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
SIGNING OF THE MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING BETWEEN THE BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS AND UNITED NATIONS DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME
Good Morning and God’s blessings once again. I recognise the protocol that has already been established.
Ladies and gentleman, the signing today of a Memorandum of Understanding between the British Virgin Islands and the United Nations Development Programme is the culmination of a gradual maturing of our relationship over the course of the last three years. Following the devastation of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017, UNDP was the first UN agency to have representation on the ground and to also deploy an emergency response team to provide early recovery and reconstruction assistance.
The highly professional team of international public servants, who included Ms. Reshmi Theckethil, Mr. Luis Francisco Thais and Ms. Jasmin Blessing, among others, provided excellent support to the Ministry of Finance, Premier’s Office and wider-Government. Not only was a professional working relationship established between the British Virgin Islands and UNDP, but also a warm and friendly relationship of trust.
At the conclusion of the initial period of technical assistance in the second quarter of 2019, UNDP recognised that the British Virgin Islands’ recovery was far from complete, and that we needed longer-term assistance to embed climate resilience and pursue sustainable development. Targeted additional support was offered in select areas, including blue economy. This particular area of support was embraced, and UNDP provided technical assistance that helped to produce a Blue Economy Roadmap that will be one of the pillars of our National Sustainable Development Plan currently in development.
When I became Premier and Minister of Finance in February 2019, I pledged to further strengthen the British Virgin Islands’ relationship with the United Nations. Toward this end I dispatched my Special Envoy Mr. Benito Wheatley to UN Headquarters in New York in June of that year, on a mission to communicate to the United Nations that the British Virgin Islands desired stronger engagement with the UN system, especially after the experience of the hurricanes of September 2017.
Mr. Wheatley relayed to me the details of his meeting with you Mr. Lopez-Calva and your pledge to support the ongoing recovery of our society in any way UNDP could. I want to personally thank you for graciously receiving him at my request, and for your commitment to supporting the recovery and reconstruction of the British Virgin Islands.
In the weeks that followed, I was delighted to receive on-island our mutual friend, Mr. Magdy Martinez-Soliman, the UNDP Resident Representative for Barbados and the OECS at the time, along with the Deputy Resident Representative, Mr. Ugo Blanco, also my friend, who has taken over from Magdy. Both men remain trusted partners. They conveyed your message that UNDP was prepared to move forward with a tangible and structured package of longer-term assistance to support the British Virgin Islands. Over the course of the latter half of 2019 and this year, my officials have worked very closely with UNDP’s good offices in Barbados to realise this objective.
COVID-19 temporarily disrupted our progress, but in the interim, UNDP’s support to the British Virgin Islands throughout the global pandemic has further demonstrated to us the agency’s reliability and trustworthiness as a development partner. I would like to take this opportunity to thank UNDP colleagues in Barbados and Dominica for recently facilitating the provision of policy advice by the world renowned Barcelona Institute for Global Health (IS Global), in regard to the planned reopening of the British Virgin Islands’ borders to receive tourists. The policy prescriptions outlined were tremendously helpful in understanding our options and I am appreciative.
Assistant Secretary General, my Government places great value on the British Virgin Islands’ relationship with UNDP. In our view, UNDP is our key development partner in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
It is very fitting that UN Resident Coordinator for the Eastern Caribbean, Mr. Didier Trebucq, is present. The deepening of the British Virgin Islands relationship with UNDP is just one pillar of our desired engagement with the United Nations. We see a wider partnership with the UN in which other agencies will also play a meaningful role in their respective areas of expertise in supporting our sustainable development. Mr. Trebucq, we believe the important coordination role your office plays in the Eastern Caribbean will be critical to our success.
Ladies and gentleman, I am pleased that on the heels of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, that I can say with confidence as Premier and Minister of Finance of these islands, that that the UN is meeting its obligations to the British Virgin Islands, especially in light of the international community’s recommitment to upholding the UN Charter. Article 73 obliges the UN to also support the overall development of the British Virgin Islands as a society.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank UNDP Resident Representative Mr. Ugo Blanco for working so closely with my officials on the shaping of a longer-term relationship between the British Virgin Islands and UNDP that is firmly based on implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; addressing the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 and other external shocks; and a UNDP presence in the British Virgin Islands for project purposes. This is clearly reflected in the Memorandum of Understanding that will be signed today.
I would also like to thank my international affairs team for all their hard work in helping to get us to this point, including Permanent Secretary Dr. Caroyn O’Neal-Morton, my Special Envoy Mr. Benito Wheatley, Deputy Secretary Mrs. Elvia Smith-Maduro, Director of the International Affairs Secretariat Ms. Najan Christopher, Development Cooperation Specialist Ms. Patlian Johnson and Assistant Secretary for External Affairs Ms. Dwynel Davis.
Of course, Assistant Secretary-General, I want to again personally thank you for your support and commitment to the British Virgin Islands. My only regret is that this signing ceremony could not take place in person.
I am very sure Mr. Blanco can attest to the many opportunities the blue economy presents for the British Virgin Islands, but it is something that you must really see and experience in-person to get a true grasp of both the commercial potential that exists and the rich marine biodiversity within our waters that must be preserved. I genuinely hope that you will visit us at some point in the near future once the COVID-19 pandemic is brought under control.
I very much look forward to a deeper relationship and enduring partnership between the British Virgin Islands and UNDP. You have my word, that we will be a reliable partner as we work together on post-COVID-19 recovery, climate resilience and the Sustainable Development Goals.
I thank you.