SPEECH FROM THE THRONE DELIVERED BY
HIS EXCELLENCY THE GOVERNOR MR. JOHN J. RANKIN, CMG
First Sitting of the Fourth Session of the Fourth House of Assembly
Save the Seed Energy Centre
Tuesday, 18th January, 2022
Positioning the Virgin Islands to continue improving the standard of living of our people
Good morning Mister Speaker, Members of the House of Assembly, and everyone viewing online and listening via radio.
As Governor of these Virgin Islands, I am grateful to be here today to carry out my constitutional responsibilities on behalf of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second in delivering the Speech from the Throne.
This is my first Speech from the Throne since my arrival as Governor in January 2021, and I am keenly aware that this past year has been a demanding one for the Virgin Islands in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mister Speaker, I would respectfully take this opportunity to pledge my continued commitment as Governor to working with the elected Government in support of the people of the Virgin Islands at this demanding time.
The Speech from the Throne, a tradition in Commonwealth and Overseas Territories, signals the opening of a new session of the House of Assembly. It highlights the legislative agenda of the Government of the Virgin Islands in addressing the needs of the public during the upcoming Session of the House of Assembly.
The theme for the Third Session of the Fourth House of Assembly, which concluded last year, was: Driving BVI Innovation through Legislation.
This Honourable House held 13 Sittings in 2021 - with most Sittings extending into several days and at times weeks. The House considered and approved 43 pieces of legislation, reflecting the considerable amount of work done by the Legislature in the past year in fulfilling the mandate in the previous Speeches from the Throne.
Legislation passed by this Honourable House in the Third Session include: the Integrity in Public Life Act 2021, the Whistle blower Act 2021, two Amendments to the Beneficial Ownership Secure Search System Act, the Counter-Terrorism Act 2021, the Criminal Justice (International Cooperation) (Amendment) Act 2021, the Contractor General Act 2021, the Virgin Islands Air and Sea Ports Act 2021, the Virgin Islands Investment Act 2021, the Data Protection Act 2021, the Electronic Transfer of Funds Act 2021, the Cruising and Home Port Permit Act 2021, and the Economic Substance (Companies and Limited Partnership) (Amendment) Act 2021, just to name a few.
For the Fourth Session of the Fourth House of Assembly, which now opens, my Government has chosen as its legislative theme: Positioning the Virgin Islands through Legislation to continue improving the standard of living of our people. The Government will invite the legislature to consider bills and amendments to existing legislation towards this end.
This theme is aligned with the direction and goals of the elected Government's 2022 Budget under the theme “strategically positioning New Industries with Sustainability and Innovation: Continuing to improve the standard of living with focus on Education, Small Business, Healthcare and Technology.
This theme is aligned with the Government’s strategic vision To Transform the Virgin Islands into a Leading Regional Economy through Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Local and Foreign Investment, which was enunciated some time ago.
One priority of the Government of the Virgin Islands has been to strengthen FOOD SECURITY to ensure that food production in these islands will continue to be supported and sustained.
Government is setting a mandate to review and modernise existing agricultural and fisheries legislation to establish a harmonised framework for the sectors.
During this Session, Government will seek to introduce the Virgin Islands Food Security and Sustainability Bill to consolidate and revise most of the agriculture and fisheries legislation.
This Bill will establish the Virgin Islands Agriculture and Fisheries Authority to be the lead support in the future development of the agriculture and fisheries industries in the Virgin Islands.
Once the Virgin Islands Food Security and Sustainability Bill is enacted, Government will begin consolidating and revising the regulations to support these sectors. This is necessary to develop sustainable agriculture and fisheries to support the needs of the people of the Virgin Islands and further strengthen the tourism sector, supermarkets, restaurants, and the cruise and yachting industries.
The Government of the Virgin Islands is also focused on strengthening the EDUCATION, SPORTS, and CULTURAL SECTORS.
Mister Speaker, building an education system that caters to all students, regardless of their academic, physical, and mental abilities, is important.
During this Fourth Session, Government will seek adjustments to the Education Act 2004 and its Amendment Act (2014) to ensure that teaching and learning align with the need of students to become proficient in their overall development. The adjustments will consider the demand for online learning where schools and classrooms must have in place technology-driven standards. They will also seek to expand and enhance the technical and vocational skills programmes to increase the pool of skilled workers and strengthen the entrepreneurial skills of the current and future generations of Virgin Islanders.
Important to the Education Act are the Discipline Policy and Revised Student Code of Conduct. The policy has been updated to include a positive behavioral framework and online protocols, emphasising prevention and student support services focused on values, relationships, and skill-building.
A Virgin Islands Referral Intervention and Individualised Education Policy have been created to further strengthen the Education Act by establishing consistent guidelines and procedures for providing school-based Special Education.
The National Scholarship Programme, initiated more than 40 years ago, is one of the avenues through which Government has and continues to support the education and training needs of its people.
As such, the National Scholarship Policy is being updated to ensure it is in line with the current and future requirements of the Virgin Islands in the area of education and training.
To accompany the National Scholarship Programme, the Government of the Virgin Islands will seek to amend the 49-year-old Scholarship Trust Fund (CAP. 118, 1972) and the 38-year-old Regulations (1983) to ensure both pieces of legislation reflect our ever-evolving society and world.
Educational development also includes recreation and sports. Government will seek to establish the Virgin Islands National Sports Council Act to provide a comprehensive management structure to inform sports and recreation development in the Virgin Islands.
The National Sports Policy, which was established in 2014, will be revised and updated to align with the objectives of the National Sports Council and meet the emerging needs of sports development in the Virgin Islands.
To further ensure that sports and recreation in the Virgin Islands remain on the competitive edge for the development of athletes, the Recreation Trust Act, 1966 (CAP. 278), which was amended in 2012 will be consolidated with the Recreation Trust Regulations produced. Another objective is to modernise the procedures and facilitate standards to meet international requirements.
Also important to education, is cultural development.
The Culture Policy established in 2013 is being revised to integrate a new focus on developing the creative industries, protecting, restoring, and developing the intangible and tangible cultural heritage of the Virgin Islands and developing cultural education.
In addition, museum collections policies will be developed. This policy will then form the basis for a strategic plan. The Virgin Islands Festival and Fairs Act, 2005 will be reviewed and revised in this context. It will seek to bring the Emancipation Celebrations and other festivals into stronger focus as we showcase the Virgin Islands’ culture and heritage and make them sustainable.
The preservation of the natural ENVIRONMENT of the Virgin Islands through legislation and enforcement is a priority for the Government, both on land and sea.
Also, important to the environment is the publication of policies governing the administration of the marine estate and beaches to provide greater clarity regarding the importance of these resources and the care that will be exercised in decision making.
Towards this end, the Marine Estate Administration and Coastal Zone Management Bill and the Environmental Management and Climate Resilience Bill will be introduced to establish the limits of the exclusive economic zone and support the effective administration and management of the coastal resources for the conservation and enhancement of marine resources of the Virgin Islands.
Equally, the Marine Estate Administration and Coastal Zone Management Bill and the Environmental Management and Climate Resilience Bill, once passed will provide the overarching framework to ensure the viability of the natural environment, which we depend on, as we increase our resilience to the impacts of climatic events.
Ensuring and improving the HEALTH and SAFETY of the people of the Virgin Islands is an extremely important priority of the Government of the Virgin Islands.
Government will seek to amend the BVI Health Services Authority Act (No. 14 of 2004) to address the operations of the BVI Health Services Authority as it relates to effective governance and management of the Authority's mandate. The amendments will place the hospital in a better position to maintain its accreditation status as recognised by an international accreditation body.
Government will seek to amend the Social Security Board Act, (CAP. 226) to bring the legislation in line with international best practice and ensure that the best decisions are taken regarding the benefits to be received by the people of the Virgin Islands. This also includes amendments to the Social Security (Amendment) Act, 2014 National Health Insurance processes.
The Sexual Offences Bill will be introduced to provide a gender-sensitive legal framework relating to a broad range of sexual crimes and provide adequate measures for minimising secondary traumatisation, and monitoring and tracking of sex offenders following their release into the community. It will address implementation, monitoring and evaluation arrangements, investigation and prosecution procedures, legal proceedings and evidence, and sentencing; and provide protection, support, and assistance to complainants and survivors. The Act will bring the Virgin Islands in line with international best practices for sexual offence legislation by providing comprehensive definitions and prioritising the prevention of gender-based violence.
The Children (Care and Adoption) Bill will be brought forward in the new Session of the House of Assembly to ensure that local legislation is in line with the OECS Model Children (Care and Adoption) Bill, to modernise and strengthen the laws to aid in the proper care and management of children in the Virgin Islands. The Bill will provide a more comprehensive way to address child abuse, neglect, exploitation, and other forms of violence against children. Its express intent is to ensure the safety, welfare, and wellbeing of the child and that any decisions taken are made in the best interest of a child. The Bill will modernise the laws relating to foster care and adoption procedures and the overall welfare of the child.
The Correctional Facilities Act will be brought forward so that it is aligned with provisions with the Virgin Islands Constitution Order, 2007 while maintaining its original objectives to repeal and replace the Prison Ordinance (CAP. 166) and modernise the Virgin Islands' legal framework with respect to the management and security of prisons, and the safe custody and rehabilitation of inmates.
The Government of the Virgin Islands will seek to introduce the Non-Profit Organisations Bill to engender a more targeted and risk-based approach to the regulation of NPOs, which would reduce the burden of compliance presently placed on those community groups that are not at high risk for abuse by terrorist organisations. This new approach considers the differing types of NPOs that exist, the environment in which they operate, and the level of risk they are exposed to. This Bill will seek to:
- Rectify the administrative challenges conferred on the NPO Board and the Agency by the Act.
- Bring the Act into compliance with the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) Recommendation 8 by adopting a risk-based approach to the monitoring and supervising of NPOs in the context of the AML/CFT (Anti-money Laundering and Combatting the Financing of Terrorism and Proliferation) regime.
- Enable the Agency to facilitate training of NPOs before the end of 2022 in understanding their vulnerabilities and exposure to such risks in readiness for the next round of mutual evaluations.
The Plastic Litter Reduction and Container Deposit Bill will be introduced to reduce the use of single-use plastics; promote the use of environmentally friendly alternatives through economic incentives; reduce beverage container litter along roadsides, ghuts, coastal and marine areas, and on other public or private properties; and to also encourage recycling.
Additionally, the Plastic Litter Reduction and Container Deposit Bill will prohibit the importation manufacture, sale and distribution of food and beverage service-ware made of non-compostable plastic as well as single-use disposable plastic bags that are non-biodegradable. The Bill will also grant exemptions from import duty on all disposable plastic bags and food and beverage service-ware made of biodegradable or other compostable material. It will also establish a recycling fund for the collection and disbursement of the proceeds of a levy on prescribed items.
The Waste Management Bill will be brought forward to strengthen the legal framework for sustainable management of household waste, industrial waste, construction and demolition waste, and hazardous waste to protect health and the environment while improving the aesthetics of the Virgin Islands.
Government will seek to implement the Fats, Oils and Grease (FOG) Policy to address the direct or indirect discharge of such wastewater or waste discharged into the sewer system. Currently, there are blockages and overflows of the sewer system that result from discharges of fats, oil, and grease into the sewer system. This policy prohibits the disposal of oils, grease, and other harmful matter into the sewerage system.
The Government has established a Next Generation 911 Emergency Call Handling Centre for the Virgin Islands, which is designed to enable the sharing of valuable lifesaving emergency response and law enforcement information through smart mobile and fixed communications. A critical element to the full functioning of this Centre will be the enactment of supporting legislation.
Hence, Government will seek to introduce the Emergency Call Handling Bill to increase compatibility with emerging communication trends; enhance the flexibility, reliability, and survivability of the 911 systems during major incidents; improve emergency response for the public and emergency responders; help to ensure the seamless integration of the 911 systems with other public and private safety mechanisms used throughout the Virgin Islands; and ensure the appropriate financial mechanisms exist to reduce the overall cost of operating and sustaining the 911 system for the Virgin Islands.
Mister Speaker, my Government is committed to ensuring and improving the HEALTH and SAFETY of the people of the Virgin Islands in the context of INFRASTRUCTURE, which includes BUILDINGS, ROADS, and WATER.
Government will seek to introduce the Architects and Engineers Registration Bill to ensure that all architects and engineers practicing in the Virgin Islands are registered, licensed, and regulated. The proposed legislation for the architecture and engineering practices focuses on protecting building occupants' health, safety, and welfare. It also guarantees increased safety to the transportation network users because quality and standards of services would be in place for architects and engineers operating in the Virgin Islands.
Government will seek to amend the Road Traffic Act (CAP. 218) to modernise the legislation with international standards and the ongoing developments so that our roadways, which are of utmost importance to commerce in the Virgin Islands, can remain safe and traversable to both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
Since the Road Traffic Act was enacted in 1988, 32 years ago, significant developments and advancements in motor vehicle technology and road traffic systems have evolved while the fines and penalties have remained unchanged. Particular emphasis will be placed on the further development and upgrade of our roadways to be more accessible for the differently-abled persons. Additionally, this Act will encompass clauses to address vehicular noise pollution, modernising speed limits, and addressing vehicles transporting unsecured items or materials.
Road Town is the Capital of the Virgin Islands. It is the central business district and main cruise ship berthing point that attracts heavy traffic to various businesses and attractions daily. There is an opportunity to make the Capital more appealing, pedestrian-friendly, and accessible.
Government will seek to amend the Wickham's Cay Development Authority Ordinance (CAP. 281). This amendment would introduce a board and a secretariat as an integral part of the Authority to manage day-to-day operations in the city of Road Town. The amended ordinance will also ensure that the Virgin Islands continue to make good on the 99-year Wickham's Cay Leases and preserve the history of Wickham's Cay.
Government will also seek to establish a Water and Sewerage Authority as a statutory corporation through the Water and Sewerage Authority Bill to provide water supply and sanitation services.
The Water and Sewerage Authority Bill will make provisions for the Authority to be managed as a commercial undertaking, and repeal the Water Supply Act (CAP. 153). The Authority would be a body corporate with perpetual succession and a common seal with power to purchase, take, hold and dispose of land and other property and enter into contracts. The Authority will include powers to control, manage, maintain, operate and supervise all watercourses and waterworks in the Virgin Islands, and provide an adequate supply of water for the use of the public.
Mister Speaker, the Government is continuously focused on modernising IMMIGRATION and LABOUR, while preserving the heritage of the people of the Virgin Islands.
The Immigration and Passport Act (CAP. 130), which has been in existence since 1977, has undergone a number of amendments over the years, culminating with revisions last taking place in 2014. Government will seek to revise the Act to modernise the legislation and allow the department to benefit from a legislative regime. This will include a fee structure and additional services that respond to the Virgin Islands' current needs for greater protection of our borders, and the orderly admission of migrant workers and residents, whilst further strengthening our capability to administer residence and belonger status in a fair, equitable and transparent manner. The proposed framework will harness technology to modernise immigration.
The Immigration and Passport Act (CAP. 208) will also be amended to give special consideration for residency and belongership for workers in these areas - education, law enforcement, and healthcare.
Additionally, the Government of the Virgin Islands will aim to facilitate the grant of fourth generation belongership upon successful completion of the application.
The Virgin Islands Labour Code, 2010 will be amended to allow for greater efficiency in the processing of work permits without disenfranchising Virgin Islanders.
Additionally, emphasis will be placed on enhancing workforce development as a tool for empowerment and greater engagement of our citizens in the productive sectors in the Virgin Islands.
Mister Speaker, my Government is strongly committed to GOOD GOVERNANCE, TRANSPARENCY and ACCOUNTABILITY.
Government will introduce the Police Act (CAP.165) to bring together an updated legislative basis for policing in the Virgin Islands and provide a strong constitutional and professional base for a modernised Police Force. Supporting the proposed Act represents a positive and measured response to the current crime and community challenges facing the Virgin Islands. It provides a real opportunity for the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force to emerge as a leading police force in the Caribbean.
The Proceeds of Criminal Conduct (Amendment) Act will seek to amend the Proceeds of Criminal Conduct Act, 1997, to make provisions for unexplained wealth orders.
The Witness Anonymity Legislation will ensure the protection of witnesses and the preservation of their rights by providing for a court to make a witness anonymity order to protect the safety of the witness, prevent property damage, and prevent real harm to the public interest. This would be an invaluable tool in assisting with combating serious crime, and at the same time, it would also help to further strengthen public confidence in the criminal justice system.
The Criminal Procedures Rules (the Criminal Rules), similar to the Civil Procedure Rules, will serve a vital role in managing all criminal matters filed with the Supreme Court. The Criminal Rules will improve upon the Criminal Procedure Code and provide a more detailed framework for the administration of justice in this area. The Criminal Rules will make provisions for filing dates and deadlines for certain matters, case management procedures, disclosure, adjournments, bail, and service of documents, among other matters.
The Magistrates' Code of Procedure Rules will be amended to increase filing and service-related fees. The current Schedule of Fees (CAP. 44) of the Magistrates' Code of Procedure is more than 36 years old, with the last amendment of the schedule of fees taking place in 1985. As it stands, the existing rates are not reflective of the cost of living in the Virgin Islands, nor the increased operational cost associated with a Magistracy of a higher level of functioning than in previous years.
The review of the Jury Act (CAP. 36) seeks to examine the powers of judges as it relates to jury trials. The review will explore the question as to whether a Judge can hear some trials without a Jury to allow the expediency of Justice in the Virgin Islands. The review will also be conducted to streamline and enhance Jurors' selection and establish Juries register for the Virgin Islands.
The Liquor Licence Act (CAP. 106) was enacted on 11th May, 1964, and governs the sale or manufacture of intoxicating liquor in the Virgin Islands whether by wholesale or retail. Legislation will be brought forward to modernise the legal framework with respect to the sale, supply and consumption of Liquor.
The Public Service Management Code, which will replace the General Orders, 1982, will be introduced to provide the terms and conditions for officers and employees employed in the Public Service.
The Flexible Working Arrangements Bill supported by policy will outline the criteria and process for undertaking a flexible working arrangement. The implementation of this policy will come at a time when officers and employees continue to maneuver through their personal hurricane recovery efforts and the challenges caused as a result of COVID-19.
The Human Rights Commission will be introduced to provide for the establishment of the Virgin Islands Human Rights Commission in accordance with section 34 of the Virgin Islands Constitution Order, 2007.
The Freedom of Information Act will be introduced to govern the public's access to information held by public authorities.
Government will seek to introduce amendments to the Commissions of Inquiry Act (CAP. 237), which has been in existence since 29th July, 1880, to bring the Act in line with the Virgin Islands Constitution and Human Rights Act to strengthen good governance.
Government will seek to repeal and replace the Register of Interests Act, 2006 (No. 5 of 2006) and provide an opportunity for all persons in public life to declare their interests in the form prescribed. The objective is to bring this legislation in line with the Virgin Islands Constitution and Human Rights Act to further strengthen good governance.
The Elections (Amendment) Act 2019 will also be brought forward to improve the administrative process of voter registration and the accuracy and accessibility of the database of voters. The amendment will consolidate and streamline the application processes of new voter registration, transfer and update voter registration details to reflect the name and occupational changes, capture additional information to help identify voters, and aid in reducing the duplication of records.
The Landlord and Tenancy Bill will seek to address some of the challenges experienced with the management of relationships between landlords and tenants. The Bill will set standards for landlords for the rental and upkeep of properties they offer for rent. It also will address the obligations of the tenants to the landlords and landlords to tenants.
The Disaster Management Act, 2019 will be amended to reflect our current modern partnership between the United Kingdom and the Government of the Virgin Islands.
Mister Speaker, the Government of the Virgin Islands is also committed to promoting further ECONOMIC, MEDIUM, SMALL and MICRO BUSINESSES, TOURISM and BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT in the Virgin Islands.
One of the Government's overall objectives is to continue driving economic growth and diversification while creating opportunities for the people of the Virgin Islands.
The Gaming and Betting Control Act, 2020 aims to provide for the establishment of the Gaming and Betting Control Commission to regulate the Gaming and Betting Sectors which are, both on a global and national level, vulnerable to infiltration by money launderers and terrorist financing.
Towards this end, Gaming and Betting Regulations will be introduced to govern the licensing and operation of businesses engaged in gaming and betting activities in the Virgin Islands.
The National Quality and Standards Bill will be introduced to establish standards for businesses in delivering goods and services in the Virgin Islands.
The Virgin Islands Micro Business Companies Act, 2017 will be introduced to create the enabling environment for which MSMEs can develop, grow and thrive.
The Business Licensing Act, 2020 will be completed to replace the current Act, which governs the licensing and operation of all business activities in the Virgin Islands. Business Licensing Standards Regulations will be introduced to ensure the appropriate legislation for licensing specific sectors of businesses and professions is in place.
Government will seek to amend the Port Regulation, 1995 to defer the implementation of the increase to the Ports Authority Fees for an additional two years.
Government will seek to strengthen the Virgin Islands Investment Act, 2020 by introducing the Investment Incentives Regulations that offer incentives to investors who can make significant contributions to the economy.
In order to prevent unfair pricing practices during periods of disasters and pandemics, the Consumer Pricing Regulations will be introduced to further strengthen the Consumer Protection Act, 2020.
For the Year 2022, Government will recommend the enactment of the following ECONOMIC LEGISLATIVE MEASURES:
The Financial Services Commission (Amendment) Act, 2022 will aim to carry out further reforms to deal with exceptional circumstances that affect the financial services sector. It is designed to ensure a faster process for decision-making, to properly align the provisions of the Act with those of the Financial Services (Exceptional Circumstances) Act, 2020, and to address how banks and insurance companies function during catastrophic natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and pandemics, inclusive of their procedures and applied costs.
The proposed reforms will also provide necessary synergy with the provisions of the Virgin Islands Deposit Insurance Corporation Act to address issues concerning banks and other key financial institutions that may fall into financial distress, in order to better protect consumers.
The Financial Services (Fees) Regulations, 2022 will be brought forward and will provide a comprehensive review of all the regulatory fees with the view to enhancing some of the existing fees and, where considered necessary, to introduce new regulatory fees.
The Banks and Trust Companies (Amendment) Act, 2022 will streamline the provisions of the Act with those of the Virgin Islands Deposit Insurance Corporation Act to better address issues relating to banks and other key financial institutions that may fall into financial distress. This will be aimed at ensuring better protection for consumers of financial services business.
The BVI Business Companies (Amendment) Act, 2022 will mainly address issues surrounding struck-off companies, abolition of bearer shares, and record-keeping measures. The reforms will also include amendments to require persons wishing to act as voluntary liquidators of BVI business companies to be either licensed insolvency practitioners or persons resident in the Virgin Islands and holding specific qualifications and skills. Amendments will also be effected to Schedule 1 of the Act by reviewing and, as necessary, enhancing the registry fees regime. The Order effecting such amendments will be laid before the Honourable House in accordance with the requirements of the Act.
The Insolvency (Amendment) Act, 2022 will reduce the inherent conflict between the role of the Office of the Official Receiver and the role of the Commission as the regulator of the financial services sector by transferring the portfolio of Official Receiver from the Financial Services Commission to the Government, under the Ministry of Finance. It will streamline the provisions of the Act with those of the Virgin Islands Deposit Insurance Corporation Act to better address issues relating to banks that may fall into financial distress, where necessary. This will be aimed at ensuring better protection for consumers of financial services business.
The Virtual Assets Service Providers Act, 2022 will introduce new legislation to provide a regime for the registration of providers of virtual assets services and better enhance the Virgin Islands' international obligations to prevent the misuse of virtual assets for money laundering, terrorist financing or proliferation financing purposes.
In addition, appropriate legislative reforms will continue to be carried out to the Anti-money Laundering Regulations, 2008 and the Anti-money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Code of Practice, 2008 to ensure that the Virgin Islands fully meets its technical obligations under the FATF Recommendations in preparation for the CFATF mutual evaluation which is expected to commence later this year. These measures, when completed, will be laid before the Honourable House.
The Financial Services Appeal Board Act will be amended, in particular to address issues highlighted by the pandemic, thus enabling the efficient and smooth running of the appeal process for the benefit of both the Financial Services Commission and appellants.
The International Tax Authority (ITA) proposes amendments to the Mutual Legal Assistance (Tax Matters) Act, 2003 (MLA) and the International Tax Authority Act, 2018 (ITA Act).
The proposed amendments to the MLA are to ensure that the Virgin Islands continue to meet its obligations in relation to exchange of information. The amendment to the MLA will accomplish three important goals as follows:
- Repeal the European Union Taxation on Savings Income which has now been phased out and replaced with the Common Reporting Standards;
- reintroduce the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) requirements in the principal Act, and amend the compliance powers of the ITA to ensure consistency with the FATCA obligations; and
- provide minor amendments to other provisions of the principal Act to ensure that the Virgin Islands can effectively and efficiently exchange information under various international obligations.
The proposed amendment to the ITA Act will streamline the powers of the ITA, ensuring that the ITA can efficiently and effectively carry out its compliance functions under the Economic Substance (Companies and Limited Partnerships) Act, 2018 and under the MLA.
The Virgin Islands Deposit Insurance Corporation Act of 2016 establishes the Corporation with the legal mandate to be the deposit insurer and resolution authority in the Virgin Islands. As such, the Corporation is created with administrative and technical autonomy to perform its duties in a manner that benefits the public interest and avoids duplication of functions with the Financial Services Commission (FSC), the regulator and supervisor of financial institutions.
To enable the Corporation's legal mandate, a regulatory framework has already been drafted to bring to life the Deposit Insurance System and the Special Resolution Regime. In the process of building the enabling regulatory framework, opportunities were identified to ensure proper implementation of these two new functions of the VI financial safety net, namely, deposit insurance and resolution.
Since 2020, the Government of the Virgin Islands has offered "Special Exemptions" for the waiver of Stamp Duty on the sale or transfer of property to Belongers. This was a part of a greater economic stimulus measure in response to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that has negatively impacted economies around the world, with the Virgin Islands' economy being no exception.
For the period May 2020 to December 2021, there were 513 sale transfers. The total amount of Stamp Duty exempted on sales was $5,543,481.00 (five million, five hundred forty-three thousand, four hundred and eighty-one dollars).
The COVID-19 pandemic is quite fluid, and there remains great uncertainty as to when some normalcy will return to the global, regional and local economies. Government sees the importance of extending this concession in an amended form. The Stamp Duty waiver will continue for one year but only for Belongers who are first time land and property owners, thereby increasing the possibility of greater participation in land ownership and consequently its development.
To achieve this stimulus extension, an amendment will come forward for Stamp Duties Act (CAP. 212).
A subsequent amendment will also be made to the Statutory Rates, Fees and Charges Act 2005 and for completeness of process, the draft Order is subject to an affirmative Resolution in the House of Assembly and thus would have to be published in the Gazette and then tabled in the House of Assembly, by way of a Resolution.
The Procurement Act No. 39 of 2021 was approved by the House of Assembly on 3rd November, 2021 and assented to on 6th December, 2021. The regulations in support of the Act will be approved shortly and laid in the House of Assembly within the first quarter of 2022.
The Procurement Act incorporates proven international best practices in the procurement process suitable for our unique economic and operational structures. The new Act and Regulations will promote integrity, fairness, transparency, value for money, efficiency, and flexibility in the procurement process. To complement this legislation, supporting regulations that will further regulate a new framework for an efficient and effective public procurement process will be introduced.
Mr Speaker, my Government is responsible for ensuring the effective management of public funds and resources.
In this regard, steps will be taken to institute more modern Public Finance Management (PFM) Legislation. This legislation along with Regulations will create an environment that supports the best practice geared towards the continued advancement of good governance of the financial resources of the Virgin Islands.
Additionally, the introduction of Financial Instructions will define and support the modern PFM Act and Regulations to improve accountability and understanding of application of PFM Act and Regulations.
Government will seek to introduce the new Public Service Pension Bill to promote a new system of social acceptability, financial sustainability, political feasibility, coherence with economic and labour market realities, and client‐friendly management and administration.
In addition, an amendment to the Pension Act will be brought forward to make provisions for widows and widowers to receive the pension of their spouses until they die, even if they remarry.
To foster efficiency in understanding legislation, consolidation of relevant tax legislation will be effected.
Property Taxes are administered under the Property Tax Act, 2005, which updated the Land and House Tax Act (CAP. 207). The tax is comprised of charges against House and Land in the possession of private individuals and entities within the Virgin Islands, which is due and payable from September 1 to November 30, annually. If the tax is not paid by the due date, an additional sum at the rate of twenty percent per annum on the amount payable and unpaid shall be charged and such additional sum shall be deemed to be part of and shall be recoverable with the tax remaining payable and unpaid.
Under the current legislation, the interest payable for non-payment of taxes for more than one year exceeds the actual tax before the imposition of the penalty. As per Section 13, of CAP 207, "It shall be lawful for the Minister in Council to (a) remit the whole or part of any tax payable under the provisions of this Ordinance in any case where he is satisfied that it would be just and equitable to do so..." An amendment is required to this legislation to remove the compounding effect of the tax charged and to allow the Commissioner to waive the levying of all or a portion of the interest charged under this Act.
Chapter 201, the Cheque Duty Ordinance, legislates that, "No bank shall issue any cheque form unless such cheque form shall have impressed on or printed upon the face thereof the words 'Duty paid 10c'." This duty shall be remitted by such bank to the Accountant General on the first working day of March, June, September and December in each year, each payment representing the amount due in respect of the three complete calendar months immediately preceding the month in which such sum is payable under this regulation". Currently there is no fee, penalty or interest, for late payment of tax, thereby providing no incentive for the banks to pay in the funds in a timely manner. An amendment is required to the Ordinance to impose a penalty for the late or non-payment of the tax.
The collection of Payroll Tax is administered under the Payroll Taxes Act, 2004. Under this Act, Section 17M of the Act imposes a penalty and interest for the late filing of the return, while 17N provides the Commissioner with the power to waive the levying of all or a portion of the penalty. Section 17O, which designates the order in which a payment is applied, declares that the payment is firstly applied to interest, then penalty, and finally the tax owing. This distribution does not allow the taxpayer to lodge an objection, thereby giving the Commissioner the power awarded in 17N. An amendment is required to firstly apply the payment to tax due.
The Payroll Taxes Act, 2004 provides that the $10,000.00 taxable exemption for persons with more than one job will apply to the salary of the employer with the longest term (years) and all additional employment salary will be taxed from the beginning of employment. In some cases, the employment with the employer with the longest term may be part-time only and does not allow the employee to utilize their full benefit. An amendment is required to the Act, to allow the primary employer to utilise this exemption.
The changing of the Cruising Permit Legislation and enacting the Cruising Permit and Home Port Act has given Virgin Islands registered, home-based companies owned by Virgin Islanders a competitive advantage, creating and securing jobs for Virgin Islanders. In addition, it has facilitated the collaboration of agencies, in particular Virgin Islands Shipping Registry and Customs, and the enforcement of agencies' legislations, in particular Safety and Compliance. It has also led to the enforcement of the Commercial Recreational Vessel Licensing Act of 1992.
The Government of the Virgin Islands also created an environment for agencies to educate the industry and allowed for interested stakeholders to participate in the lucrative marine industry. The encouragement of young Virgin Islands boaters to be trained and licensed to participate in the Blue Economy is now paying dividends and creating opportunities for new and young emerging entrepreneurs in chartering, yacht management, vessel agency, booking agency, maintenance, captaining, delivery captaining, cooking, chandlery, marine plumbing, and surveying, to name a few.
The Government's initiative to promote marine training at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College has resulted in an increased number of trained and qualified local captains and boaters. Some are operating privately (charter companies) and some have embraced maritime law enforcement as a career. These initiatives empower Virgin Islanders to take their rightful place in the Blue Economy.
Furthermore, international COVID-19 protocols, in addition to domestic protocols, have influenced these opportunities for Virgin Islanders to participate in their beautiful lucrative blue environment.
Reduction of Cruising Permit Fees for Home Based Vessels from $6/person/day to $4/person/day in contrast to the foreign rate of $16/person/day will give locally based companies a competitive advantage.
A 50 percent reduction in Commercial Recreational Licence Fee during the year 2021 will assist the recovery of the charter industry.
Amendments to the Customs Management and Duties Act will add to the list of items (wheel chairs, crutches, artificial limbs, etc.) already duty-free for seniors and physically challenged. This Legislation will be amended to include medical beds/hospital beds, disposable diapers, glucose, and blood pressure monitors.
Legislative changes will also be made to provide for the application of an Export Tax on certain products leaving the Virgin Islands Customs area for which there is high demand in other countries. This will allow the Virgin Islands to capitalize on opportunities for revenue generation.
In the upcoming year, Government will also focus attention on legislation for ensuring that agricultural produce, fish, meats and poultry conform with international health and quality control standards, so that producers in the Virgin Islands can access international export markets.
Mister Speaker, my Government has set for itself a legislative agenda that the proposed Bills and legislative amendments for this upcoming Session of this Honourable House in different ways will help to Strategically position New Industries with Sustainability and Innovation to continue improving the standard of living of the people of the Virgin Islands.
It should be borne in mind that while the above-mentioned legislative programme is being executed, work will also be taking place in other very important areas to support the continued development of the Virgin Islands. For instance, the Government has already indicated that the Constitutional Review, which has been overdue for some time, will be moving forward this year. The National Sustainable Development Plan is currently out for public consultation and will also be progressing once this stage of the process is completed.
Mister Speaker, in closing, the Government of the Virgin Islands also wishes for the public to be aware that it is not unusual that, during the course of the year, new initiatives arise which may make it necessary to prepare new legislation or amend, where appropriate. When this happens, the necessary legislation will be brought forward by my Government for the consideration of the House of Assembly to further strengthen all sectors of the economy of the Virgin Islands.
As Governor, I look forward to continuing to carry out my responsibilities under the Constitution with regard to the elected Government’s legislative agenda, in the best interest of the people of the Virgin Islands and their good governance.
I hereby declare the Fourth Session of the Fourth House of Assembly of the House of Assembly open.
May God guide your deliberations as all of you work on behalf of the people of these Virgin Islands.