REMARKS BY PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE
DR. THE HONOURABLE D. ORLANDO SMITH, OBE
AT THE DECISION MARCH
MAY 24, 2018
Virgin Islanders and residents of this Territory, good afternoon.
We have marched here from the Sunday Morning Well to the Office of the Governor on this day, 24th May, 2018.
We have done so peacefully, in one accord, and hand-in-hand.
This is a day that will forever be remembered in the history books of the Virgin Islands.
Your presence here this afternoon means that we all share a deep love for our country and for its advancement.
You are here because you want the Virgin Islands to continue on its path to prosperity where we, all of us here, are the owners of our own decision-making.
More importantly, by showing up this afternoon, and signing the petition, it signals to the world that we are deeply disturbed by the decision in the United Kingdom, to purport to impose publicly accessible registers of company ownership on the Virgin Islands.
As you all know, the Sanctions and Anti-money Laundering Bill received the Royal Assent and became an Act yesterday.
This means that there is an expectation for Overseas Territories to make public the beneficial ownership of all companies registered in the Virgin Islands no later than December 31, 2020.
Collectively and individually, Government and private sector - as a Territory, we have worked for decades day in and day out to secure our future in these islands.
Together, we have been focused on staying on the path to prosperity, and so we have been collectively developing a strong economy, building upon our twin pillars of tourism and financial services.
Collectively, we have been promoting business development.
We have been improving essential infrastructure to make us more marketable as a destination and jurisdiction.
Since 1967, when we embarked on our own democratic path of Ministerial System of governance, this Territory has been showing positive growth.
In fact, by 1976 we were able to say ‘no more’ to Grant and Aid, and yes to developing our own economy!
Since that time, we have been able to develop an attractive destination and well-respected jurisdiction, through our efforts and innovation.
Since that time, we have held our own and built a legitimate financial services brand with a sound reputation, that helped to shape our quality of life and the standard of living we know and enjoy today.
We did that!
In 1999, along with other Overseas Territories, we welcomed the introduction of a modern partnership with the United Kingdom, as expressed in the historic Partnership for Progress and Prosperity White Paper.
In 2012, we welcomed the United Kingdom’s re-affirmation of this modern partnership dedicated to the Security, Success and Sustainability of the Territories.
We saw their promise as the beginning of a mature balanced relationship based on consultation and regular dialogue — consultations and collaboration that would lead to an enhanced relationship of mutual respect and a commitment to see the economies of the OTs be strong and sustainable.
The Virgin Islands is today one of the best regulated jurisdictions globally in financial services area. And, we have continually been engaging with the UK to find ways of tackling crime and terrorism.
And as such we invested over $2M to create the Beneficial Ownership Secure Search System (BOSS) which balances privacy and transparency – two fundamental elements, which underpin our globally recognised and internationally compliant approach to beneficial ownership information.
Whenever the world shifted the goal post, we never hesitated to engage.
In fact, the world shifted many times. And each time, we led the charge to ensure we received compliant ratings particularly as it related to meeting the standards of the OECD and the FATF, for example.
We have signed on to the Common Reporting Standard and we are party to tax information exchange agreements with countries all over the world.
All these steps we have actively made to show our commitment to what is right. We are proud of this Territory’s track record of being an international standard setter in global compliance.
We stand tall regionally and internationally, and we are a mature and responsible member of the global community!
So this decision by the United Kingdom to try to force us to have public registries is not right.
In fact, what it is effectively saying is that 70 cents of every dollar spent in the BVI which comes from financial services, would be no more.
That is why I say this decision is deeply disturbing because it threatens our way of life—our God-given right to live, to eat, to drink, to sleep, to drive, to own, to smile and to afford.
We have forever been fighting to keep our financial services strong so that hardworking Virgin Islanders and residents do not lose the monthly rental on their residential and commercial properties.
We have been taking every possible step to keep our financial services legitimate so that our people remain in jobs in order to feed their families and send their children to college.
We have been fighting to keep our financial services compliant so that our supermarkets, our banks, our schools remain open.
So it’s not about money, you see - Our Lives Matter! Your children’s lives matter!
So, let me make these three points abundantly clear.
- The UK’s constitutional overreach into the internal affairs of the Virgin Islands, is not right. We have a right to make our own decisions.
- As a people, like the rest of the world, including the United Kingdom, we have the right to enjoy a quality standard of living. Our livelihood should not be hauled away from us, and by force.
- Our view on public registers of beneficial ownership has not changed. My Government remains focused on the fight against financial crime and ensuring that law enforcement authorities have access to verified beneficial ownership information. Let me say here that public registers are not required by any global standard. Public registers are not required by any global standard! So, we will continue to defend our right not to have a public register until such time that they do become a global standard.
We do not believe in secrecy, we believe that every person has a right to privacy. According to the rule of law and the BVI’s constitution, the fundamental rights of privacy given to all persons, including citizens and corporate entities, must be protected and upheld.
My Government is committed to pursuing all available legal channels to ensure that publicly available beneficial ownership registers are introduced in the BVI only if and when they become a global standard, which would establish a level playing field for all.
We will also do all in our power to ensure that the financial services sector remains an integral part of the BVI’s economic future.
We will be reviewing the Constitution and will consider any necessary changes to reinforce the self-determination of the British Virgin Islands as an Overseas Territory.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria came and knocked us down for a while, but together with God’s hand guiding us we got up!
As your Premier, I can tell you that I am not worried by the negotiations. They are not over yet!
I am telling you, do not worry for together, with God’s guidance we will overcome!
I reiterate the words in our Territorial song:
Out of the huts of history’s pain, our ancestors bled and died.
But with strength and will power we overcame to restore Virgin Islands pride.
To preserve our beauty we devised a plan to obtain ownership of this precious land so that in the end we would maintain the success of this Territory.
So, let us continue on a path to prosperity together, taking the Virgin Islands to the next level, and we will continue to do so, upholding the principles of democracy, integrity, and fairness.
I thank the organisers for making this Decision March possible, and for including the Government to say a few words.
As I always say, Government cannot do it alone. All of us must do our part to make a bigger difference.
I thank all of you here today for making the decision to march, for with your feet you are saying that we love the Virgin Islands, that this is your HOME and that you will therefore take a stand for the Virgin Islands.
May God continue to bless all of you, and our beautiful Virgin Islands. Our qualities will never be denied! THANK YOU.