Ladies and gentlemen of the media, good afternoon and happy New Year to you.
This afternoon, I want to use this opportunity to talk to you about some major highlights of the past year, but equally about this Government’s plans for the year ahead.
Last year was one of hard work that paid off. Indeed our success was guided by seven broad priority areas:
- Stimulating/fixing the economy thereby improving the standard of living;
- Improving overall social services programmes and healthcare;
- Strengthening the educational sector;
- Protecting our borders and enhancing law, order and public safety;
- Public sector reform,
- Communications and infrastructure; and
- Re-establishing/strengthening regional and international relationships.
As I said in my budget address our overnight tourism figures continue to rise significantly over previous years. On New Year’s Eve for instance, much of our shores from the North Sound area to Jost Van Dyke were packed with tourists enjoying our recreational sailing offerings. Foxy's on Jost Van Dyke was of course unsurpassed in terms of the crowds.
But let me first look back briefly at our main accomplishments over the last year:
Tourism is critical to the development of this Territory and its people. Last year, we pioneered a new beginning for the cruise industry by breaking ground to welcome a new facility to accommodate the new trend of cruise ships, more passengers, thereby making us more competitive as a prime destination for individual and family travels. Our taxi drivers, tour operators, business men and women will all benefit from this development
We expect this facility to be commissioned this year, signaling a new direction for the industry, our businesses and our people. In the meantime we continue to accommodate a large number of cruise ships in our harbour.
With regards to Health, building a healthier Virgin Islands continues to be our constant mantra in improving overall social services. Last month history was made in our healthcare sector as our citizens can now enjoy state of the art healthcare facilities at the new Peebles. I am pleased that we have now transitioned fully with patients enjoying modern medical amenities.
But it’s not all about Tortola, as in the coming weeks we will announce the contractor selected to construct the New Nurse Iris O’Neal Medical Facility on Virgin Gorda, so that work can begin later this year.
Education is the foundation on which our people develop and thrive. We understand this, and we have done much to improve our local education standards to meet regional and international standards.
You would recall that in October, my Government opened the Virgin Islands School of Technical Studies. We are especially proud of this institution of not just higher but practical education that will provide this community with the skills needed for our daily living.
In fact, we have been lauded by OECS officials who have said that the institution can be used as a model for the Network of Excellence for Tourism and Hospitality Training and Education.
In the area of Roads and Sewerage development, works have commenced on the rehabilitation of our major roads and drains on Tortola, Anegada, Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke. These works are expected to pick up pace with the delivery of the new equipment that has been purchased and put into commission by the Public Works Department.
We are currently commissioning the new asphalt machine.
Ultimately we expect this road rehabilitation programme to continue throughout the year and into 2016.
Furthermore, we have made significant progress with building a proper sewerage system. We are satisfied with the ongoing work of the National Sewerage Project. Phase two of the National Sewerage Project in Road Town is completed and approximately 500 feet of pipeline have been installed at the roundabout.
The Sewerage system in this area is currently fully operational. National Sewerage Projects works have been completed along Blackburn Highway from Chapel Hill to Parham Town Junction. Works will continue as soon as next week in East End/Long Look. We anticipate that by the end of the 3rd quarter of 2015, we should have a fully functioning sewerage system. We thank you for your patience during this time.
Works will also continue along Blackburn Highway from the pump station at Long Swamp to the treatment plant at Paraquita Bay, as will the installation and commission of the outfall and required pump and lift stations at requisite locations in East End/Long Look communities. This year we expect to have house connections and a system that is in use by the citizens of these communities.
The financial services industry continues to be the largest revenue earner for this Government and indeed our people Last year we celebrated 30 years of providing international business services to the rest of the world. Building on this industry for the good of BVIslanders continues to top our list of priorities, and my Government will continue to do all that is necessary to maintain our competitive edge.
We signed our 27th Tax treaty - this time with Korea - while I was in London last month and of course we have signed various other Agreements including the Multilateral Convention for Mutual Assistance in Tax Matters. We continue to be constructive global partners in financial services while preserving BVI interests.
As a part of our overall Safer Communities plan, we were able to move forward with community policing through the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force which is currently ongoing in a number of areas. Furthermore, we will be amending the Firearms and Air Guns Ordinance in the first quarter of 2015 to introduce minimum penalties and gun control.
I continue to be very concerned about the level of Gun violence in this community and will be giving the passage of this legislation the highest priority.
You would agree that we have been very busy fulfilling our promises to the people of the Virgin Islands. All of these and many more of our accomplishments have been captured in our e-Magazine which will be made available to you and the public this month. It chronicles the work of Government from November 2013-December 2014. It is a production of the Department of Information and Public Relations and they will tell you how you can access this document titled: Your Government at Work.
In reflecting on our milestones over the past year, I must note that we remained steadfast in our efforts to build a ‘People Government’. I look forward to continued dialogue with the community during our interactive community meetings. We thank those persons who came out to the meetings and we anticipate even greater interaction this year.
In looking to the year ahead, my Government is continuing to upgrade the Territory’s infrastructure in keeping with international standards and enhancing community life for every resident and visitor to the Virgin Islands.
Water and electricity are vital commodities in our society and crucial to maintaining a sanitary and comfortable standard of living. But we have had our fair share of challenges in these areas Last year for instance we experienced frequent water shortages and power outages. Up to yesterday due to an unexpected technical hitch there was another power outage. As I said last night these should not continue beyond the next few weeks as an interim solution will shortly be in place.
In relation to water, while we reached our target of having of water production by Bi-Water during the fourth quarter of 2014, we are steadily improving the distribution network to ensure that all households will be able to receive water. Moreover, a hotline will be developed to allow persons with connected public access, who are experiencing difficulties to call and make a report.
In addition, we will move forward with the BVI Electricity Corporation Phase Five Development. This means an additional two new engines and two new transmission lines to BVIEC‘s arsenal. This phase will ultimately increase the Territory’s power generation capacity by 13.6 MW or approximately 33 percent.
In advancing our renewable energy potential, this year, we will be tendering for the replacement of the Territory’s street lighting and will add an additional 20 percent of public light fixtures. This will be by a combination of LED’s and solar powered lights which while increasing lighting will reduce our public street lighting bill by approximately 30 percent.
From an agricultural perspective, during the last quarter of 2015 the Territory will be in a position to begin production from our greenhouse technology. We intend to have one of these Greenhouses dedicated for teaching purposes and another available for rent by local farmers.
I reiterate that we remain heavily focused on our capital investment programme for 2015.
Let me remind you that some of our priority projects are:
1. The National Sewerage Project
2. Infrastructure Rehabilitation project
3. Water Network Improvement Project
4. Rehabilitation of Schools
5. Road Infrastructure
6. Completion of the Greenhouse project at Paraquita Bay
7. East End/Fat Hogs Bay Harbour Development
8. Iris O’Neal Medical Centre
9. Greenland Stadium
Indeed we expect that in addition to the myriad of recurrent Government services, these projects will be critical to improving the lives of all BVI Islanders.
Thank you for listening and I now look forward to answering your questions.