Ladies and gentlemen of the media! Good afternoon!
It has been quite a busy few weeks for my Government as we brought several bills to the House—bills that are designed to improve and enhance the standard of living and quality of life for the people of this Territory.
This afternoon, I wish to speak about three of them, namely the Climate Change Fund Trust Fund Act 2015, the Legal Professions Act, and the Firearm and Air Guns Ordinance, 2015.
First, I shall speak about the Climate Change Fund Trust Fund Act, 2015.
As you know, climate change continues to be an ongoing discussion in the world, and the BVI is not excluded. And, that is why in Cabinet we initially approved the Climate Change Adaptation Policy because we recognised that the BVI needed to transition in a new direction to undertake climate change mitigation and adaptation actions.
We have learned that the impact of climate change could cost the BVI tens of millions of dollars based on 2010 figures for GDP.
This not just an issue for the BVI; across the globe, governments have already pledged $30 billion in "fast start" climate change financing between 2010 and 2012, and up to $100 billion annually by 2020.
Currently, in excess of US$30 billion in international climate change financing has already been raised by industrialised countries for use by vulnerable developing countries, including Small Island Developing States (SIDS).
In that regard, we saw the need to establish an internally acceptable mechanism to access and channel international funds for climate change financing to support our national priority climate change adaptation and mitigation projects and programmes. Hence the Climate Change Trust Fund.
With this fund we will have a safety net to reduce economic shocks from extreme events, and we will be able to create a greener economy in the Virgin Islands, which will provide jobs, energy efficiency and a more sustainable tourism product.
I will now speak about the passage of the Legal Professions Act, 2015.
My Government re-introduced the Legal Professions Bill which sets out the requirements for practice of the profession, and governs the conduct of legal practitioners. It is important to note that this bill was introduced to the house during my first administration in 2007, but was not completed at that time because there were requests by legal practitioners for more review.
It was subsequently introduced on two other occasions, and once by the last administration before being brought to the House this year.
The legal profession has also been looking forward to the passage of this bill and has given extensive input since it was first introduced.
Now that the bill is passed, we can now proceed with establishing a General Legal Council that will provide regulatory oversight of the legal profession.
Finally, we would have a criterion in place for the admission to practice and to issue practising certificates in the BVI. Funding would be made available for legal aid and a code of ethics will be put in place to guide the work of the profession.
As an important component of this Territory’s system of administration of justice, this new legislation will help to preserve the integrity and reputation of the legal profession.
As a fundamental principle of our national development, this legislation will now help to promote and ensure observance of the rule of law.
In fact, we can now enhance opportunities for meaningful participation of this Territory’s people in the growth and development of the legal services sector.
We can now ensure the protection of fundamental and constitutional human rights and freedoms of the individual in the BVI, as the bill is designed to protect the public’s interest.
Also importantly, the legal professional bill is good for this economy as we would now be better positioned to promote our competitiveness as a leading financial services jurisdiction.
I will now speak briefly about the Firearm and Air Guns Ordinance
Ladies and Gentlemen, one of the most serious challenges facing many societies around the world is crime and criminal activity.
As a Territory, it is very important that we do not allow the incidences of crime, especially serious crimes, to escalate further, where it can be a deterrent to our economic growth and a threat to the citizens and visitors alike.
That is why the passage of the Firearm and Air Guns Ordinance was important.
Last year we had a number of instances of gun violence.
In December, in the height of our Christmas season, the season of peace, we had a most unfortunate and tragic incident where one of our young men lost his life to an act of gun violence.
I vowed that my Government would amend the Act in the House in the first quarter of 2015 to introduce stiffer mandatory penalties and gun control, once and for all.
And, so we did. We have increased the penalties in order to deter the rising tide of firearm offences in the Territory.
We have introduced stiffer sentencing and have enabled courts to impose mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes.
As a Territory, we must tackle this problem of crime head on. People must continue to have confidence in our Territory as a safe place to live, work, visit and do business.
We cannot continue to solve our problem with weapons. We must be a community that engages with each other meaningfully. We must learn to have healthy debates, which is good for any thriving economy.
Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to end my statement by reminding all of us living here in the British Virgin Islands that this is our home.
We cannot and should not contribute to destroying its good name.
Instead, we should do all that is necessary to build a strong and better Virgin Islands so that generations to come would have a solid foundation to build on and pass on to their children.
We must continue to think about our twin economic pillars. The bread and butter of this economy—tourism and financial services—and how the BVI as a brand could be affected by parody.
What if visitors don’t come? What if companies decide to no longer invest in our financial services brand? What will become of our jobs? Our people? Our children’s future? This Territory’s future?
These are the things we must think about.
Let us all do our part and contribute to making this place we call home, the best in the world.
Let us continue to be responsible and respectful in all that we do.
My Government will continue to join with the people of the British Virgin Islands and do all that we can to make the BVI Brand the envy of the world.