BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS HIGH-LEVEL EVENT
LAUNCH OF THE BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS COVID-19 HEAT REPORT/
SIGNING OF THE MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING
BETWEEN THE BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS AND UNITED NATIONS DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME
MONDAY 2ND NOVEMBER 2020
REMARKS BY PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE
HONOURABLE ANDREW A. FAHIE
BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS COVID-19 HEAT REPORT LAUNCH
Mr. Luis Felipe Lopez-Calva, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean
Dr. the Honourable Natalio Wheatley, Deputy Premier and Minister for Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Sports, Fisheries and Agriculture
Honourable Carvin Malone, Minister for Health and Social Development
Mr. Didier Trebucq, UN Resident Coordinator for the Eastern Caribbean
Mr. Ugo Blanco, UNDP Resident Representative for Barbados and the OECS
Other officials present
Ladies and gentleman,
Good Morning and God’s blessings.
I am delighted to also welcome everyone to this high-level event. Friends, we are living in very challenging and uncertain times and it is critical that as partners we are working together as closely as possible to get through the COVID-19 crisis. That is why the launch of the HEAT Report today is important as it reflects the genuine partnership that is developing between the British Virgin Islands and the United Nations.
I want to sincerely thank UNDP, UN Women and UNICEF for their collaboration with the British Virgin Islands Government to produce the HEAT report which presents the human and economic impact of COVID-19 on the British Virgin Islands. The report paints a picture of the virus’ impact on our society, taking into account its initial spread to our islands and the wider Caribbean region. The HEAT Report has helped to guide my Government’s COVID-19 response and remains a reference point as we fine-tune our policy prescriptions to drive our recovery from the global pandemic.
Ladies and gentlemen, data and sound policy advice are critical to effective decision-making during a crisis. Those who read the report will see that like most other places in the world, the British Virgin Islands has not been immune to the negative impacts of COVID-19. However, through targeted action, infections have been kept to a minimum and outbreaks quickly contained. Sadly, we lost one life to COVID-19, but I am grateful that all other persons infected have recovered.
The social impact of the virus has been most strenuous on women and children who have become more vulnerable. Mothers, who bear the disproportionate burden of raising children, have had to manage working at home alongside supervision of children involved in virtual learning. Children have had to adjust to a learning environment outside of the classroom away from their peers, and also in sometimes unhealthy and unsafe conditions. Children with special needs have not had the consistent support required over the past months. Fortunately, with the virus effectively under control and social distancing now largely embedded into the operation of our society, conditions on the ground have improved and children are returning to the classroom and parents are back in the workplace.
Ladies and gentlemen, the economic impact of COVID-19 on the British Virgin Islands has been felt most strongly in the tourism sector, which accounts for roughly a third of GDP. This has resulted in a considerable slowdown in business activity in the tourism industry itself and related industries, which in turn has induced a dramatic spike in unemployment and social dislocations. The HEAT Report projects a GDP decline of 13% to 17% in 2020, given the current prevailing conditions in the tourism sector.
In response to COVID-19’s economic and social impact, my Government has rolled out a $40 million package of social assistance for the vulnerable and financial support to small businesses and civil society.
Our multifaceted response to COVID-19 continues to be tweaked and we have received excellent technical assistance from the UN family of agencies, including the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), UNDP, UNICEF, UN Women, the World Food Programme, and the Food and Agricultural Organization. I want to specifically highlight the invaluable contribution of UNDP.
Assistant Secretary-General, the UNDP Barbados and OECS office very early on reached out to my Government to offer us assistance as the global pandemic began to affect the Caribbean region. Technical assistance and financial support were provided that have served us very well. More specifically, UNDP’s SURGE support programme assisted the Ministry of Finance and Premier’s Office in doing critical policy work, including modeling the economic and social impact of COVID-19 and other potential external shocks; developing a business confidence survey and a framework for assessing national fiscal financing options; and designing a results framework to measure and track extraordinary financial, economic and social support measures adopted by Government in response to COVID-19..
UNDP’s generous grant of $40,000 has also assisted our restaurant businesses classified as Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) in moving toward digitisation and diversification of their services and operations. Ten food operators received grants of $4,000 each that is helping them to become more resilient by retooling and transforming their businesses. This financial assistance was complementary to my Governments own financial support to businesses affected by the economic impact of COVID-19.
Assistant Secretary General, once again, I want to express my gratitude to UNDP for its generous support.
Ladies and gentleman, I have described in broad terms what the HEAT Report entails. Later in the programme you will have the benefit of a brief presentation that captures in greater detail the findings and recommendations of the report, which have helped to guide my Government’s policy response. The document is one that I encourage persons in the private sector, public sector, civil society, academic institutions and international organisations to read, and of course the residents and citizens of the British Virgin Islands. It will be posted later today to the BVI Government website for access by the public.
I would like to recognise the lead researcher and consultant in the production of the report, Dr. Simon Naitram at the University of the West Indies, as well as Mr. Jason Lacorbiniere, the SUREGE Technical Assistance Coordinator at UNDP.
I want to also thank my own officials at the Ministry of Finance and Premier’s Office, and in particular, Mrs. Michelle Phillips, Head of the Macro-Fiscal Unit, and her team, as well as the Director of the Central Statistics Office, Mr. Raymond Philips, and Ms. Patlian Johnson, Development Cooperation Specialist in the Premier’s Office.
As I close, I would like to highlight that the COVID-19 global pandemic is worsening, and the British Virgin Islands and other SIDS in the Caribbean must be prepared for the additional risks and challenges this poses. We are now seeing second and third waves of the virus hitting North America, Europe, Latin America, and outbreaks right here in our region. Greater international cooperation will be needed to get through this crisis of epic proportions, particularly for Small Island Developing States. The United Nations is the essential partner of the SIDS in this global pandemic.
UN Secretary General Antonio Gutierrez, at a CARICOM Heads of Government meeting last week that I attended, reiterated his support for the Caribbean and pledged to leave no one behind in the current crisis. I want to personally thank the Secretary General’s senior representative in the Eastern Caribbean, Mr. Didier Trebucq, UN Resident Coordinator, for following through on the Secretary General’s pledge. My Government has been invited to every UN consultation in the development and strengthening of the COVID-19 Multi-Sectoral Response Plan for the Eastern Caribbean, out of which the HEAT Report was actually developed and assistance provided to the British Virgin Islands.
Mr. Trebucq, please express my gratitude to the Secretary General and I look forward to the continued strengthening of the British Virgin Islands’ relationship with the United Nations.
Thank you once again to UNDP, UN Women and UNICEF for your close collaboration with the British Virgin Islands Government on the production of the HEAT Report that will continue to help guide my Government’s policy response to COVID-19.
I thank you.