Statement By Premier and Minister of Finance Honourable Andrew A. Fahie: ‘Get Ready To Move: Our Economy Is Going Into Overdrive’

ADDRESS BY

PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE HONOURABLE ANDREW A. FAHIE

16TH APRIL, 2021

GET READY TO MOVE: OUR ECONOMY IS GOING INTO OVERDRIVE

 

Good day and GOD’s BLESSINGS to all the people of the Virgin Islands.

As we reflect on where we are today as a country and as a people, we must say that over the last 13 months we have indeed come a long way, navigating our way through the unseen and unknown realities of the global pandemic, and we are still here standing strong together.

Over the years, we may have lost loved ones along the way, but their memories live on in our hearts.

COVID-19 is still present, but the Grace of God is ever present.

We are thankful to God that as of today, our positive confirmed cases have been significantly reduced due to recoveries from 20 to now 4.

We are not out of the woods as yet, but our economic hope continues to be emboldened through events such as yesterday, 15th April, 2021, which marked a major milestone for us with the reopening of the Road Town Jetty to allow for international travellers.

We have been planning, as a people, for that day almost a year now.

Yesterday’s successful opening of the Road Town Jetty means that where there is life there is hope; and where there is hope there is an opportunity to cast our nets and reap success.

And, yesterday’s successful reopening of the Road Town Jetty is a clear indication that your Virgin Islands Government always had a working plan for this economy.

Sometimes when we are inside of the struggle or challenges, we do not see or appreciate what we have.

But, can I tell you that the eyes of the world are looking at how we, as a people, are successfully executing our plan.

So much that the British Virgin Islands’ response to COVID-19 has been presented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as a model for the Eastern Caribbean at the UN development agency’s official presentation of its joint reports with ISGlobal entitled, ‘COVID-19 Policy Reports for Recovery in the Eastern Caribbean: Analysis, Scenarios and Considerations for Opening to Tourism’.

This international recognition of our efforts as a people is a further testament that once we work together, then and only then we can achieve greatness for present and future generations of the Virgin Islands.

The latest updates show that the BVI only has four active COVID-19 cases in our Territory at present. Of the 187 total cases since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, we have had only one unfortunate death due to the virus.

We have been able to save many lives through our prayers and by our early and decisive action to secure our air and sea borders, implementing necessary protocols, upgrading our public health capabilities, and working together as a community to keep each other safe.

The health and entry protocols of the Virgin Islands have been cited as highly effective in safely reopening and managing our borders to restart the tourism sector in the midst of the global pandemic.

What we have done and what we have achieved as a Government and as a community is being held up as a model for how threats similar to COVID-19 can be dealt with in the future.

That is an astounding achievement for our tiny country, and it is one that must inspire us. This is our achievement together as a country, and it reminds us that we can have confidence in our own abilities as Virgin Islanders.

I wish to thank all the hardworking public officers, members of the Government, the private sector community, and so many more who provided constructive advice and kept us as a Government transparent and accountable.

Together we successfully pushed through our plan and we continue to move in the direction of progress.

Phase I began on 2nd June, 2020, and allowed for Virgin Islanders, Belongers and Residents to travel into the Territory and to return home.

Phase II began on 1 September, 2020, allowing more categories of residents including work permit holders, dependents, homeowners, students and others to enter the Territory.

Phase III in the border reopening process began on 1st December, 2020, allowing international travel for the managed re-opening of the tourism sector.

In fact, a ‘BVI Tourism Reopening Guide’ was launched on 6th November, 2020, and outlines pertinent requirements, training and protocols regarding obtaining certification prior to the reopening of the Territory on 1st December, 2020.

Additionally, businesses engaged in tourism activities in the Territory must have a ‘Gold Seal’ certification as part of the Phase III re-opening. The training and certification process was facilitated by the BVI Tourist Board, the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College and other Government agencies, working in collaboration with the tourism industry stakeholders.

We have come a long way, and we will keep moving, in one direction forward.

COVID-19 dynamics are constantly changing, and we are constantly reviewing all the data that is coming in – local data and what is happening on the international scene – and we are constantly updating our protocols and measures with the aim that, as best as we can, we stay ahead of the curve.

Over the past 13 months of the COVID-19 global pandemic, we have learnt a lot more about the virus and how to go about our daily activities using protocols and other such tools.

We have also strengthened our infrastructure to give the Territory some more resilience.

As each of these pieces was put in place, and with the cooperation of the national community under the New Regular, we were able to progress through the various phases of our plan for rebooting and re-energising the BVI economy.

And, as we continue to make progress, further expansion will continue.

It is important to note that while we have had to deal with the ongoing impact of COVID-19; your Government continued the work towards our vision of transforming the BVI into a leading regional economy through entrepreneurship, innovation and local and foreign investment.

We must press on in spite of the challenges.

Our foreparents have taught us to always use our pain to fuel the fulfillment of our purpose.

Hence at this time, this involves concentrating efforts on further strengthening and expanding our Tourism and Financial Services industries to create more economic opportunities for our people and to build our Territory’s resilience.

We have done similar work to strengthen our construction industry and sector overall, but even more so during the COVID-19 era where we have seen a record number of approximately 464 development applications processed for calendar year 2020 by the Town and Country Planning Department.

Already, 2021, as expected, has begun on much the same pace.

As we close out the First quarter, Town and Country Planning have processed over 150 planning applications. Needless to say, on this pace, the team at the Town and Country Planning Department has projected that the 2021 numbers will easily surpass that of 2020 for the same time period.

This good news continues to enable local contractors to gain increased participation in the opportunities in our Territory.

With construction moving forward, it means a financial booster shot into the economy, spreading into sectors.

This means there is a market for goods, construction materials, transportation services, as well as many other spinoff areas of our economy.

No doubt, the workers will have the need for meals and the spending power to support our food vendors and other businesses. When they earn their salaries, their entire families will benefit.

The family then is able to spend the money in the supermarkets, the salons, the barbershops, and the other stores and businesses, and be able to pay their rent and even build homes for themselves; thereby creating a multiplier effect for economic activity.  Everything has a ripple effect.

People of the Virgin Islands get ready to move because our economy is going into overdrive.

We have also done considerable work to prepare for acceleration of the diversification of the economy.

With all the work that has been done and with the strides that we have made in managing COVID-19, coupled with the optimism that is coming to light with the roll-out of vaccine programmes across the globe, as it relates to the resurgence of global trade, global travel and Tourism, it is now time to push our BVI economy into overdrive – and there is no turning back.

The opportunities for Virgin Islanders and residents – and also for local and foreign investors – over the next weeks, months and years, are immense.

The future in the Virgin Islands is for the prepared, and so, I once again urge all Virgin Islanders, Belongers, and residents to take note of the opportunities that are on the horizon and prepare yourselves so that you can participate and cash-in on these opportunities.

As I have indicated on prior occasions, we have started work on the National Sustainable Development Plan, which will be the master plan for the development of the BVI economy.

The Economic Advisory Council has recently presented their interim report with recommendations that are very much in-sync with our overall vision – particularly for Tourism and Financial Services, as well as the Blue Economy and fledgling industries.

These initial recommendations tie in with existing plans and help us to refine our strategies for achieving the rest of our goals in partnership with the business community.

In terms of plans that are slated for implementation in the immediate to near future, I can tell you that one of your Government’s highest priority is Tourism and accommodations.

The Special Committee for Tourism chaired by the Junior Minister for Tourism, the Honourable Sharie B. de Castro, has influenced the content for the development of a new Request for Proposal (RFP) for the development of the National Tourism Master Plan with special emphasis on strategies that incorporates post COVID-19 and other potential catastrophic events.

Some of the objectives that the RFP will seek to deliver include developing in partnership with the private sector, at least twenty (20) new commercially sustainable and scalable tourism products, in the areas of cultural and historical heritage tourism, historical sites and archeological tourism, ecotourism, adventure tourism, and MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) tourism.

It will also involve developing and promoting at least six additional new tourism products, services and experiences in major coastal resorts throughout the British Virgin Islands, through day trips and night tours; culinary experiences that include at least 10 iconic culinary establishments throughout the British Virgin Islands, which may also include day and evening trips; and aggressive social media and online promotional programmes to online users and online travel services providers; an airline incentive programme to boost arrivals; a promotional programme, specifically targeted to the cruise line industry, and a marketing strategy to further promote and maintain the BVI as a top yachting destination.

It is worth mentioning that the way is being cleared for the return of cruise lines, which is good news for our taxi and tour operators, food vendors, souvenir and handicraft vendors, restaurants, businesses at the Cyril B. Romney Tortola Pier Park, and for our economy as a whole.

We must remember that COVID-19 did not take away our much-sought pristine sailing waters and breathtaking sunsets and views.

COVID-19 did not take away our beautiful beaches with white sand.

COVID-19 did not take away our awe-inspiring coral reefs and magnificent dive sites.

COVID-19 did not take away BVILOVE.

Our main tourism products and attractions remain intact and so does the demand for it.

Tourist arrivals will get an additional boost when we launch a special visitor’s VISA waiver for persons from specific countries who may have been deterred from visiting the BVI due to current VISA restrictions.

Such persons would be able to visit the Virgin Islands on a one-month single entry VISA once they have a return airline ticket and proof of secured and approved accommodation.

This will benefit our hotels, villas and other accommodations, car rentals, taxi and tour operators, restaurants and other businesses.

People of the Virgin Islands get ready to move because our economy is going into overdrive.

We are also going to introduce the Work-in-Paradise initiative for visitors who can work remotely from the beautiful shores of the Virgin Islands. They can come to the BVI and stay for an extended period. During this time they will not be able to work for any local company or business. But they can perform their foreign-based job.

Those persons will also access hotels, villas, apartments,  car rentals, taxi, and tour operators, restaurants and other local services, but they will be paying for it with their foreign earnings, and that means we will be drawing in money from outside of the Territory which will be going into our economy.

People of the Virgin Islands get ready to move because our economy is going into overdrive.

We will also be launching the Invest and Stay programme where foreign investors who are investing substantial sums of money in approved businesses and industries in the BVI and hiring local persons to work will be allowed to come and live in the BVI.

Please note, persons approved for this initiative will not get any special exemptions for purchasing land or property; they will not get citizenship rights and the time spent in the BVI will not count towards applying for Residency or Belongership.

Those persons will support our hoteliers, villas, apartments, car rentals, taxi and tour operators, restaurants and other local services, while creating jobs and bringing their investment into the local economy.

People of the Virgin Islands get ready to move because our economy is going into overdrive.

Your Government is in discussion with top-rated international medical schools that wish to open campuses in the BVI. Once approved, this will provide a lot of opportunities for our people in the near future.

For starters, the schools will be committed to enrolling an agreed number of Virgin Islanders for medical training. This will contribute to the development of our people and open the door for those individuals to enter lucrative careers in the medical field.

Additionally, the schools will attract foreign students who will need accommodation, transportation and other services, and who will also contribute to economic activity in the Territory.

The economic spin-off of having more than a hundred medical students on our shores in the near future can only bode well for our hoteliers, villas, apartments, AirBnB, Car rentals, taxi, restaurants, supermarkets, car sales businesses, and many more businesses and individuals.

People of the Virgin Islands get ready to move because our economy is going into overdrive.

Your Government is aware of the concerns from the marine sector where other countries have drawn some of our tourism customers and where vessels have left our waters during COVID-19 because our border were closed.

We are going to recover some – and hopefully most – of that business as well as attract new business when we invite them back through our initiative to amend the Cruising and Home Port Permit Act where our rate per head for boats registered here in the BVI will be reduced.

And this is something that we are going to market heavily so that we can get the word out both near and far that the BVI has put the welcome mat out.

Now that investors will be regaining confidence in the global economy, and particularly in the BVI with our renewed thrust in Tourism, your Government will be moving to restart the process of attracting credible potential investors to bring Prospect Reef back on stream.

This will translate to jobs, revenue, economic activity and opportunities for all.

Hoteliers have been interested in a number of potential opportunities in the BVI, and we are going to pursue those proposals that will provide the best benefit for the people of the Virgin Islands, while bringing a balance to our already existing local hoteliers.

It is time to push this economy forward, and there is no turning back.

People of the Virgin Islands get ready to move because our economy is going into overdrive.

Look at your business.

Look at your business model and start preparing yourself to secure your place in the economy as activity picks up.

We want our businesses to flourish.

We want their customers of our businesses to benefit.

That is why we will be introducing the long spoken about Customs Duty two-tier tariff system so that licensed businesses in good standing, importing goods will pay a lower duty than individuals who are importing goods not for business purposes. This will allow our business people to receive a reduction in cost of goods to pass down to the customers.

While the BVI Ports Authority will hold off on increasing port fees for now, the Authority remains committed to pushing forward with its developmental plans for improving efficiency and revenue generation for the Territory.

This includes increasing berthing options to receive larger classes of cruise vessels and mega-yachts, development of a new luxury hotel and conference center in the Pier Park, expansion and re-organisation of its cargo port systems, construction of the general cargo warehouse, construction of the West End Ferry Terminal, and much more.

Again, this will create direct employment opportunities in the construction phase and in operations, and it will help to further boost economic activity.

People of the Virgin Islands get ready to move because our economy is going into overdrive.

The Virgin Islands Shipping Registry is also diligently working to ensure that we secure our Category One rating with the IMO Code Triple I Code for compliance. This will ensure that we can further grow our registry and attract new business for our economy. More business means more opportunities for jobs for our people and more opportunities for them to launch BVI-owned businesses.

Your Government is working with the various stakeholders to promote home-porting in the BVI for cruise ships and other marine vessels. The possibilities here are endless for the BVI’s revenue streams. This will become a reality through amendments to be made to our Cruising and Home Port Permit Act.

Persons connecting with the cruise ships will be coming to the BVI to embark and disembark and this means increased business for airlines, the airport services and taxi services, and other amenities. Tour operators and other tourism businesses will benefit from higher volumes.

People of the Virgin Islands get ready to move because our economy is going into overdrive.

The BVI Airports Authority is also coming with its business plan to fund the expansion of the Terrence B. Lettsome International Airport and runway.

This is a vital project for growing our Tourism industry and increasing arrivals. We need to expand so that we can accommodate larger aircraft for direct flights to and from major cities and airports.

This is another opportunity for creating jobs during the construction phase. Expanded facilities and capabilities will require more persons to work in aviation related careers. When we increase passenger flows, we will increase the demand for accommodation, taxis, food and other services.

People of the Virgin Islands get ready to move because our economy is going into overdrive.

The BVI Airports Authority also has plans to upgrade the Virgin Gorda Airport to further help boost the Tourism Industry especially on our Sister Islands.

You should know that your Government is engaged in the arbitration process with regard to the Hung Lands at Beef Island.

Acquiring just over 600-plus acres of land will allow the Government to pursue development initiatives that will enhance the economy. Additionally, this is a possible for site to house our proposed drag racing stadium which is a potential opportunity for sports tourism and this will attract increased visitor and cargo traffic to the Territory.

People of the Virgin Islands get ready to move because our economy is going into overdrive.

It is time to push the BVI economy forward, and there is no turning back.

The legislation for the BVI’s new gaming industry is largely in place with amendments to be made to include online.

We have other amendments that will create additional revenue generation opportunities, which we are pursuing. However, this industry is poised to come on stream.

We remain focused on working with the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office to clear the obstacles that are holding back our medical marijuana industry.

We are confident that these issues will be worked through and we will be able to kick-start this multimillion dollar industry that promises to be quite lucrative for the people of the Virgin Islands.

The BVI economy is built on the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of the Virgin Islands people over generations.

This means that developing entrepreneurship is our way forward.

Under our Junior Minister for Trade and Economic Development, Honourable Shereen D. Flax-Charles we will see the Innovation Business Labs that will soon be established to help our visionary people convert ideas into commercial ventures, we will also have the support of our Junior Minister for Tourism Honourable Sharie B. de Castro.

We are working on introducing a series of training programmes to give our entrepreneurs the knowledge and tools to make their businesses successful.

Your Government will continue to dialogue with the banks on behalf of the people of Virgin Islands to get more favourable terms for small business loans.

A lot of work is taking place to reform the Trade Department and to get the new Virgin Islands Trade Commission set up to speed up the process for obtaining trade licenses, where we will also implement the consumer protection unit.

We will also be going District-by-District to work with our people to design and implement new stimulus business activity to further strengthen our economy.

This will be tied into our E-Government transformation programme which will make Government services accessible through the internet. Citizens will not have to travel into Road Town to do business with the Government. They will be able to do this from their homes – including on the Sister Islands and even beyond for our people living aboard.

We are already engaging with Telecommunication Services providers to address service quality, reliability and cost.

The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission is being proactive in negotiating for telecommunications licenses that will be expiring next year and due for renewal.

Reliable, affordable, and accessible telecommunications is critical for doing business in the digital age especially for the investments your Government will be making to have our Virgin Islands to be one of the top digital economies in the world.

It is time to push the BVI economy forward, and there is no turning back.

Many of our people of the Virgin Islands have benefitted from the relaxation of the stamp duty on the purchase of lands or property by a Belonger.

Your Government has heard your cries for an extension to this initiative.

Hence, your Government will honour your request through amending the Stamp Act to allow for the further relaxation of the stamp duty cost to Belongers who purchase land or property.

My people, there is a lot more that your Government is working on to create economic opportunities for you.

These also include Government projects such as the Sea defense project in Carrot Bay, Cappoon’s Bay and Cane Garden Bay; East End/Long Look Sewerage Project; the West End Ferry Terminal Modernisation Project; the Market Square Project; the Cultural and Tourism Village on the reclamation of Carrot Bay; the Solar Energy Project on Anegada, food security which includes turning our Agricultural Department to a statutory agency to increase effectiveness, just to name a few.

As we continue to push the throttle down into overdrive on rebooting and re-energising the BVI economy, expansion and diversification of the economy, and the economic empowerment of our people, we are confident that there are many opportunities and options coming into view – many of which will materialise almost immediately.

COVID-19 has been a challenge but we have endured and the worst is hopefully behind us. We will now allow our pain to fuel us in fulfilling our purpose.

Through the hard work of everyone – our Ministers, our Public Officers, the Statutory Bodies, the private sector, you the people of the Virgin Islands, and most importantly our God Almighty, Abba our Father, we are positioned to overcome these challenges and to leap forward into new opportunities and new possibilities.

Once we remain on course, maintaining our vigilance with COVID-19 and adhering to the recommended safety practices, we will continue moving in one direction which is forward.

But to me – and for my Administration – what is most important, is that new business opportunities and more job opportunities are opening up in the economy, and we must see more Virgin Islanders being in business, owning businesses and earning meaningful income.

We have a lot of positive things to look forward to in the weeks and months ahead.

It is time to push the BVI economy into overdrive, and there is no turning back. The time is now, so let us move forward with confidence and let us do so together.

In BVILOVE, I thank you, and may GOD forever bless these beautiful Virgin Islands and the people of the Virgin Islands.

So together let us move forward with confidence as we move to push our BVI economy into overdrive.

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