8th August 2022
STATEMENT ON RECENT DEVELOPMENTS, COMMONWEALTH GAMES AND OTHER MATTERS
BY PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE DR. HON. NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
Good afternoon ladies and gentleman of the press corps and persons listening online and via radio.
After a highly successful festival season, the Government of National Unity is continuing the work of building these Virgin Islands into the society we all desire. I am pleased to have this press conference today to update the public on recent developments.
Over the past two weeks we held our annual Emancipation Celebration to celebrate freedom from slavery in the Territory. I would like to again congratulate the Minister for Culture Hon. Sharie DeCastro, the Chairman, Deputy Chairman and Members of the Festival and Fairs Committee on a job well done. The turnout and energy at these events and activities was very high.
I was also very pleased that so many persons from our neighbours in the United States Virgin Islands joined us, including Governor Albert Bryan and Lt. Governor Tregenza Roache. Deputy Premier Hon. Kye Rymer, and I had the opportunity to meet with Governor Bryan and Lt. Governor Roache in the margins of the festival in which we discussed relations between the US Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands. Among other things, we agreed that an Inter Virgin Islands Council meeting will take place in September in the USVI and Friendship Day will take place in mid-October in the BVI, and that our respective governments will explore greater cooperation in areas such as disaster response, maritime management and public health. Of course, we want to see continued participation of the US Virgin Islands in our August Tuesday horse races that are so exciting.
The overall consensus is that festival this year was a resounding success. We will begin putting things in place to ensure that our Emancipation Celebration in 2023 is even better than this year.
Turning to international events, on Saturday 6th August we received the fantastic news that Mr. Kyron McMaster took home the 400 meter hurdles gold at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in the United Kingdom. At the previous Commonwealth Games in Australia in 2018 he also won a gold medal in the event. Kyron is the two-time defending champion, and we are confident he will win it again in 2026. He continues to be the flagbearer of BVI athletics, and we are extremely proud. Let me just say it was very moving to hear our Territorial song played at his medal ceremony on Saturday. I was filled with pride as a Virgin Islander, and especially proud to have brought the resolution to the House of Assembly to make this possible.
I want to also congratulate all of our other athletes who competed in the Commonwealth Games that ended today, as well as the coaches and staff of Team BVI. I was in Birmingham at the start of the Games to lend support to the athletes as they began competition. My Minister for Sports Hon. Sharie DeCastro has been with our athletes in recent days to sustain Government’s support. We will give them the welcome home they deserve as our heroes.
When you look at the size of the Territory’s population at roughly 35,000 and compare our performance to much larger countries, we are doing exceptionally well.
Government will further invest in our athletes and youth to ensure we remain highly competitive and see even greater success.
Once again, we thank Team BVI for representing the Virgin Islands on the international stage and for continuing to inspire us and fill us with pride.
While I was in the UK just over a week ago, I had the opportunity to engage with a number of dignitaries who also attended the Commonwealth Games. Among others, I interacted with Prince Charles, Commonwealth Secretary General Baroness Scotland, UK Leader of the Opposition Sir Kier Starmer, and Lord Ahmad who is the UK Minister for South Asia, North Africa, the United Nations and the Commonwealth. Our exchanges were congenial and in the true spirit of the Commonwealth Games that is often referred to as the “friendly” games.
In the margins of the Games, I was also able to meet with UK Minister for the Overseas Territories Rt. Hon. Amanda Milling, MP with whom I had positive discussions. Among other things, we discussed the need for the Virgin Islands’ to have greater fiscal flexibility to respond to surging inflation, high fuel and energy costs and urgent infrastructural needs. It is important that the Government is in some way able to further help ease the financial burden on families and businesses until external economic conditions improve.
Looking ahead, the Government of National Unity will continue to work in the best interest of the people of the Virgin Islands. Final preparations are being made for the opening of the 2022-2023 school year. Minister for Education Hon. Sharie DeCastro will provide an update in due course.
We are also working diligently to ensure that we will have a successful 2022-2023 tourism season, especially after the success of Christmas in July. Congratulations to the organisers who did a fantastic. I will provide an official update on the tourism sector later this month.
Of course, the work of government reform will continue. The Governor and I will provide an update on progress at a press conference scheduled for Wednesday morning.
Lastly, I want to extend my deepest condolences to the family of the late Kirlin Lettsome who recently passed away. She was a veteran educator who served as a teacher and principal in the Territory for more than three decades. In fact, she was my principal when I attended the Althea Scatliffe Primary School along with several of my siblings. Teacher Kirlin was also a very close family member, and my colleague at the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College. I pray that God gives her husband Dr. Quincy Lettsome, their three children, grandchildren and wider family circle comfort at this time.
I also want to extend my deepest condolences to the family of the late Jason Potter Jr. who tragically lost his life in a homicide. He is actually a cousin of mine, and I pray that God also gives his loved ones comfort as they grieve for their loss. I encourage anyone who has information on the events surrounding death of Jason Potter to contact the Royall Virgin Islands Police Force as soon as possible. I condemn these acts of violence, which rob us of our peace, security, and loved ones.
With that, I will close my statement and take questions from the press corps.