I wanted to take the time to clear up the misrepresentation of events in support of our clean-up and recovery efforts. Financial Services and tourism are the twin pillars of the Virgin Islands’ economy. Our financial services sector accounts for 70 cents of every dollar of our GDP. It is how Government makes an income to pay civil servants, our law enforcement officers and our teachers. It is how Government can support the provision of services such as electricity, garbage collection, roadworks, health services and importantly, education.
In contrast, through our tourism sector many residents earn their income and are able to take care of their families, buy groceries, pay their rents and be in a position to independently take care of themselves.
The devastation that the floods and two hurricanes caused to our natural environment and the lives of residents is evident; but we must move forward. We must ensure all residents, have every opportunity to build back their lives and make an honest living.
The decision to welcome cruise ships and leisure tourists to our shores was made with those residents in mind. If we forgo this season, we stand the chance of losing many locally built and respected businesses. As we’ve seen with other destinations, it can be very difficult and expensive for our destination to benefit from future seasons. What is worse, is that if we close our shores, we leave employees and tourism industry partners without the means to earn a living and the ability to contribute to the rebuilding of the Virgin Islands.
This is why my Government quickly sought to clean up the Territory. The Ministries of Communications and Works, Health and Social Development and Natural Resources have all supported clean-up efforts in districts. The Ministry of Communications and Works in particular, worked with each district representative to mobilise the necessary equipment and resources needed and chose to work with district representative so that clean-up efforts are done at the community level.
Specifically, in the Second District after unsuccessful attempts to clean up faster using this strategy, the Ministry directly deployed man power and equipment to support efforts in the Windy Hill area, Brewers Bay and along the Cane Garden Bay stretch from Quito’s to the Callwood Rum Distillery. Particularly for Cane Garden Bay, this was done with support from the Territory’s Rotary Clubs and members of the financial services sector over two days. Government will continue to support clean-up efforts and find ways to restore our environment and protect against further damages to all of our communities.
Keeping in mind the many residents that rely on our tourism sector, we will continue to welcome tourists to our shores. Cruise tourists are appropriately informed of damages to the Territory and are being provided with alternative options when in the BVI. This is also an opportunity for us to explore new sites, support business opportunities in other districts, as well as take the opportunity to see how we can strike the right balance of opportunity and environmental protection for beachfront communities like Cane Garden Bay.
While our tourists will now have a different experience when visiting our shores, the fact remains that within just four months, we survived a major flood and two category five hurricanes; weather events that will go down in history. Our tours and sites might not be the same, our circumstances have changed, but we still have a story to tell and a country to rebuild. There is no indignity in showing the world our resilience and our dedication to restoring our Territory. I look forward to working along with all elected representatives, the private sector, and residents to lead our Territory through this challenging time.