly thank you for accepting my invitation to join us here on island for a high-level dialogue on the support needed to help advance the sustainable development of the British Virgin Islands.
We are also very pleased by the number of UN agencies represented today, including ECLAC, UNDP, UNFPA, UNESCO, UNICEF and ILO. It is also very positive that FAO has joined us virtually, as well as other UN colleagues.
I see several familiar faces here in the room such as Diane Quarless and Regis Chapman. My Ministerial colleagues and I are very much looking forward to engaging with all of you.
Mr. Trebucq, the composition of your delegations for this UN mission, is a clear indication and demonstration to us of the seriousness with which the UN takes its relationship with the British Virgin Islands.
We are grateful to you and UN Secretary-General Mr. Antonio Gutteres for your commitment to leaving no one behind as the world tries to rebuild momentum to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) after the setbacks of the Covid-19 global pandemic.
The British Virgin Islands’ relationship with the UN has gone from strength to strength and continues to grow and expand. Our cooperation has gone from intermittent exchanges over a decade ago to sustained engagement, collaboration and programming for sustainable development.
We will never forget the role of the UN as an international “first responder” in coming to our aid after the catastrophic damage to these islands by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. We are grateful to UNDP, ECLAC, UNICEF and other frontline agencies for the important role they played in the emergency response and immediate aftermath of the two category five hurricanes.
We are also grateful to the UN system, led by the Resident Coordinator’s Office in Barbados, for the inclusion of the British Virgin Islands in the UN Covid-19 emergency response programme for the Eastern Caribbean from which we received $362,000 to provide public assistance to persons affected by the global pandemic.
Importantly, our sustained engagement in recent years led to a formalization of our partnership, which was the logical next step in the evolution of our relationship.
This is why I was very pleased that in January of this year we were able to agree a second Country Implementation Plan (CIP) which officially underpins the British Virgin Islands-UN relationship and sets our priorities for cooperation within the wider framework of the UN Multi-Country Sustainable Development Framework for the Caribbean (MSDCF) (2022-2026). The CIP also provides for a local Sustainable Development Goals National Coordinating Committee that will also meet today, along with the UN.
Additionally, I am also very pleased that the existing Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation between the British Virgin Islands and UNDP was renewed last year that has strengthened cooperation.
Mr. Trebucq, UN colleagues, the British Virgin Islands is grateful for the UN support we have received thus far, including the technical assistance provided by ECLAC to develop and complete a National Sustainable Development Plan that is aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The Plan was launched in February this year and its implementation is a high priority on the Government’s agenda. This will be a major focus of our discussions today.
At present, the British Virgin Islands is participating in the Resilient Caribbean Joint Progamme that is focused on strengthening social protection. Via this programme UNICEF reviewed the Territory’s social assistance regime and provided recommendations for reform, which my Administration is currently taking forward. I thank UNICEF for their support.
We are looking forward to engaging with UN colleagues on other aspects of the Joint Programme related to social protections systems, which will build upon the ongoing assistance provided by the World Food Programme.
It is important for me to mention at this juncture, that here in the islands there is a regular UN presence. A local UNDP office was opened last year and we are extremely proud that it is headed by our very own Ms. Patlian Johnson as National Coordinator.
Among other things, UNDP has provided us with technical assistance to complete the Territory’s blue economy roadmap. Our blue economy has immense potential with marine based tourism at its heart. We intend to expand the blue economy through the sustainable use of our marine resources.
UNDP has also provided vital support to the British Virgin Islands the through its FUT Tourism programme, including training and grants to our small businesses. The agency is also assisting with an e-Government audit.
I thank UNDP for all of their assistance to us.
We generally do not receive UN funds, but there is great deal of value in the policy advice, policy design and policy implementation support that the UN provides through technical assistance, particularly where we lack expertise or have human resource constraints.
In terms of climate change, however, It is very unfortunate that British Virgin Islands is unable to access climate finance through the internationally established mechanisms such as the Global Environment Facility. The negative impact of our climate vulnerability was clearly demonstrated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Mr. Trebucq, your visiting UN mission here yesterday began with a recovery tour of Virgin Gorda, which I hope put into perspective our climate vulnerability. As you saw firsthand, we have made good progress in recovering from the storms, but that the process is far from complete.
This is the setback that Small Island Developing States (SIDS) experience from the negative impact of climate change, while not being the ones responsible for the CO2 emissions into the atmosphere that are driving climate change and putting SIDS, Low-Lying Coastal States and the world at risk.
The British Virgin Islands supports the international push for a Multidimensional Vulnerability Index (MVI) that would consider the vulnerability of SIDS, including the British Virgin Islands, especially when considering concessional financing and grants.
Until this becomes a reality. We have to look at other options. My Administration wants to partner with the UN on innovative financing to help us raise the needed capital to develop climate resilient infrastructure such as roads, drains, utilities and so on. This is another area we look forward to discussing today.
Finally, it is very important for the public to know that this is not just a talk shop. The British Virgin Islands and UN are positively engaged for the benefit of the people of the British Virgin Islands.
What we hope to achieve by the conclusion of our dialogue is agreement in principle on:
- Available UN support measures to assist the Government with the implementation of the National Sustainable Development Plan;
- Concrete steps to strengthen and expand existing UN programmes in the Territory; and
- Areas in which technical assistance can be provided to the Government within the scope of the Country Implementation Plan.
As I close, I would like to thank the members of my team for all their hard work and preparations for this meeting, including:
- Permanent Secretary in the Ministry for Tourism, Culture and Sustainable Development Mr. Joseph Smith-Abbott
- Permanent Secretary in the Premier’s Office Mrs. Carolyn Stoutt-Igwe
- Special Envoy of the Premier Mr. Benito Wheatley,
- Deputy Director of the International Affair Secretariat Ms. Dwynel Davis
- Assistant Secretary for External Affairs Ms. Xyrah Wheatley
- Assistant Secretary Dr. Lavon Chalwell-Brewely
- GIS Office Ms. Sonje Greenich
Welcome again to the entire UN delegation and I look forward to the deliberations of this high-level roundtable on sustainable development.