ADDRESS TO THE TERRITORY BY PREMIER OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS DR. THE HONOURABLE D. ORLANDO SMITH, OBE
MONDAY, MAY 4, 2015
My Fellow Virgin Islanders and Residents,
As Premier of these Virgin Islands and as the Leader of Government business, it is both my duty and responsibility to speak to you about the progress we have made as a Territory since you sent my government to manage your affairs on 7th November 2011.
The BVI is a special place. A very special place.
Generations of BVIslanders know this to be true. Nationals from over 110 countries across the globe who have come to us as tourists, guest workers, residents, investors and business persons acknowledge this fact.
And the global economic community, which has incorporated and maintained approximately half a million active business companies in this jurisdiction, demonstrates confidence in our stability, our steady development, competent management and regulatory regime.
Those three letters: B V I; inspire confidence, and evoke a strong sense of pride and accomplishment in our hearts. BVI is among the last bastions of ‘peace’ in this world where people feel free to engage with each other; where the natural environment is second to none in its beauty; where hard work and creativity have secured us an enviable standard of living; where healthcare and education are valued and where the rule of law prevails.
This BVI must be protected at all cost. We must build on the successes of past leaders and with each successive generation, improve our infrastructure, grow our economy, protect our environment and raise our standard of living and our quality of life.
This means hard work and eternal vigilance on our part. And it sometimes means taking the tough decisions that will pay dividends in the future especially when such decisions may not be popular initially.
Ladies and Gentlemen, my Government has demonstrated that we are able to manage your affairs. We believe that we are your best hope for the future prosperity, strength and stability of the BVI.
Allow me to explain:
Roughly three and a half years ago, you elected this Government to return the Territory from the mire into which it had fallen, to a successful path of growth and prosperity. I am grateful to you for your confidence in us.
There is no point, at this stage, in dwelling on what we met when we assumed Office. The facts are well known to you, ladies and gentlemen and, in any case, together we have moved beyond those dark days. I prefer to begin by reminding you of our vision and the path we took to get to where we are today, three and a half years later.
As you know, my primary objective was to grow the economy and we have done just that. It takes a strong economy to provide us with the revenue to run the Territory. It also takes a strong economy to do the infrastructural works, pay for the social services and maintain a cadre of well-trained Public Officers to deliver those services.
My Government appreciated your trust and confidence especially at the difficult and challenging times in the first year of this Administration.
I clearly recall the decision to tighten our belt and grow the reserves; some were saying we should spend freely, not save. But, I knew that without the reserves; that is, three months’ worth of operating expenses, we would never be able to borrow as much as a penny without first seeking the permission of Her Majesty’s Government. They, like Esau were thinking of the next meal while we, like Jacob, were looking for the greater and longer term advantage.
Without those reserves which now stand at $44.6 million, we would have lost the ability to be masters of our own destiny. That was unacceptable to me. Ladies and gentlemen, I could never put you, the hard working men and women of the BVI in that compromising position. That is not who we are as a people. We are a proud people. We are strong and resilient.
With respect to the economy, this was our strategy: to develop essential physical infrastructure, to promote business development - small and large, while building on the bedrock of tourism and financial services.
At the same time we set out to build a strong social infrastructure particularly in the areas of health, education and community services, for the benefit of all of the people of this Territory.
Despite our considerable challenges, I am pleased to report that we accomplished much of what we set out to do and our work continues.
I can say without fear of contradiction that this Government has performed beyond expectations. Let us inspect the evidence:
I can begin with, perhaps, the most important subject of interest to you - the state of our finances. You would have observed that we have responded to several questions in the House of Assembly, many regarding the Territory’s finances for the last three and a half years. Despite many attempts to prove to the contrary, I showed that as Minister of Finance, I had a solid grip on our finances.
As you know my Government inherited a deficit that we managed to turn around in just over two years! As I had to remind Members of the House recently, if the previous administration did leave $10 million dollars in the Treasury and $14 million in bills, by my count that leaves us with a deficit of $4 million. However the situation was much worse than that, and only with a steady, guiding hand - my Government’s hand – did we manage to navigate this Territory safely from the rough and turbulent waters of uncertainty.
Now the consolidated fund at the end of December 2014, that is, last year, was at $30,771,000.00 the reserve fund was at $44.6 million, and the commitments in the Treasury were $2,654,000.00.
I reminded you that by accepting the short term ‘pain’ in favor of the long term gain for a year or two, we would be much better off. And time has proved me right.
I announced in my last Budget address that after three years the BVI had returned to positive growth in 2013, with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) - which simply means the sum total of all economic activity that takes place in the Territory - increasing from $909.4 million in the previous year to $923.2 million.
This bears repeating Ladies and Gentlemen: after three years the BVI returned to positive growth in 2013, with Gross Domestic Product increasing from $909.4 million in the previous year to $923.2 million with projection for $ 966.54 million in 2015.
I thank every single member of the BVI community for your patience as we worked steadily to drastically improve the state of finances we inherited. I know there were times when you went to the Treasury window and the cheque was not ready. I know you were frustrated, but in the end it was there in full. My Government made sure of that.
It is also true that Public Officers’ increments were deferred for a couple of years. I preferred to take that decision because of my Government’s commitment to stand by our Public Officers so that they in turn could support their families. I am equally pleased today that we did not have to lay off a single Public Officer as many other of our Caribbean neighbours did.
As you know ladies and gentlemen, the increments of our Public Officers are now being paid. I am especially thankful to you, our loyal and hard-working Public Officers for your patience and understanding. May God bless you and your families for the services you dispense to a grateful Territory.
You see ladies and gentlemen these are the kinds of measures that every responsible Government has to adopt from time to time. It is not about “Spend, Spend, Spend”, but rather about strategic financial management.
You would recall, ladies and gentlemen, that it was this tax and spend attitude that caused Her Majesty’s Government to threaten to impose severe austerity measures on the Territory. And we cannot permit the architects of that philosophy to come back here to manage your affairs. That would be a giant step backwards.
You know the rest of the story ladies and gentlemen.
The elections were held in 2011 and you took the opportunity to entrust your affairs to a responsible government, my Government.
A few short months thereafter, we were able to sit with Her Majesty’s Government and agree on a way forward that this Territory could live with - what we all refer to now as the Protocols For Effective Financial Management. It is a blueprint to order ourselves in an autonomous manner financially and at the same time, respect the very real contingent liabilities of Her Majesty’s Government.
And let me be clear: living within those guidelines we have been able to accomplish much as you will note:
I will now speak about business development to fix and stimulate the economy.
One of the best indicators of the good health of an economy is its employment statistics, and today I am pleased to observe a positive turn around in the job market, according to figures from the Social Security Board and the Central Statistics Office.
To put a face on these stats, through projects being undertaken by the Ministry of Communications and Works for example, close to six hundred persons have been employed, and as the economy grows we expect these numbers to rise.
Of course the twin pillars of our economy - tourism and financial services - continued to be the main drivers of our success and I shall return to these shortly.
BVIslanders are doing well as business owners. As we all know Small Business is the backbone of economic development in any society including the BVI.
This Government has therefore used every opportunity to prepare our people and especially our younger people, through training in business development and techniques, to become more efficient and productive.
The National Business Bureau was the vehicle to promote these activities, but was left to die when we left office. On assuming office in 2011, my Government immediately set about reviving the National Business Bureau. And today I am very proud of its accomplishments.
Last year, through the National Bank of the Virgin Islands, we provided financing to assist local businesses in getting started, or in re-organising themselves.
The National Business Bureau issued some fifteen loans ranging from US$50,000.00 to US$150,000.00, making for a total of US$1.2 million, in our quest to keep businesses alive and well in the British Virgin Islands.
This has been the right strategy as the recipients of the loan program are thriving. This year the application rate has significantly increased and additional loan recipients for 2015 will be selected shortly.
The Department of Trade and Consumer Affairs has undertaken the theme, "fueling the entrepreneurial spirit" as part of its refocused agenda to promote investments throughout the Territory.
A massive campaign to clean up the city is in progress. Owners now understand the importance of operating within their approved spaces thereby creating a more visually appealing city ready for more investment. We do not encourage the use of tents or tarpaulins as an extension of a store front.
We also recognised the importance of creating an attractive Market Square. We now have a safe, attractive, organised space specifically for local farmers and vendors who were previously scattered along the streets of Road Town. The Market square is now a popular tourist spot bringing more customers to the vendors.
Through the Department, we launched the Business of the Month and Innovative Business of the Year Campaign. Two business awards have been made to date: to Mr. Musah Muhammed and Ms. Akiyah Brewley.
Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, the economic wheels of the Territory turn on Tourism and Financial Services. It is in Tourism, however, that the majority of our workers are employed. There can be no economic growth in the BVI if our single largest economic sector, Tourism, is not vibrant and growing. I was keenly aware of this when my Government assumed office in 2011 and quickly took stock of the situation.
What did I find?
a. declining growth in the all important overnight arrivals;
- acute air access problems no reliable air access to Virgin Gorda;
- a cruise tourism sector in steady decline driven by the lack of infrastructure improvements at our cruise pier;
- declining and unfocused marketing of the destination globally;
- no investment in developing new markets;
- the absence of an ongoing customer service training programme;
There seemed to be no clear direction at the Tourist Board. This created its own negative reputational issues in our key markets in the United States and in Europe.
We therefore as a Territory were experiencing a slowdown in the sector which significantly reduced your ability to earn for yourselves and your families.
Swift action was necessary. I gave a clear but simple mandate to the Board: “Reposition the BVI as a tourism destination globally and grow the overnight visitor arrivals by 10 percent.”
Ladies and Gentlemen I am pleased to report that with hard work and perseverance the Territory’s tourism sector is growing once again, and across all sectors. I am particularly pleased that our all important overnight sector has experienced strong and sustained growth over the last three years after several years of successive decline.
Between 2012 and 2014 the overnight sector experienced a strong accumulated growth of approximately 9.86 percent - with an annual rate of growth over the period of 4.55 percent. When the final arrival statistics are completed for this past winter, we expect an announcement of accelerated growth.
In the area of cruise tourism, we are beginning to see the signs of a return to growth. With the completion of the new cruise pier and thereafter, the facilities, coupled with the new berthing agreements with Norwegian Cruise Line and Disney, this Territory is finally entering a period of sustained growth in cruise arrivals. Last Wednesday told its own story!
Ladies and Gentlemen, the growth in our tourism sector is not accidental growth. Here are some of the key accomplishments of the Tourist Board under my mandate:
Air Access - We successfully managed the transition of American Eagle’s departure from the Territory and negotiated the entry of Seaborne. We continue to look at other cost effective ways to get more passengers through Beef Island. We also fixed the ongoing issues with the Virgin Gorda airport and brought new first time regular scheduled services to that island via Seaborne and Cape Air.
We introduced a seasonal seaplane service into North Sound. Additionally, starting last November we established a first time direct weekly flight to Antigua with VI Airlink - owned by BVIslanders - to connect with Virgin and British Airways flights. This was critical to rebuilding and expanding our business from the United Kingdom.
Improved the Destination’s Global Marketing - The Territory’s global marketing and public relations program has been completely overhauled. In the United States market we have launched a new advertising campaign, the first in more than 10 years. In the United Kingdom market we have a renewed push to grow our market share after many years of declining growth. We have for the first time, entered new markets in South America aimed at diversifying our tourism base.
Improved Relationships with the Industry - Strong industry relationships have always been critical in the tourism sector. We have rebuilt many of these relationships which is best demonstrated by last week’s Memorandum of Understanding between the Government and Rosewood Little Dix Bay on training for Virgin Islanders.
Re- established Broad Based Industry Training Programmes - The key to success in tourism is the delivery of great experiences to our visitors. Vigorous and constant training of our service providers is key. I am particularly pleased that BVI Tourist Board has returned to a year round training scheduled for service providers from taxi drivers to front line staff in Immigration and Customs etc. Training must never stop.
New Events - The BVI Tourist Board has targeted events as a marketing tool in driving new visitors to the destination. One of the fastest growing areas globally is the culinary space for foodies. The establishment of the BVI Culinary month in November and the Anegada Lobster Fest hold considerable promise for the BVI. Both events are highly acclaimed and growing.
Develop Niche Markets - The BVI Tourist Board has undertaken a major push to develop niche markets in key areas such as Romance via the traditional weddings and honeymoon markets. We have updated and expanded our incentives in this area and will further expand to include cruise tourism.
Ladies and gentlemen, it takes team effort and a dedicated team to achieve anything in life. No man is an island. I want to express my sincere thanks to the men and women all across the Territory who have helped in the effort to see BVI tourism return to a path of growth.
In keeping with our objective of building the requisite infrastructure to get this economy moving, over the last three and a half years we have concentrated on our transportation sector, our ports and city development, improvement of Government buildings, water and sewerage management, electricity generation and other sustainable energy initiatives, among other programmes.
Last Wednesday history was made when we formally opened the new cruise pier. And what an opening it was! Nothing will erase from my memory the picture of joy and pride in this Territory that was on the faces of the hundreds of BVIslanders and residents who all came from Anegada to Jost van Dyke to celebrate this accomplishment.
The construction of this facility took roughly 12 months. I am happy for our taxi owners and operators who will now be able to conduct their business in a modern, comfortable environment.
I thank you for your patience and for believing in my Government's ability to get this project done in good time, despite the many challenges, including groundless calls for a commission of enquiry and discouraging BVIslanders from investing in the project
Ladies and gentlemen, when you consider that the Dock and the Pier Park which accompanies the port development project is in many respects unparalleled in the history of the Caribbean to date, you know that my Government has been hard at work on your behalf.
As you know, the Park will be owned by the people of the BVI who have used the opportunity to invest and without a doubt will receive very good dividends from their investment. Apart from taxi drivers and tour operators, vendors, restaurateurs, retailers and other entrepreneurs will benefit from this facility. We have now seen it, we have felt it we have walked through it and we feel good!
As to our tourists, the lifeblood of our economy, together we must ensure that they have a great experience and therefore are keen to come back. In addition to our beautiful beaches and scenic tours, there will be much to do in Road Town: the Queen Elizabeth Park will be ready for enjoyment and relaxation by year’s end, with a walking trail which is already being used, shade trees, benches a live pond and more.
As you know, that project was started by my Administration, and has been revived after languishing and is now being completed by my Administration. The Old Government House Museum continues to be a place of interest and of course Crafts Alive continues to attract many visitors.
Do you remember the unsightly and embarrassing tents that greeted our cruise visitors on arrival for years prior to our taking Office? Well, my Minister for Communications lost no time in replacing them with a charming shopping area by expanding and improving Crafts Alive which now accommodates all the vendors and allowed us to bring an end to this ugly welcome.
The old Her Majesty's Prison Museum is largely completed so that there is even more that our visitors can do in and around Road Town. That combined with the Sugar Works Museum which is no far away will make for yet another interesting tour for visitors and residents alike.
I am happy that despite construction of the pier, dredging and related works, we had a steady stream of cruise ships visiting - many days two or three at a time, with passengers enjoying the beauty and the many offerings of our beautiful Territory. In fact, between October of last year and this week, over 290 cruise ships would have visited the BVI, with over 500,000 visitors. Ladies and gentlemen, this is what we promised and this is what we delivered.
Turning now to the subject of Sewerage: let me take you back to pre-2011 when the strong stench of sewage shamed us all in the capital, not to mention populous areas such as East End as well.
It was not uncommon, while driving around the Town, to see sewage overflowing manhole covers.
Again, my Government rolled up its sleeves and began to work. You, my people know the result. Raw sewage no longer flows in Road Town like a ghut. Within the next three months East End, Long Look and surrounding areas together with Road Town would have seen the completion of the installation of a modern sewerage system.
Again, I thank you for your patience and for putting up with the inconvenience and disruptions of our roads. I know that you know that we could never continue with that level of neglect to our infrastructure and at the same time call ourselves a modern, progressive community. No, No, No!
Now let us look at, the BiWater contract. As you know, that contract is costing you, the tax payers well over $17 million every year. You are also obligated to provide BiWater with free electricity. What did we lose with that contract? We lost the ability for BVIslanders to make their own investments in producing water for public consumption.
The BiWater contract is a tough lesson in what it means to have responsibility for governance. Despite everything I have said about this contract, my Government is still obligated to honour it because it was legitimately entered into by the then government of the day. This binded us, you and your children for many years to come.
Be that as it may, as of this January we began to receive and distribute water throughout Tortola. We are still working aggressively to alleviate some disruptions in the supply but residents of the Virgin Islands have seen a marked improvement in recent months, as upgrades are being done to the distribution network.
Our road network has been a challenge for years, partly through complete neglect and partly through storm damage. Although the CDB approved $16 million for rehabilitation from storm damage in 2010 Her Majesty’s Government was reluctant to approve the draw down. But in 2012 the situation changed as my Government assured Her Majesty’s Government that we could manage your affairs and now good progress is being made on these projects
The work consists of rehabilitating and upgrading roads and drains on Jost Van Dyke, Tortola and Virgin Gorda. Altogether, the project is expected to rehabilitate approximately 2.5 miles of roads, reconstruct failed retaining structures along the public road network, and construct new retaining structures. Additionally the hydraulic capacity of several culverts and bridges throughout the Territory will be increased.
About $4.5 million of the CDB loan has been spent on contracts for major road and drainage improvements and retaining walls. Another five projects are going through the bidding process and should commence shortly.
With the large number of miles of road to be paved it makes absolute sense for the Government to own its own asphalt plant. This is now in place and you would have seen for yourself that Road construction with sidewalks is well underway throughout Tortola.
We paved the road from Beef Island Bridge to Parham Town junction, at the same time that we laid the sewerage system. We are continuing to similarly fix that area from the East End Police Station right through to Fat Hogs Bay.
We are carrying out road rehabilitation and modernisation projects throughout all nine Districts, from Anegada to Jost Van Dyke. Works include construction and maintenance of edge of roads, slipper drains and new asphalt overlay.
Just so you understand that my Government leaves no District behind, I will take you through each District.
District 1 – Works are ongoing on the road from the Isabella Morris Primary School to the West End service station, via the Long Bay Beach road. On Jost Van Dyke, road works from the Public Works compound in East End to Foxy’s Taboo has begun; Work on the road from Pockwood Pond to the West End ferry terminal has begun.
District 2: Work is ongoing from the Cane Garden Bay/Meyer’s junction to Soldier Hill and also from Cane Garden Bay/Meyer’s junction into Windy Hill via Chalwell Estate;
District 3 – Overlay work is ongoing on the road from Slaney Point to the Ebenezer Thomas Primary School in Sea Cow’s Bay, construction work on the Pleasant Valley road and bridge is almost complete and the road from the Palestina Bridge to Pockwood Pond is ongoing;
District 4 – We completed the widening and paving of the Manse Road, a project which also included the installation of drainage. The James Walter Francis Drive dual carriage is being completely resurfaced, Boo Bay Drive is being rehabilitated, overlay works are taking place in Huntum's Ghut and work to widen, install drainage and resurface the Sugar Mill road is ongoing;
District 5 – The Great Mountain Road was completely resurfaced and a drainage system installed. Road improvement works have been completed in George’s North Side and in Rogues Bay and work to complete the Spooner Estate access road started a few weeks ago;
District 6 – There are plans for road works from Sophie Bay into Road Town;
District 7 – Road works will also be undertaken from Sophie Bay east to Long Swamp;
District 8 – The Georgie Hill road was elevated and widened to make it more user-friendly and sidewalks and streetlights were installed. The Hawks Nest and Shepard’s Hill bypass roads will be completed and work will also be done in Hope Estate to install edge of roads, slipper drains and curb walls;
District 9 – A project to install guardrails on The Valley to North Sound road on Virgin Gorda is ongoing, while road paving works from Leverick Bay will begin this week. On Anegada, works are ongoing to pave approximately two miles of road from Nutmeg Point to Cow Wreck and heading back east towards the airport.
Let us now turn to electricity generation. Again I have to thank you the people of the BVI for putting up with many outages last year as a result of mandatory load shedding by the Electricity Corporation. I am pleased that that period is now for the most part behind us, as both of the engines have now been repaired. Occasional outages will happen - as they do anywhere in the world.
About six weeks ago we made good on our promise to begin the Phase V development by breaking ground at Pockwood Pond. As you are aware, Phase V will add two new propane gas engines and two new transmission lines to BVIEC’s inventory. The total cost of the expenditure for Phase V is $38 million. This increases the Territory’s power generation capacity by 13.6 megawatts or approximately 33 percent. This project will be completed by 2017.
As we increase our generating capacity, we are also advancing our renewable energy potential, through studies as well as dialogue with industry experts on the way forward. We will shortly be tendering for the replacement of the Territory’s street lighting, and will add an additional 20 percent of light fixtures by a combination of LED’s and Solar powered lights.
This will not only increase lighting but reduce our public street lighting bill by approximately 30 percent. My Government is walking the talk when it comes to green initiatives and sustainable energy production.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a well known fact that the wealth of a country is closely aligned with the health of the country. This is another area in which we are proud of our accomplishments.
The 17th of December last year was a Red Letter Day in Health as we opened the doors of the new Peebles Hospital. Yes, the new hospital project spanned several administrations but recall that it was this administration that signed the contract for a new modern facility in 2007.
In 2011 when my Administration took office, equipping and opening the new Hospital was given the highest priority as it was a continuation of the work that we started in 2007. And Peebles Hospital opening is but a part of a comprehensive state of the art programme of healthcare that this Government is providing to the people of this Territory.
The hospital itself houses several outpatient specialist clinics, mental as well as dental health services and an emergency 911 dispatch service. We have also established a relationship with HIMA in Puerto Rico, and offer several services in the area of telemedicine.
Let me pause to acknowledge and thank our business community, our service clubs, philanthropists and generous individuals living amongst us, and indeed young Mr. Cameron for their generosity in donating to the outfitting of the hospital.
To date your generosity has netted us over a million dollars in contributions. This is a powerful signal of what this small community can do when we are committed to a cause. I encourage those who have not yet donated to do so without any further delay.
This Government's goal is to provide a full range of medical services throughout the Territory to take care of the primary needs of the people of this Territory. We will continue to concentrate on disease prevention, early detection and treatment of conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and the like. Thus we are concurrently upgrading all of our community clinics on Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke.
But this Government's focus is also on preventing illness. And so we are proactively promoting healthier life styles including good dietary habits and exercise throughout the Territory. We are reinvigorating or introducing various councils or community health groups to support our residents. No doubt you would have noticed a significant increase in the number of persons exercising either as individuals or as groups with the objective of staying healthier and living longer.
Over five weeks ago we made good on yet another of our campaign promises. We broke ground for a mini hospital on our sister island of Virgin Gorda. In 12 months time, God's willing, we will open the new Nurse Iris O'Neal Medical Centre, at a cost of $5 million.
The centre will operate 24 hours and will be offering emergency care, family health, dental, radiology and many other services. The costs, medical risks and hassle of transferring patients to Peebles for medical emergencies will be consigned to the history books.
Again I am grateful to our public spirited citizens and residents for contributing to this worthy cause. On Friday I was pleased to open my email with a photo of Mr. David Johnson of Oil Nut Bay and Mr. Larry Page of Google fame and owner of Eustatia, jointly contributing $300,000 to this project! They are both leading by example and I look forward to others on Virgin Gorda making contributions to this mini hospital.
We remain committed to ensuring that our senior citizens enjoy their golden years through offering the best quality of life possible. They are the men and women on whose shoulders we stand. We must therefore provide the services they need during their sunset years. So we have recently merged the administration of the Adina Donovan Home on Tortola with the Virgin Gorda Elderly Home and are already experiencing greater efficiencies.
We know that there are a few amongst us who may be experiencing homelessness. We can never turn a blind eye to this sad state of affairs. I am pleased that through the Ministry of Health we have established a Transitional Living Programme to provide direct support. We will continue to do all that lies in our power to take people off the streets and place them in homes.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it ought to be clear that this Government has gone to great lengths to strengthen our social infrastructure and to provide greater peace of mind and comfort to the entire BVI community.
And just as we are providing world class comprehensive health care, we are doing the same with our culture, education and programmes geared to our Young people.
As we work, we are not forgetting who we are as a people and our history. It is equally important that we build national pride and identity through symbols such as a Territorial song and dress. For years we talked about these issues without taking action.
Within seven months of this Government assuming office we had agreed on a territorial dress designed by our own Ms Kristin Fraser and Mrs. Florence Philips. Similarly our territorial song 'Oh Beautiful Virgin Islands written by the Brother/Sister team, Kareem Nelson and Ayana Hull has given us a great sense of pride of place. Each time we hear the lilting words 'Oh beautiful Virgin Islands, your qualities can never be denied', we burst into spontaneous and happy applause but more importantly, we feel that deep sense of pride in ourselves, our families and our Territory.
It is fair to say that the progress that we have made in Education over the last three and a half years mirrors the progress we have made in the wider economy. Ladies and Gentlemen, much has been accomplished and I will highlight but a few of these areas.
Training and personal development for our teachers is a must in order that our children, the future of these Virgin Islands are adequately prepared for their future roles. Through the Ministry of Education and Culture, we have introduced a Continuous Professional Development Programme for our teachers throughout the Territory as well as the licensure programme for principals and senior teachers in both our public and private schools.
Perhaps our crowning achievement in education is the establishment last year of the Virgin Islands School for Technical Studies, the first truly Technical High School in the Territory. The opening of this school is a critical investment in education. It will allow ‘hands-on’ young people to pursue important career choices in cosmetology, auto-mechanics, culinary arts and construction.
We will, in the future, add an agricultural science programme. The curriculum includes a strong component to teach students, life skills, work skills, customer service skills, and entrepreneurial skills. What is significant about this programme is that graduates will have the skills to either immediately enter the world of work at the technical level or start their own businesses.
We have also introduced the teaching of financial services and tourism, the lifeblood of this economy, into our High School and only a few weeks ago mounted a workshop to enable our teachers to become more proficient in the area of financial services.
In today's world it is often a challenge for recent graduates of high schools and even colleges to find work. My Government promptly responded to this through a series of job fairs that put potential employees and employers together both on Tortola and on Virgin Gorda. We later created the Youth Employment Services where every unemployed youth between the ages of 16 and 30 can register and receive some preparatory training for the world of work.
Three weeks ago we took the bold step of initiating employment for 105 of these young men and women by inviting the private sector to partner with Government. Essentially, Government and the private sector partnered to pay the employees' salary. This kind of programme has been tried in many parts of the world with great success: after year one the private sector partner decides whether they want to continue the arrangement in which case they take full responsibility for salaries. I am confident that in the majority of the cases this will happen in the BVI.
We firmly believe that our students should be equipped to work anywhere in what has become a global village, including the BVI. Thus we have raised the bar and now require all secondary school leavers to sit CXC. In the past, only the brightest students were permitted to sit these exams but today, ALL students have the opportunity. In 2014, three (3) Virgin Islands students from the Elmore Stoutt High School achieved top places in the regional CXC Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate. We expect even better results this year.
And we have also focused attention on our students who are challenged in one form or another. Beginning with the 2013 Budget, we introduced a line item in the annual budget for these students. We provide their parents with additional support. We opened the autism centre and with the help of the Herefordshire County Council have been able to do much to support them.
Between starting secondary education and graduation, this Government ensures that our more promising students have the opportunity to sharpen their skills through the Virgin Islands Emerging Fellow Award. This is a competitive prize that we introduced in 2012 that provides a funding opportunity for youth between the ages of 10 and 20 who show exceptional promise to achieve in academics, the arts and sports.
Last year eight deserving recipients were presented with this award. I was pleased last Monday to be part of the Ceremony for another eight to receive these grants. Our students get the opportunity to spend a summer at some of the most prestigious learning institutions in the US including Columbia University, Emory University, Johnson and Wales College as well as several noteworthy sporting institutions. What pleased me most perhaps was that at least one of these students was what the Minister of Education calls 'differently abled'.
In the field of sports, we have made excellent progress throughout the Territory in three short years: Aside from developing a Sports policy that provides guidance for integrating sports into the national development agenda and creates a better quality of life through increased involvement and training this Government has done the following and more:
- Completed Greenland Field that languished for years in a state of disrepair;
- Provided funds to start baseball leagues on the Sister Islands;
- Begun exploration works in the development of a proper running track on VG;
- Covered the basketball court in the Valley, Virgin Gorda;
- Installed rims at North Sound Basketball Court;
- Fixed the playing field in Anegada;
- Extended the Department of Youth Affairs and Sports Services to Virgin Gorda;
- Improved funding to athletic associations and athletes;
- Developed Elite Athletes Award;
- Developed the park in the Valley, VG – Walter’s Park;
- Installed lights on the Soft Ball field in Road Town;
Needless to say our young men and women continue to excel globally in sports. In the summer of 2013 we welcomed back our victorious team from Europe where they placed second in the Youth Championships in the Ukraine. A couple of weeks ago we fielded a team of 14 athletes at the Carifta Games. We cleaned up again with several medals: I congratulate all of our athletes. Continue to do us proud.
This Administration places a very high value on our young men and women - whether in their education or through sports - and we will continue to do so into the future.
Although as a country we will never be able to exclusively feed ourselves, we remain proud of the efforts made by our farmers and fishermen. The development of the fishing and agricultural industries hold promise and we are doing our best to improve the facilities wherever possible.
The BVI Fishing Complex has been upgraded to function better. This upgrade which was completed during the first quarter of 2013 included the addition of four (4) vacuum seal machines, increase in the storage capacity, and the overall enhancement of the esthetics of the building.
Additionally, the Treasury Department has been placing a special emphasis on ensuring that the fishermen are paid in a timely manner. The sum total of these efforts puts the BVI Fishing Complex in a better position to serve the public as well as provide the necessary impetus for the industry.
Our recent discussions with International Business and Trade LLC, the company from which the greenhouse technology was purchased, resulted in a signed Memorandum of Understanding that clearly outlines the responsibilities of both parties going forward. The successful execution of this MOU places the Territory in a position to begin production during the last quarter of 2015. We intend to have one of these Greenhouses dedicated for teaching purposes and another available for rent by local farmers.
Two weeks ago I was pleased to allocate over 50 house lots to first time home owners on Virgin Gorda. I want to congratulate the recipients who I am sure will develop these lots for the benefit of themselves and their families. I urge you, the newest land recipients, to ignore the foolish talk of the ‘nay sayers’ who can only see my Government’s hard work as an election gimmick. Yet another childish attempt to criticize this Government for helping our people to improve their livelihood, after they sat on their hands for years!
Ladies and Gentlemen it is important to let you know that whichever side of the political aisle we find ourselves, there are some matters that are of such importance that they should always enjoy bipartisan support. Whichever Government is in power, we count on these structures and institutions for the effective governance of the BVI and protection of our way of life. Policing is one such matter, and financial services is another.
It is because of the rule of law and property rights that we are able to proceed with the orderly development of the BVI. We owe a debt of gratitude to all our law enforcement personnel and those responsible for the protection of our borders. We are also grateful to the Courts for the work they do in helping to maintain law and order in the Territory.
I take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank the Commissioner of Police and his staff for their hard work in fighting crime. I also wish to thank the Chief Immigration Officer and his staff as well as the Commissioner of Customs and his staff for the work they do on a daily basis in protecting our borders.
I am pleased that through your vigilance over the last 3 1/2 years, crime in the BVI has fallen. Of note all burglaries have fallen by 50 percent this first quarter of this year, compared to the first quarter of last year.
BVI is in the business of Tourism and Financial Services. We have had a time honoured tradition of bipartisan support for the latter sector of our economy which provides over 60 percent of the revenue to central government. I was glad to hear the Leader of the Opposition voice this sentiment in the House after some Members tried to make Financial Services a partisan issue. IT MUST NEVER BE THAT. Enough said.
Our financial services sector remains solid and a leader among international business centres globally! We continue to be the most popular and highly ranked off shore financial services jurisdiction worldwide. According to the most recent Global Financial Centres Index (GFCI), published a few weeks ago the BVI has moved up 13 positions to 34th. The Index also revealed that the BVI is the most highly ranked offshore jurisdiction, ahead of competing jurisdictions such as the Cayman Islands, Jersey, Guernsey, Isle of Man, Bermuda and the Bahamas.
The Global Financial Centres Index is carried out twice a year and is ranked by drawing from existing data and online survey results on over 100 different factors identified by organisations such as the OECD and World Bank. These factors include the skilled workforce, strength of regulation, market access, infrastructure and the cluster of different financial services companies operating in the financial centre.
The BVI's position as the leading offshore financial centre is testament to the strength and high standards of our multi-faceted financial services sector, the professionals in its rank and the regulatory regime that it operates within."
New York, London, Hong Kong and Singapore remain the four leading global financial centres.
But this Government would be like the proverbial ostrich were I not to acknowledge that the financial services landscape is changing and continues to change- ever since the Global economic meltdown of 2009.
My Administration came into Office in November of 2011; by early January of 2012, we had begun to consult with all stakeholders in Government and the Private sector about how best to reinvigorate the industry and set it on a firm footing for the long term benefit of the people of this Territory.
The result is that a framework for the further development of our financial services has been laid Building on that framework last August, my Government commissioned an intense three-month effort facilitated by global consultants Mckinsey with involvement of the industry and other stakeholders to develop a pragmatic strategy and implementation plan to further strengthen our Financial Services sector.
In this regard, this Government is appreciative of the bipartisan manner in which the findings and conclusions were developed.
We are now embarked on a strategy:
- to remain a world leader in the core business of company incorporations by improving our reputation and level of customer service;
- to expand into value-added services by attracting and retaining top talent, as well as developing BVIslander capabilities, and making the BVI an exceptionally attractive jurisdiction for business, through investments in infrastructure; and
- to build best-in-class enabling mechanisms for the Financial Services industry –I am pleased that we have moved forward boldly with this initiative to take our financial services to the next level.
One other area of which I am very proud in terms of this Government's accomplishments is our Legislative Agenda.
There were a number of critical pieces of legislation that never saw the light of day. Those laws make a huge difference to whether this community is safe from criminal elements, they assure equality under the law, they ensure that the practice of law in the BVI is properly regulated, and they allow the people of this Territory after many years to move to renewable energy, to name just a few reasons for passage of those Acts under this administration.
The passage of these Acts required courage and vision. And this Government did not flinch, carefully studied the implications and ensured their passage.
I thank my colleagues in the House for their support. I also thank those who thought that it was not appropriate to support one or two of these bills.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is fair to say that this is the most challenging period that any Government has had to manage in decades for all the reasons I gave earlier. But it is also fair to say that as a Government with a vision and a strategy, we have reestablished this economy on a firm footing. And that as a consequence we can look to the future with confidence and hope.
And so we ask the question: What's on the horizon? What's next for the BVI over the next four years? With your support and God willing we hope to continue the work we started, including improving our city centre by making it more attractive, completing our infrastructure projects and then focusing more on the sister islands.
In particular we would like to improve our schools both in terms of the buildings as well as the curriculum on all of the sister islands.
I was over on Anegada two weeks ago where the previous administration, to their credit, did much in terms of road rehabilitation and construction. My Government has continued this work and will build at least two more miles of road.
We have increased visitor arrivals to Anegada and through initiatives like the annual lobster fest, our efforts are paying off. I must commend the people of Anegada for taking advantage of the increased visitors to the island. Anegadians are in turn increasing overnight accommodation and related facilities and, of course, taking advantage of incentives offered by this Government.
I am equally pleased to see the progress that is being made on Jost Van Dyke and at White Bay in particular.
The extension of the runway at the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport is critical if we are to sustain our market share of the overnight visitors. It is also essential for our own travels especially in emergency situations. A lot of work has already gone into this and securing the extension will be given the highest priority in the next administration. There is a lot of scare mongering going around to the effect that this project will be privatised.
This Government has always been fully open and transparent about it: we are looking at all options for the financing of the airport and that includes Public Private Partnerships which is standard in so many places, including Heathrow Airport in the United Kingdom, and recently, the airport in Jamaica.
Ladies and Gentlemen: together we have accomplished much and we stand to accomplish even more in the next four years with your support for my Administration. We have worked hard for you. We have improved your standard of living and quality of life. We have done wonders on the international scene to restore the good name of the BVI and return the levels of confidence we previously enjoyed.
On the home front, we paid particular attention to the infrastructure and to developing our health and education systems. We have worked hard to clean up the Town and to cause Road Town as a capital to excite the admiration of many of our Caribbean neighbours.
We have grown the economy and provided educational and job opportunities for our people. We continue to improve our roads and increase power generation capacity to fulfill our energy needs while investing in green energy initiatives.
We paid particular attention to the most vulnerable in our community and invested in green space for recreational use. We have continued our fight on crime which is important to our residents, tourists and the continued growth of the economy.
We have improved our port facilities and continued our work in the international community by opening an office in Hong Kong in our quest to attract more business to our shores.
I trust that this report which I have given of our stewardship, demonstrates the commitment and dedication my Government has shown for our beloved BVI and all its people over the past three and a half years.
On a personal note, I would like to thank all of the people of the BVI for allowing me to lead this administration with the same zeal, honesty, commitment and dedication that I showed when I served you as your personal physician many years ago.
May God bless the beautiful British Virgin Islands.