Statement by His Excellency the Governor
Mr. Augustus J.U. Jaspert
During the Catch-Up with the Governor Press Briefing
30th June, 2020
Good morning to all,
It feels as though a lot has changed since we last met in May. BVI has sprung back to life with many businesses re-opening and friends and family coming together again, though still from a safe social distance. We’ve made progress in preventing COVID-19 taking hold here, but we cannot become complacent.
We’ve held important conversations as a community. The horrific murder of George Floyd has sparked global and local conversations on racism. Here in BVI, we marched peacefully through Road Town to show our solidarity and support for Black Lives Matter. I hope we can continue to come together - to listen, to learn and to consider how we can create a more fair and understanding BVI for future generations. We are blessed to have a huge amount of diversity across these islands - we need to ensure that we are celebrating and protecting that diversity and breaking any barriers that may exist. We must actively say no to racism together.
We’ve also held important conversations on governance in response to the BVI Airways report, which I’ll talk more about later. A lot has happened across Government too. Informed by the latest medical advice, Cabinet has reduced the curfew, restarted the economy and partially re-opened borders. Public officers have accelerated hurricane preparedness work and are ensuring that hurricane plans take account of operating under the threat of COVID-19. Furthermore, the UK and BVI have agreed to commence a constitutional review.
I will speak on a number of these issues now and as always, then there will be time for questions from the media later.
I’ll start with hurricane preparedness as there has been a huge amount of work on this agenda. In the last few days we’ve seen a tropical wave developing in the Atlantic and although on this occasion the risk appears to be relatively low, it is an important reminder to us all to be ready. DDM have been exceptionally busy helping BVI prepare for hurricane season. They’ve carried out training sessions for the private sector and partners at the BVI Red Cross; they’ve also begun training emergency shelter managers. The people of BVI also have a major role to play in helping us be ready. We’ve been playing our part at Government House – last week we tested our emergency communications, cleared the surrounding area of debris and ran a simulation exercise for staff. I would strongly encourage every business, community centre and household to carry out their own tests and exercises. There are many resources available to help you including a newly produced booklet by DDM and the Ministry of Health and Social Development on ‘Preparing for Hurricane Season during COVID-19.’
The UK continues to provide support to us as we prepare. Experts from across the UK and Overseas Territories, including BVI, have come together for virtual workshops and training. As you know RFA Argus is based with us in the region and carries hurricane-related aid. Over the past month, both HMS Medway and RFA Argus have carried out exercises on neighbouring OTs to practice how they could deliver humanitarian resistance safely to an island in a COVID-19 context. They have also run disaster relief drills with the local police forces and provided back up aviation patrol support for other OTs who requested their help.
COVID-19 remains a huge priority for Government. We are still in the midst of a global pandemic and we must not forget that just because some of the restrictions have been lifted. As a Government we took decisive action early to protect our people and prepare, which has put us in good stead. We have been very fortunate to receive a large amount of support from the UK Government including both public health advice and medical supplies. Since January the UK has held weekly teleconferences with Chief Medical Officers in the OTs to provide technical advice. And since April, the UK has funded and delivered essential medical equipment – over 250,000 items all together. Health teams have told me that this “remarkable contribution” has significantly advanced BVIHSA’s state of readiness to address COVID-19. I hope it will also build long term capacity for BVI to handle other potential public health threats.
This leads me into the subject of UK economic support. The UK and BVI Governments have discussed the Protocols, which you’ll recall were a topic at our last media briefing. As a reminder, the Protocols make sure that Governments are putting away enough in savings and also not borrowing more than they can afford to repay. The UK Government’s position on the protocols remains the same – specifically, that the Protocols are designed with the best interests of the people at their heart and they provide the financial comfort and safety that each person living here would expect. The UK believes they should be upheld, most importantly to protect BVI’s economy but also because the protocols send a clear message of BVI’s commitment to transparency and good governance. However, if the BVI Government would like to, the UK is willing to agree more flexibility within the current arrangements, as we have discussed and agreed with the BVI Government before.
The UK Government and BVI Government have yet to discuss BVI’s economic response package and therefore, the possibility of any UK economic support to BVI. The UK Government has said that this is something they are willing to consider for OTs on a case by case basis. If this is something the BVI Government would like to discuss, then the door is open. I believe that it’s extremely important that the people of BVI have the economic support they need during this period. I therefore welcome the package put forward by BVI Government to provide help to individuals who are struggling to get by and to reopen BVI’s economy. I hope both these things can be done safely and transparently, with clear and fair criteria for those seeking support so that individuals can see how public money is being spent.
Next I will turn to the subject of constitutional review. The UK Government welcomes the BVI Government’s interest in constitutional review - it has been thirteen years since the last review for BVI and much has changed since then. Our constitution needs to move with that change to ensure it is delivering for the people. I hope that the whole of BVI can engage in the process to make sure it does so. I also see this review as a good opportunity to look at the current way we do things and ask whether there are things we could do to improve our governance, institutions and checks and balances. These areas are important for the Territory as it continues towards further self-determination.
On the subject of governance, you’ll all be aware of the recent BVI Airways report. I won’t discuss the details as the project is now the subject of a police investigation. However, we do need to ensure we learn lessons from it and from other similar reports. I believe this and previous reports show that there are fundamental deficiencies in our systems. It’s true that we have rules and processes in place to protect against this kind of thing, but this report and others before tell us that they aren’t working as they should. We need to learn the lessons and introduce change in our systems. I would like this to become a priority for the Government going forwards so that we can have the highest standards of governance that prevent it from happening again.
Earlier this month we marked World Environment Day – a global initiative designed to encourage everyone to protect their local habitat. Here in BVI we are incredibly blessed to have such a beautiful and biologically diverse environment and it’s a priority for my Office to help protect. Therefore, I am pleased that on World Environment Day, the UK Government announced more than half a million pounds worth of new funding to support multiple BVI environmental organisations. Amongst others, this includes a project with the Marine Conservation Society to protect turtles and a project with BVI Government and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science to sustainably manage BVI’s fisheries – an important part of our culture and economy.
I will close by expressing my thanks. I was pleased to see the Department for Human Resource launch the Public Service Hero award last week and congratulations to the first winners – the Cabinet Office team. Our public servants really are heroes – from the officers who have kept our services running, to the police who have kept us safe, to our medical teams on the front line. Thank you to all. Thank you also to the public for their support and cooperation during this difficult period. I recognise the hardship faced by many and I have been inspired by the strength and resilience of the community. A final thank you to the media – thank you for helping to keep us informed, thank you for holding me and other leaders to account and thank you also for coming here today.