Good day Virgin Islanders and residents. I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak directly to you on matters relating to our response and recovery post Hurricane Irma and now also Hurricane Maria. Moving forward, it is my intention that these updates will provide additional information to you on efforts government will be making for the rebuilding of our great Territory.
As aid arrives in the Territory, we are quickly working to ensure that aid reaches those that are most vulnerable in our community. My Government, through the Ministry of Health and Social Development, is committed to ensuring that relief supplies are distributed to everyone in need. We have heard of instances where persons have been wrongly informed that relief and aid supplies are being distributed to BVIslanders/Belongers only. Let me assure that supplies are not limited to BVIslanders/Belongers, but will be distributed to any person in need. The BVI is home to many, and we have all been affected. It will therefore take all of us working together as one BVI to recover and rebuild.
As I mentioned before, I have been hosting a series of meetings with the business community throughout our islands. Tuesday, I met with business owners in the second district. I believe we had a healthy conversation about their needs, but also how Government can improve our present outreach in support of businesses getting up and running and also the rebuild of the Territory. I was also impressed that Cane Garden Bay businesses owners themselves identified lessons learned from these hurricanes. Particularly they mentioned the need to rebuild primarily with the environment in mind and preservation of the Cane Garden Bay beach frontto maintain their tourist attraction.
To support businesses in this time, I am pleased to report the Liaison Officer for the business community for our rebuild, Director of Trade, Karia Christopher’s office is ready to serve businesses. The Department has identified priority areas of industry that are needed to support our community. Some of these industries include:
• Grocery Stores
• Restaurants and bakeries
• Furniture Stores
• Hardware Stores
• Cleaning companies including laundromats
• Auto Repair businesses
• Beauty Salons and Barber Shops
• Beauty Supply Stores
If assistance is needed for those businesses to get up and running to serve the community, the Trade Department is asking business owners to visit the department, where they can schedule an appointment with a Trade Inspector to visit their business for an assessment of support needed. Within a short period, the Trade Department’s business centre will also be up and running so that businesses can have access to a functioning and comfortable space to take care of basic
administrative tasks. In addition, businesses will have access to a fund to support their redevelopment.
Considering our long term goals to rebound from this disaster, we have started to establish relationships to foster our rebuild. On Sunday along with Minister for Communications and Works, Hon. Mark Vanterpool and Governor Augustus Jaspert, I toured the Pockwood Pond power plant with the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development’s, Secretary, Priti Patel. The Department for International Development - DFID is the United Kingdom government department responsible for administering overseas aid. During the tour, Ms. Petal had an opportunity to see first-hand, the hard working efforts of both our BVI Electricity
Cooperation engineers and the UK’s Defense Force Royal Engineers to restore electricity to our islands.
We know that electricity is an essential service to help us rebuild and to make sure our telecoms are functioning, businesses can open doors and for residents to be able to get back to normalcy; so we have been concentrating efforts towards seeking out partnerships to get this essential service up and running. Secretary Patel has asked me and my administration to put together a framework for support that is needed to rebuild the Virgin Islands that she can advance with other international development agencies. As we set about doing this, we will be looking for public input into such a plan.
Prior to Secretary Patel’s visit, on September 13, I met UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson who surveyed the damage to the Territory firsthand. In our meeting and during his tour of Tortola, Secretary Johnson committed financial and technical support to help the Territory rebuild.
I have repeatedly asked all UK and appropriate government and non-governmental agencies for assistance for the Virgin Islands in the following areas:
• Restoration of power, communications and continued improvement of the security situation.
• Re-establishment of the criminal justice system and the provision of public services, including schools.
• A full damage assessment to provide a baseline for the recovery plan.
• Financial and technical assistance to build back better homes, capital assets and infrastructure as well as providing support for citizens and businesses to relieve hardship, improve living conditions and support employment.
My administration is working to foster real partnerships that can assist our development with our interest at heart. We know that we have our people who can get the work done, but we are also aware that we do need financial assistance for an effective rebuild. As we do this, I look forward to continuing dialogue with our community and providing opportunities for us to chart a new course for the Virgin Islands, together.
These past weeks have been extremely challenging for all of us. However, Sunday I received some good news that reminds us that we will rise again. Our very own Tortola Pier Park was given the Port of the Year Award for the 2017 Sea Trade Awards. While to some this might seem simple, it is a reminder of our ingenuity and also comes as some encouragement that with persistence, hard work and strength, we will one day soon return to prominence. Even as we go through this time, I have faith that God will continue to bless the Virgin Islands.