STATEMENT BY PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE
DURING THE NINTH SITTING OF THE SECOND SESSION OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
Thursday, June 11, 2020
Tortola Pier Park Ltd joins in supporting Government’s COVID-19 Economic Response
Mr. Speaker, I do trust that everyone continues to remain safe as we continue to live and work in COVID-19.
On 28 May, the Government presented our $62.9 million Phase Two COVID-19 Economic Response Plan, which contained several programmes to help support families and small businesses during these trying times.
We recognise that COVID-19 has caused – and continues to cause - significant economic impacts on workers and on businesses. That is why we put forward those initiatives to help our people to get through this pandemic.
May I say that I am pleased to know that those families that were plunged into hardship because their breadwinners lost earnings as a result of the impacts of COVID-19, are able to get some financial assistance under the new COVID-19 Unemployment Relief Fund.
Mr. Speaker, as you are aware, the Unemployment Relief Fund is funded by $10 million from a special $40 million COVID-19 grant from the Virgin Islands Social Security Board (SSB).
I want to again thank the Board, Management and Staff of the SSB for their continuing service and support to the people of the BVI in providing this grant, which is an investment in the BVI people, our BVI businesses, our economy and our future.
Applications and disbursements with respect to the Unemployment Relief Fund are being managed by the SSB.
Mr. Speaker, I understand many persons have already collected their application forms from the SSB office to begin the process of accessing this help.
Under our Government’s economic response plan, $6.5 million from the SSB grant is being made available to assist businesses that are affected by COVID-19. Those businesses will be receiving assistance accordingly in the form of grants.
Application forms were expected to be made available by 15 June. However, this process will be a week delayed. We crave the indulgence of the public and the appropriate instructions of how to apply will be made available.
Together with the SSB, as a Government we are ensuring that local businesses can keep their heads above the water. They have been through a lot, but they must not succumb to COVID-19. We must not allow that to happen. They must live, and we have to help them as our patriotic duty.
Local businesses and local entrepreneurs are an important part of our BVI economy. Our BVI economy will be in serious trouble if they go under because they will not be able to help with employment generation. So, we are helping to save those jobs and those businesses so that they can save our economy.
I want to urge our entrepreneurs, business managers and innovators to recognise the importance and urgency for regrouping, retooling and reorienting their operations for the new era of living and working with COVID-19.
There are other aspects of the economic response package that will be coming on stream over the next few days. Please look out for the announcements and make sure that you submit your applications early.
Mr. Speaker, as a Government, we want all persons who are in line to benefit from these opportunities to do so.
In the meantime, we are continuing to look at different ways of helping our people.
We have reached out to statutory agencies and asked them to advise us on ways they can help bring relief to the people.
I am pleased to let you know that another economic response initiative has come up at this time.
The 94 local shareholders of Tortola Pier Park Ltd (TPPL) will be happy with the news, and are already happy with the news, that TPPL have been approved to issue dividends for 2018.
The TPPL Board, supported by the BVI Ports Authority Board which is the Parent Company of TPPL, recognised the importance of dividends being remitted to shareholders, and accordingly have approved the payment of 2018 dividends in the amount of US$529,974.
The dividend payment date was slated for Monday, 8 June, 2020. This has already occurred.
The largest investor, which is the SSB, received US$442,500.
These dividends come at a time when the BVI is still navigating turbulent waters as a result of the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. They also come when TPPL is also moving towards 90 percent recovery from the physical ravages to the facility due to Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.
In a magnanimous gesture, the Board of TPPL has also offered the following concessions on rent obligations for eligible Tenants:
April - Rent Free (100% discount)
May - 75% OFF
June - 75% OFF
As we navigate this still-fast-changing COVID-19 environment, I am pleased that the TPPL could be in a position to assist the Government of the Virgin Islands in meeting the needs of the people.
This is a contribution to the national effort to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society receive the necessary attention where the SSB is the majority Preference Shareholder in the TPPL.
Mr. Speaker, I am also appreciative to the TPPL Board for consenting to the rent obligation concessions to Tenants considering the shifting landscapes for conducting business. This will help those businesses that need assistance to get through the adjustment period.
I thank the Chief Executive Officer of TPPL, Mr. Vance Lewis, for remaining committed to the task at hand.
I am aware that the Board has undertaken a number of cost-saving initiatives, managed in collaboration with TPPL Tenants, Local Agencies, and the TPPL Team.
I am pleased that that statutory solvency test was conducted to allow for a sensible buffer for working capital.
The business operating environment has changed. Not just in the BVI, but throughout the world. Everywhere, business operators are looking at their supply chains – the in-bound logistics and the out-bound logistics. They are looking for new marketing strategies, new approaches to customer service and service delivery. They are looking for ways to boost their trade volumes back to the levels that will render them viable and sustainable.
And in the Virgin Islands we have to do that too.
We have to look at the technology that is available, and how we can do that to more effectively run our businesses. Are we making the full use of the social media platforms?
So, I am suggesting to our local business operators that you need to start looking for these solutions as well.
For one thing, there is a lot of potential for building websites and mobile apps; digitising aspects of your business and getting it online. Bear in mind as well that, depending on the nature of the products or services your business offers, an online presence is a gateway to take your business to an international market.
I believe that out of every storm there are opportunities. We have to focus and find the silver lining in this dark cloud. We cannot just throw our hands up in the air and abandon hope.
COVID-19 is a wake-up call for us to get up and to push ourselves.
We must all use this time and opportunity to create the new BVI we want to see so that generations to come will benefit and continue the story of the Virgin Islands.
Mr. Speaker, we have to remember that COVID-19 has shocked the world. It was not foreseen and everyone was caught by surprise. That is why where a helping hand can be extended, it should be extended. No one could have been expected to be so prepared as to face the overnight shutdown of the world.
And as I say this, I must emphasise that the pandemic is not over. There are no known active cases of COVID-19 in the BVI at this time, but we cannot relax our vigilance. We have to maintain the New Regular of using our face masks, practicing social distancing and ensuring that we wash or sanitise our hands regularly, and so forth.
We have seen what COVID-19 can do to our economy and to jobs. So, we are not taking any chances. COVID-19 is not playing around with us, so we are not playing around with COVID-19.
We have come this far by following the guidelines from the Ministry of Health and the Health Emergency Operations Centre. We have seen the positive results that kept everyone safe. Therefore, by continuing along this path, we will get through this together.
I thank God for His continued Favour on these beautiful Virgin Islands.