Statement by Premier Fahie – Update to the People on March 11, 2022

Statement by

Honourable Andrew A. Fahie

Premier and Minister of Finance

Press Conference

Update to the People

11 March, 2022

Good day and God’s Blessings to you the members of the media and all the people of the Virgin Islands, wherever in the world you are joining us from.

This morning, I wish to provide another bi-monthly update on the work that your Government continues to do to deliver transparent and accountable Governance by providing information to the public and answering questions from the media; strengthen the resilience of these islands; and to improve the quality of life for all our citizens.

Women’s Week 

This week has been a special one for women celebrating International Women’s Day and week.

As a Government, we have been pleased to celebrate the achievement of women of the Virgin Islands as well as to recognise their contributions to the social, economic, cultural, and political development of the Virgin Islands. 

Your Government is fully committed to the empowerment of women, as we believe in gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow.

In particular, we  have celebrated the contributions of women and girls who are leading the charge on climate change adaptation, mitigation, and response, to build a more sustainable future for all – as we celebrate achievements and contributions in all fields and endeavours. 

We continue also to recognise the commitment of women in the House of Assembly – Honourable Alvera Maduro-Caines – Representative for the Sixth District; Honourable Sharie B. deCastro – At Large Representative and Junior Minister for Tourism; and Honourable Shereen Flax-Charles – At Large Representative and Junior Minister for Trade.

We have just recently passed a Motion in the House of Assembly where Honourable Sharie B. de Castro will be appointed Chairman, and Honourable Alvera Maduro-Caines be appointed as a Member, of the Special Select Committee to manage the Virgin Islands Youth Parliament.

The Virgin Islands Youth Parliament will be supported by another strong, intelligent and accomplished Virgin Islands woman, Dr. Arliene T. Penn, the Director of Communications who is appointed Coordinator of the Secretariat of the Virgin Islands Youth Parliament. Dr.Penn is also supported by four other females in the Youth Parliament.

We appreciate the commitment of all women to the overall development of the Virgin Islands, and we thank them and show our appreciation for all that they do in all the roles that they play in our society. 

Update on Publicly Accessible Register

At this time, I would like to provide a short update on the matter of Publicly Accessible Registers of Beneficial Ownership.

It was just about a year and a half ago, on 22 September 2020 that I stood in the House of Assembly and gave a commitment to work in collaboration with the United Kingdom Government towards a publicly accessible register of beneficial ownership for companies, in line with international standards and best practices as they develop globally and, at least, as implemented by EU Member States by 2023 in furtherance of the EU fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive. 

The commitment is one which I did not give lightly nor did I give it without reservation but, as a premiere financial services jurisdiction, we must continue to maintain and improve on our great record of compliance with all relevant international standards and best practices.

As such, whilst we continue to monitor developments on the subject of publicly accessible registers as they feature in various international fora, and whilst we continue to make the case for a slightly different strategic approach, we must of course take the appropriate steps to honour our commitment if and when called upon.

I will therefore like to update the public to say that the consultation process with the financial services industry will commence in short order. The policy lead will rest with my executive team in the Ministry of Finance who will work closely with the BVI Financial Services Commission. 

Together, I am confident that the collaboration with the private sector will give the Virgin Islands the best framework that we can negotiate and with the legal protections, safeguards and security that I have insisted on all along, if publicly accessible registers are indeed to become operational by next year. I repeat my earlier caution that, throughout these negotiations, prudence and balance must be the guiding mantra.

Reciprocal Certification for Shipping 

Your Government continues to work towards the further development of our maritime industry.

The British Virgin Islands and US Virgin Islands have agreed to a reciprocal certification where US Vessels holding Commercial Vessel Licensing Authority Code Safety certificates will be recognised by Virgin Islands Shipping Registry (VISR) as having valid safety certificates issued by their flag and vice versa.

This means that BVI commercial vessels can carry 12 passengers into US waters once they hold a Code Certificate issued by VISR. Before there were restrictions and now we can say that there has been progress to allow our local marine industry to thrive.

Waiver of Cruising Permit Fees for BVIslanders and Belongers

To give one a fish you feed them for a day. Your Government is teaching our people to fish, and helping them to become equipped, so they can eat for a lifetime. 

The changing of the Cruising Permit Legislation and enacting the Cruising Permit and Home Port Act, 2021 have given BVI-Registered home-based companies owned by Virgin Islanders a competitive advantage creating and securing jobs for Virgin Islanders.

For example, as a result of this new legislation, there has been a substantial increase in local licensed charter vessels – in particular BVI-registered Water Taxis, which has been instrumental in moving thousands of visitors to and from our shores in the last seven months. 

The collaboration of other Government agencies – such as Virgin Islands Shipping Registry, Customs Department, Department of Trade and Consumer Affairs, Labour Department – and the enforcement of the requisite legislations provided the opportunity of a level playing field for BVI marine operators to thrive.

Prior to the strict enforcement of the Cruising Permit and Home Port Act, 2021 and the Commercial Recreational Vessel Licensing Act, 1992, the Government also created an environment, through local and regional symposiums, for the aforementioned Government agencies to educate the industry and interested stakeholders who are willing to participate in the marine industry.

The encouragement of young boaters to be trained and licensed to participate in the Blue Economy is now paying dividends and creating opportunities for new and young emerging entrepreneurs in chartering, yacht management, vessel agents, booking agents, maintenance, captains, cooks, chandlery sales for equipment and other boat parts. 

The initiative by your Government to promote the marine training at the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College has resulted in an increased number of trained and qualified local captains and boaters, some of whom are operating privately, as charter companies, and some who have embraced maritime law enforcement as a career.

Furthermore, international COVID-19 protocols, in addition to domestic protocols, influenced these opportunities for Virgin Islanders to participate in their beautiful blue environment.

Your Government has decided to waive the cruising permit fees of $4.00 for Virgin Islanders and Belongers to further encourage participation and enjoyment of the Blue Economy.

I take this opportunity to encourage all local captains and boaters to take advantage of this opportunity. The only requirement is to be in possession of valid identifications – a passport or Belonger card. 

All agencies including Customs, Immigration, VISR, Labour Department and Trade Department are now operating with one goal in mind; creating a one stop shop for the Charter Industry. 

These agencies have developed a procedural manual with guidelines for charter companies not based in the Virgin Islands. 

The ultimate goal is to streamline and simplify the application process for all charter companies, including foreign-based charter companies to operate in the BVI Waters.  

Your Government, in addition to creating jobs, creates opportunities. The opportunities created are part of the 1,000 Jobs in 1,000 Days initiative.

As you have witnessed, the enactment of this legislation created a number of charter companies resulting in employment for new captains, yacht managers, vessel agents, booking agents, marine mechanics, cooks, chandlery sales for equipment and other boat parts. The opportunities are endless.

And as these opportunities come to fruition they contribute to the stimulation and growth of other areas across the length and width of the Virgin Islands economy.

With COVID-19, the worst pandemic in over 100 years, still being a matter of concern, and with new economic challenges looming from the conflict in Europe, which will have rippling effects across the globe, your Government is continuing to put measures and incentives in place to help our people to prepare for and to face these times of uncertainty.

We have pledged and we will continue to support food production in farming and fishing.

Your Government has put incentives in place to assist our people to Go Green and to generate their own solar power. Fossil fuel has to be imported, it costs us money and it causes money to leave our economy. But sunlight is free from God. And through transitioning to solar power, which is healthier for our environment, our people can save money by generating their own power and earn money by selling the excess power that they produce back to the grid.

Your Government is making it more affordable for our people to own their own home by waiving the Stamp Duty on purchases and transfers of property for first time home owners.

Your Government is improving our airports to increase the airlift and bring in more visitors which will benefit our property owners, taxi and tour operators, restaurants, bars and other tourism businesses.

There is a lot more that is happening to empower our people and to further improve the resilience of our Virgin Islands economy.

As always, I continue to urge our people to take the time to exercise their innovative and entrepreneurial skills and to engage with the opportunities that are being created for them, and to extract the benefits.

Ukraine-Russia Conflict

Our people must be proactive and use these opportunities to prepare themselves for the uncertainties that lie ahead as the developments in the global political arena and the global economy unfold.

Oil and its derivatives such as petrol and diesel play a critical role in the cost of trade, internationally and in every country, as this is a major component in the cost of transportation of people and goods.

Russia is the third-largest producer of oil worldwide, accounting for over 12 percent of global crude oil production. Russian exports account for eight percent of the global oil supply. The imposition of sanctions by countries against Russia has triggered a dramatic increase in the price of oil on the global market.

Global benchmark oil prices were trading around US$115 a barrel yesterday, up from around $80 a barrel at the end of last year. Analysts at JP Morgan Chase & Co and Bank of America have predicted disruptions to Russian oil flows could push oil prices to US$185 to US$200 per barrel.

In the United States, the average price for gasoline has already reached a record US$4.30 per gallon this week. Pump prices in the US could rise to around $5 per gallon by late May 2022, and forecasters are saying that if oil goes as high as US$200 per barrel, gasoline could reach US$6 – US$7 per gallon.

In the UK, reports this morning state that the average price of unleaded petrol at the pump rose to 1.61 pounds per litre – an increase of 8 pence in one week. Diesel hit 1.70 pounds per litre. Both are record highs.

Russia is also a major producer of certain food crops as well.

We have to be mindful of what is happening globally, which we do not have any control over, and we must prepare ourselves.

There will be increases in prices due to these developments which are outside of the control of the Government of the Virgin Islands, and our suppliers and businesses.

I am urging our businesses to do everything possible to resist any unnecessary price increases that can cause hardship on our people. We cannot force businesses to have compassion, but we can appeal to them.

Just as we did with COVID-19, your Government is implementing a working group to monitor the situation and to help the Government to try and stay ahead of the curve as best as we can, and to mitigate against the impacts on the people of the Virgin Islands and our economy. This has to be a collective effort. We will continue to keep our people updated as matters unfold.

Finally, you would recall that as Premier I attended the Joint Ministerial Council Meeting in London in November 2021.

The meeting had several fruitful and positive outcomes, one of which was that we extended an invitation to the Rt Hon Amanda Milling, who is the Minister with responsibilities for the Overseas Territories, to visit the Virgin Islands. We followed up this invitation in writing.

We are pleased that Minister Milling accepted our invitation and is expected to visit the Virgin Islands in the near future.

We look forward to this visit as it is an opportunity for us to have more fruitful discussions in a number of additional areas concerning development in the Virgin Islands and how we can further strengthen the modern partnership in the best interests of the growth and aspirations of the Virgin Islands peole.

I thank you, and may God continue to bless and protect these Virgin Islands and its people.

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