25TH AUGUST 2022
PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE
DR. HON. NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
UPDATE ON ENVIRONMENT, AGRICULTURE AND CONTINUING REFORM
Good morning members of the Press Corps, fellow Virgin Islanders and persons listening via radio and online.
I am happy to once again have press conference to keep the public updated on current matters. This morning I am pleased to be joined by Minister for Natural Resources and Labour Hon. Melvin “Mitch” Turnbull, who will also make a statement. Today we will update on environment, agriculture and other matters.
However, before I do so, I would just like to mention that I had the honour of attending the funeral of former Governor of the United States Virgin Islands Dr. Charles Turnbull, along with Deputy Premier Hon. Kye Rymer, Honourable Turnbull and my Permanent Secretary Mrs. Carolyn Stoutt-Igwe. Dr. Turnbull was a Belonger of these Virgin Islands and had a wonderful send off with many tributes. His memory will live on here in the Territory.
Ladies and gentleman, last week I had the privilege of joining several other CARICOM Heads of Government, Environment Ministers and Foreign Ministers in the Bahamas for meetings on climate finance with officials from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The purpose of the meeting was to discuss financing for Small Island Developing States for adaptation and mitigation measures in response to climate change. As we all know, the Caribbean in particular is vulnerable to stronger hurricanes, as well as sea-level rises and droughts. The meeting was also an opportunity to begin coordinating a regional position for the COP27 meeting in Egypt in November where nations from around the world will further consider how to arrest global warming.
We are aligned in our view that the countries who are releasing the large majority of CO2 gas emissions into the atmosphere should deliver on their pledges of financial support promised to Small Island Developing States and other groups of vulnerable countries. We are also of the view that we must hasten our transition to renewable energy to mitigate the economic and environmental risks associated with fossil fuels, such as the sharp spike in the price of oil and gas. This is the crux of the case that CARICOM will be taking to COP 27 in Egypt.
In addition to the general CARICOM position, the Associate Members of CARICOM that attended the meeting in the Bahamas, held a Caribbean Overseas Territories Caucus in the margins to discuss our position. We agreed that greater engagement with the United Nations on alternative forms of climate finance for Overseas Territories was critical as well as further discussions with the United Kingdom Government on financial support and technical assistance to the Overseas Territories to adapt to climate change. The Associate Members present included Anguilla, Bermuda, BVI, Cayman and Turks & Caicos.
In terms of the steps we are taking here in the territory in response to climate change, I was very pleased that last week Hon. Turnbull announced the Government’s to reinstate the original Board Members of the Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Fund. I join him in thanking the members for their willingness to resume their duties. They can be assured that Government of National Unity supports the critical and independent work that they will be doing in helping to mobilise and deploy resources to help build the climate resilience of this territory.
Ladies and gentleman, I would like to now turn to agriculture. At the conclusion of the climate change meetings in the Bahamas, the Bahamian Government generously made arrangements for all Heads of Government to be flown to Port of Spain, Trinidad to attend the Agri-Investment Forum and Expo II, hosted by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago. The expo was inspirational to say the least and provided a real vision for agriculture in the Caribbean as we strive to become more self-sufficient in food production. As a region, we must reduce our food import bill to give us a greater sense of food security, especially during these uncertain times where inflation is running rampant.
The Expo clearly demonstrated that farmers in the Caribbean are capable of producing for our people, including processed goods at the next stage of the value chain.
Here in the Virgin Islands, we are starting from a lower base, but the principle is the same. We must produce as much food for ourselves as we can. We are taking some important steps in this regard.
First, I am very pleased to report that the Food Security and Sustainability Act 2022 received royal assent. We now officially have a new legal framework within which to advance agriculture. Now that the Act is law, we are moving hastily to establish the Agriculture and Fisheries Authority to manage the sector as stated in the Act.
Another important step we are taking to advance agriculture is to formalize the process of issuing land leases to farmers at Paraquita Bay. In the weeks ahead, Cabinet will approve an official process that will provide our farmers with the legal certainty they require to continue to confidently farming the land.
In addition, we are in the process of making funds available for infrastructural development that will help to facilitate farming, especially access to water. Among other things, the House of Assembly will soon approve a Supplementary Appropriation Bill (SAP) that will fund the construction of a reservoir at Paraquita Bay as well as equipment to pump water from our wells. These steps will improve our hardworking farmers ability to produce food for our people, especially as we see prices continue to rise due to inflation.
Finally, ladies and gentleman, I want to say a few words about continuing our work on reform. We will be proceeding with the final public meetings on the framework document. We sincerely apologise for the delay. The dates of these meetings will be announced shortly. Following these meetings, we will begin public meetings on the critical issues of residency and belonger status.
I want to thank the public for their patience, engagement and support thus far as we have embarked on this process of reform together as a community.
As a people, we must continue to press ahead. I encourage everyone to remain engaged and to be active participants. As we debate reform, let us do so on the basis of factual and accurate information. It is a disservice to the public to share misinformation.
I was highly disappointed recently to hear persons on the airwaves just last week saying that the current reform process is the product of a coup here in the Virgin Islands that brought the Government of National Unity to power. This is blatantly false and spreading such a falsehood is completely irresponsible and self-serving.
To be clear, the Virgin Islands Party Congress in early May elected me the Chairman of the Virgin Islands Party. I am the leader of the Virgin Islands Party.
It was then confirmed in writing by all of the elected Members of the Virgin Islands Party, all of the elected members of the National Democratic Party and the elected member of the Progressive Virgin Islands Movement that they supported me leading as a Premier the Government of National Unity.
No coup has occurred in the Virgin Islands, and it is important that persons not spread such falsehoods, which is highly irresponsible, especially by persons in elected office.
Let me take this opportunity to also dispel another falsehood. Recently some persons have publicly stated that the Government of National Unity would support not having a General Election when it is constitutionally due. This is absolutely not true. What we have said is that that there will not be an early snap election. There will be a General Election within the constitutionally established period for the election to take place. We of course encourage everyone who is not registered to do so.
As a community we must remain united and have a sense of common purpose. This is not the time for partisanship.
Before I close, I take this opportunity to extend condolences to the many bereaved families in our Territory. As the Minister for Tourism, I would like to pay tribute to a former tourism stalwart, Mr. Terrance Ford, whose passing I learned about a few days ago. Mr. Ford served as the manager of the Long Bay Hotel for many years. He is hailed as one of the leaders in tourism before we entered this modern era and brought Long Bay Hotel from where it was then to what it is today, making it a prime property. This feat was not attributed solely to the physical attribute of Long Bay and its location but was more so because of Mr. Ford’s management. Mr. Ford was also a former member of the BVI Tourist Board from 1974 to 2002. He served under the chairmanship of Mr. Ralph T. O’Neal, Elihu Rhymer and Stanley Gordon. He was also reappointed to the Board on 1st February, 2008 and had a stint as acting Chairman later that year. Though an Englishman, Mr. Ford integrated into the Long Bay community, settled and built his home in Windy Hill. He is remembered as being kind, gentle and very generous. He was a belonger and a faithful worshipper of the St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Sea Cow’s Bay. Mr. Ford’s wife, Mary, preceded him in death a few weeks earlier.
I will close by again thanking the public for their support and patience as the Government of National Unity continues to work in the best interest of the Virgin Islands in this new era of democratic governance.
I will now turn the microphone over to my colleague Honourable Turnbull for his statement.