STATEMENT BY PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE
DURING THE 12TH SITTING OF THE SECOND SESSION OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
10 July, 2020
COVID-19: Support for the People of the Virgin Islands
Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to renew my appeals to the members of the public to bear with their Government as we develop and implement the measures to further stabilise their social and economic situation and to put the foundation in place for their future.
I do not want to dwell on what the previous administration did and did not do, but the truth is that we have inherited an economy that has a very narrow footprint that was highly vulnerable to catastrophic events such as the major hurricanes of 2017.
Now the COVID-19 global pandemic which has crippled business around the world, especially those linked to travel and movement of people.
The fact is that our resources, while some argue to be robust, are in reality not limitless. And where nobody knows when this COVID-19 pandemic will end and its negative economic impacts will be rolled back, we have to be prudent, practical and sensible, in how we spend what little we have.
As I have pointed out on numerous occasions, the United Kingdom has indicated in writing that it has its own challenges to deal with and is cannot provide grants to the Virgin Islands for offsetting such things as loss of income for citizens.
Mr. Speaker, the harsh reality is that many people – most people in fact – are out of jobs. Their income has been cut. They are running low on food. Some do not have food at all. If our Saviour Jesus Christ was here he would know what to do with five loaves and two fishes.
I am just me and we on this side of the aisle are only human, and what we will continue to do in this New Regular of living and working with COVID-19, is to use what is in our hands. It might be little, but with God in anything, there will be much.
Everyday your Government is working round the clock to find ways to generate the income that is required to keep our Territory afloat and to ensure that Virgin Islanders can remain in control of their social, economic and political aspirations, rather than having this taken away from us by overseas administrators.
This land and our freedom are the legacy of our forefathers, and they are all that our people have.
I will not sugar-coat the situation. There is a high level of need.
We have heard it on the streets and from the Members of the Opposition, that people have needs and these needs must be met – urgently and without delay.
Your Government has moved mountains to source funding from the Virgin Islands Social Security Board and other sources, for which we thank them.
Those who are riling up the public and then trying to put pressure on the Government to dish out money, when they had nothing left to criticize began to criticize the source of the funds.
And the campaign to try and discredit this Government’s noble efforts continues to mount; the campaign to try to destabilise our society by creating confusion, misdirection, misinformation in a time when our people are already dealing with so much stress.
But Mr. Speaker, in response to complaints that relief funds may not be going to the real persons in need or that it is taking too long to get through the bureaucratic processes of Government, your Government opened up its arms to embrace our friends Opposite – to get their help in ensuring that the funds get to the needy in their Districts and to ensure that it gets there swiftly.
I am reminding Honourable Members that the requisite funding of $300,000 per Member is available for their use to help their constituents. And I want to remind citizens that the funding is available to their Representatives. This is not the time for politics.
It is not the time to create doubt, but rather an opportunity to take action that will allow the light of hope to shine where people are feeling the results.
It is the time for all Representatives to go out and help the people with these funds, limited, but yet they can stretch.
And let me take the opportunity to reassure the people that these funds and how they are distributed, and how they are being distributed, will be audited monthly by the Audit Department.
We want to ensure that the people see and understand how each Representative is spending the funds—Government and Opposition.
This is important so that if the Members of the Opposition in this Honourable House of Assembly or the Public Accounts Committee call for the audited reports on this process, they are all readily available for viewing. By ensuring ongoing auditing, we will be policing ourselves as a self-governing Territory.
And I want to re-emphasise that there is no favoritism, political bias or discrimination. All District Representatives have the equal amount to help the people of their constituencies with no excuse from the Opposition or Government side. All elected officials have been treated equally which continues to be one of the main mantras of this Government.
I am happy to see the Honourable Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition being quoted in the media on Wednesday last reassuring the public that help is on the way.
The relief funds are for immediate help. But we have to think down the road. We have to think today about the next six months, the next 12 months, the next 18 months and beyond. How will our people feed themselves? Where will they get money to care for their families?
There are several initiatives that are falling into place such as your Government’s $2 million investment in agriculture and fisheries, which will create jobs and provide affordable access to food.
We have a construction agenda though the Recovery and Development Agency that is in excess of $40 million in terms of the Loan Fund from the Caribbean Development Plan. This too will provide jobs and provide some economic stimulation while providing returns in the form of infrastructure that is much needed.
On July 3, the Government of the Virgin Islands received a check from the Social Security Board to reflect the for $40 million dollars grant. This grant is to drive phase two of the COVID-19 Economic Response package.
We also have funding coming from the Telecommunications Regulation Commission (TRC) and the BVI Ports Authority to propel this Territory forward in this COVID-19 era.
The TRC granted $2M, where $1M have been repurposed for the East End Long Look Sewerage Project and $1M towards road paving.
We have seen Mr. Speaker, out of the monies owed by BVI Ports Authority for the East End Long Look Sewerage Project that $3M has now been returned as of last week to go towards the East End Long Look Sewerage Project, giving it a total in terms of monies $4M to get this project moving.
Coupled with these initiatives, we also are moving forward with our 2020 Legislative Agenda.
In June alone we have had several pieces of legislation collectively passed in the House of Assembly by all members without dissent, and quite a few are now waiting for the Governor to assent to them, and for subsequent publication in the Gazette.
Mr. Speaker, I must state that in June this House passed a record of 15 pieces of legislation to help the people of this Territory and to improve the quality of life for present and future generations.
Mr. Speaker, we have revenue generation initiatives such as what are found in the potential of the Gaming and Betting Control Act, 2020; Stamp Duty Amendment Act, 2020; Asset Seizure and Forfeiture Act, 2020; Cannabis Licensing Act 2020, and there are more that will be coming.
I am pleased that all members of the House of Assembly had and took their parliamentary privilege seriously and debated the proposed bills.
The debates we had in this Honourable House, which the public heard on the different pieces of legislation, so far were indeed healthy. There are still discussions in the community and this is good for any healthy democracy.
I also thank every Member of this House for contributing to the final version of the different pieces of legislation passed in this Honourable House.
I thank every Member of this Honourable House—Government and Opposition—for contributing to the Committee Stage of each bill where we placed our handles aside to amend each bill or act clause-by-clause and line-by-line. What I liked is that we often said in the Committee Stage; what we do must benefit and be good for our people and this economy.
So, Mr. Speaker, together, we strengthened all the different pieces of legislation, all 15 passed that were passed in June, and you would recall, as well as every member here, we did not wrap up the committee review of the different pieces of legislation until all members were comfortable, even if it meant staying in this Honourable House late to give minute-by-minute input. Everyone was accommodated and I am happy for that. For I believe that no district must be left behind. But that is what we do, we work together to make things happen for the people of the Virgin Islands to improve their quality of life.
Again, I want to thank Honourable Members for their contributions in the Committee Stage, which unfortunately the public is not privy to see.
Mr. Speaker, despite your Government being so challenged financially due to COVID-19, I am glad that the Leader of the Opposition has joined together with the Government to tell the people to don’t lose faith, don’t lose sight and to hang in there as we go through this very difficult time.
The Leader of the Opposition said, and I quote, “I know we now have the access to the funds that have been allocated by the Honourable Premier to help us within our community. We have restrictions with that fund and I want to ask persons to be honest about their declaration so at least we can get help to many persons as possible throughout the communities,” end of quote. I reiterate, we have removed some of those restrictions, but we have not removed the good governance aspect.
Your Government continues to move the Territory’s Legislative Agenda forward. In June alone as I have said before, we have been quite active with moving swiftly because the different pieces of legislation are designed to benefit the people of the Virgin Islands, their wellbeing socially and economically. Each piece of legislation focuses on SMART strategies, green development, economic stability, and empowerment of the people to ensure transformation and long-term resilience of the Virgin Islands.
Mr. Speaker, with that in mind, we have seen how this continues to benefit the people of the Virgin Islands. We have also seen that the relief that we have given will continue to be one that all the people of the Virgin Islands will benefit from.
I wish to thank all Honourable Members on each side of the aisle because with us strengthening legislation, we have strengthened the Virgin Islands as a whole.
In that vein, Mr. Speaker, I wish to say that we have all intention of keeping up the pace because the reality is that we must transform – swiftly – or perish, and to perish is not an option.
That is why, and I repeat that each piece of legislation focuses on SMART strategies, green development, economic stability, and empowerment of the people to ensure transformation and long-term resilience of the Virgin Islands.
Mr. Speaker, Government is committed to improving the quality of life of all. This, we will do together as one BVI, united under God, our creator moving shoulder to shoulder towards prosperity. Our public and private sectors, Non-Governmental Organisations, leaders past and present working together even amidst this difficult era of COVID-19, ensuring that we the people of the Virgin Islands can work together to improve the quality of life of each of us, and improve our economy, our health, and to make sure that we leave a strong Virgin Islands for generations unborn.