STATEMENT BY PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE
HONOURABLE ANDREW A. FAHIE
ON THE RETURN OF PHYSICAL BANKING FACILITIES ON VIRGIN GORDA
AT THE THIRD SITTING OF THE FIRST SESSION
OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
Friday, 17th May, 2019
Mr. Speaker, imagine having to brave the waters and travel on a regular basis to Tortola from Virgin Gorda, stand in a long bank line to have transactions done, and sometimes return home without being successful.
Mister Speaker, this is a typical scenario that some of our brothers and sisters of Virgin Gorda have complained about as a result of there not being any physical banking facilities on Virgin Gorda. Mister Speaker, since 2018, Virgin Gorda, our sister island, has been void of essential banking services and physical facilities when Scotia Bank closed its doors from physically operating on Virgin Gorda.
Mister Speaker, the Bank of Nova Scotia was the only bank that was physically operating on Virgin Gorda up to 2018, after the other banks that physically operated in Virgin Gorda prior had long since closed their doors on the sister island. The Bank of Nova Scotia informed the past Administration of their intent to close the Virgin Gorda branch well in advance.
However, there were no concrete efforts to either discourage such an action or to encourage another institution to set up in the island in order to avoid any gap in banking services provided to the people of Virgin Gorda. Hence, our people of Virgin Gorda were left without a physical banking facility. An ATM machine was provided.
However, Mister Speaker, I have been made to understand that on several occasions, this machine is often unable to supply the people of Virgin Gorda with any cash or services, largely due to the high demand and usage. Mister Speaker, can you imagine this? Can you imagine what our people of Virgin Gorda have to endure daily as a result of not having any physical banking facilities on Virgin Gorda?
Mister Speaker, the fact that Virgin Gordians have to travel to Tortola in order to complete transactions at the bank presents quite a challenge for the residents. It means that they have to travel with cash to and from the island. Mister Speaker, this is a safety risk, especially for businesses. It also takes up a large portion of their day which is spent travelling to and from Tortola coupled with waiting in long bank lines on Tortola.
In addition, Mister Speaker, our Virgin Gorda brothers and sisters have to find the money to pay their boat fares in order to travel to and from Virgin Gorda.
Mister Speaker, poor leadership in not adequately addressing this issue by the Government of the day has caused the people of Virgin Gorda increased expenses, frustrations and anxiety.
Mister Speaker, in some instances the bank lines in Tortola are extremely long and persons from Virgin Gorda at times might have had to either forego going to the bank to attend to another important errand, in order to have sufficient time to get the ferry back to Virgin Gorda.
Mister Speaker, could you imagine coming from Virgin Gorda to go to a bank on either the middle or the end of the month? Many Virgin Gordians complain bitterly about having to take a day off to deal with banking transactions on Tortola, which is an economic burden to business owners as well.
Mister Speaker, let us examine a scenario of a Virgin Gordian travelling to Tortola to cash a cheque. Let us calculate the economic cost for Virgin Gordians travelling to Tortola to conduct banking transactions. Mister Speaker, the boat fare is $30.00 to travel to and from Tortola.
Mister Speaker, let us factor in the transportation costs, which might roughly be about $25.00, and the cost for a meal, (ranging from $15.00 to $20.00), the loss of their day wages , about $80.00, as well as any other expenses that a Virgin Gordian may incur, just to do a simple bank transaction. Mister Speaker, and could you believe, there is a possibility of the cheque that the Virgin Gordian has brought to the bank cannot be honoured. Mister Speaker, the cheque may bounce. Mister Speaker, the cheque to be cashed might be only $200. Hence, the cost of travelling from Virgin Gorda to Tortola would be counted as a great loss, since the expenses would be greater than the actual cash that the person might have. Mister Speaker, these are real situations that have been reported to many elected officials by our Virgin Gorda brothers and sisters.
Mister Speaker, this has been very difficult for our people of Virgin Gorda, and could have been avoided if proactive measures were taken from the time it was known that Scotia Bank was closing its physical operations in Virgin Gorda.
However, your government has decided that we needed to intervene on behalf of the residents of Virgin Gorda. As Premier, along with the District Representative and Minister of Natural Resources and Labour, Hon. Vincent Wheatley, and At Large Territorial representatives Hon. Shereen Flax-Charles, Junior Minister of Tourism, and Hon. Sharie deCastro, Junior Minister of Economic Development, leading the way on behalf of the entire Government, we took a strong position in this matter and we were determined to bring relief to the people of Virgin Gorda.
Thus, we convened several discussions with Banco Popular. As a direct result of this Administration’s diligence in negotiation and collaboration with Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, we have been successful in achieving a solution to this issue.
Mister Speaker, I am happy to report to this Honourable House, that effective August 2019, Banco Popular, with the assistance of the Government of the Virgin Islands, will open a physical branch on Virgin Gorda.
Mister Speaker, this is quite an achievement for our brothers and sisters in Virgin Gorda. Virgin Gordians, relief is here! Our people of Virgin Gorda will now be able to stay in Virgin Gorda and complete their banking transactions at a physical banking facility. No more travelling across the waters, paying money and waiting in long lines on Tortola to do their transactions. You, the people of Virgin Gorda have spoken and the Government has heard your cries, acted on them, and has brought relief to this painful matter. This is a government that cares and is working for you, the people of Virgin Gorda and the entire British Virgin Islands, not by words, but by actions and results.
Mister Speaker, in short order, the date for opening will be announced as next week the bank will begin the work on the physical structure where the bank will be located.
Mister Speaker, I take this time to thank Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, my colleagues and the people of Virgin Gorda for their patience. Mister Speaker, the most feasible and efficient method for banking will also be explored on other Sister Islands.
Mister Speaker, last but by no means least, I thank God, because Great things He has done.