Hon. Natalio D. Wheatley
Premier and Minister of Finance
6 October, 2023
Update on Various Matters
Good afternoon to all the people of the Virgin Islands. I especially welcome those persons present with us and those joining on the airwaves and via the Internet, and members of the media.
Before I get into the substantive topics of today’s media conference, I wish to take the opportunity to extend condolences to the relatives of a number of persons whom we lost recently.
On 26 September, 2023, we lost Mr. James Alfred Christopher, former educator, former Acting Chief Education Officer, former President of the BVI Teachers Union, former Assistant Principal of the then BVI High School, hotelier and businessman. Mr. Christopher was well known and all round a very pleasant person.
Registrar of Shipping and Seaman, Mr. Ronald Donovan, passed away on 10 September, 2023; may his soul rest in peace. He was another Virgin Islander who made tremendous contributions to our development.
On 2 October, 2023, USVI political icon and former Senator, Alicia Hansen aka 'Chucky', succumbed in her battle against cancer. Senator Hansen had roots in Long Look, and she did not keep this a secret. Serving 11 terms as a Senator, she actively participated in the Inter Virgin Islands Council, USVI/BVI Friendship Day celebrations and other events in the BVI.
Former Governor of the Virgin Islands, Peter Alfred Penfold, CMG, OBE passed away on 1 October, 2023. Mr. Penfold served as Governor of the VI from 1991 to 1996, at the age of 48, which made him the youngest serving British Governor at the time.
On behalf of the Government and people of the Virgin Islands, I extend deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the departed, and we keep them in our prayers.
Response to Tropical Storm Phillipe
On Tuesday last, 3 October, 2023, we witnessed the passage of Tropical Storm Phillipe near to the Virgin Islands. Over the period of Tuesday night into Wednesday, the BVI sustained a reported eight inches of rain, almost continuously over about 14 hours.
We can all agree that this was a considerable volume of rainfall. It was a lot more than was initially forecast, and we can all appreciate, that such a high volume of sustained rainfall over such a lengthy period of time would no doubt put significant pressure on our infrastructure and our resources – which it did.
Due to the impacts of climate change extreme weather events have become more frequent, which reminds us of the importance of adapting and mitigating to the ill-effects of Climate Change and building greater resilience into our society. We must remind those who contribute the most to Climate Change that they have a responsibility to support those who are most vulnerable, and that is why we have championed a multi-dimensional vulnerability index that would make climate financing available to small island developing states such as ours who face the brunt of climatic disasters. However, we will do all we can within our resources to respond in the face of extreme weather events.
Beginning in May and continuing into August, all the ghuts and major drains were cleaned, but, according to the technical officers, some of the watercourses were simply overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the water. Our infrastructure held up in most cases though we have seen areas that require our immediate attention.
The full report on the impact of the storm and the scope and cost of the damages, is being completed. But, the preliminary impacts included flooding in the Capital of Road Town, Huntums Ghut, Pasea, Sea Cows Bay and West End. We saw water entering the ground floor of the new Elmore Stoutt High School building due to a tree falling into the nearby ghut and causing the water to spill over. Some homes and businesses were affected by the heavy rainfall and the flooding. Portions of roadway have been undermined in the Windy Hill area, in Carrot Bay, and Brewer’s Bay. In some areas, we had rocks and debris falling on the roads. We also saw interruptions in the electricity power supply.
I want to take this opportunity to commend the quick work of our response teams. This includes the teams at DDM and from the Ministry of Communications and Works and the Public Works Department (PWD), as well as other responders such as the Fire Services. PWD was very prompt in clearing the debris from the roads and watercourses. BVI Electricity Corporation was efficient in restoring power. I must also commend the community spirit that we saw where residents came out to lend a hand with the clean-up in the Capital and other areas. This kind of neighborliness and patriotic spirit is what makes the BVI a special place and what makes our people so special.
We look forward to receiving the report of the technical officers so that we can identify what works are required to repair the damage, and to improve the effectiveness of our infrastructure in coping with heavy rain as we experienced with the passage of TS Phillipe.
Monaco Yacht Show
During the period 27 - 30 September, 2023, I led a delegation to the 32nd edition of the Monaco Yacht Show, which is the premier world event for the super yacht industry – vessels over 20 meters in length. The BVI delegation included the Junior Minister for Tourism, Honourable Luce Hodge Smith, and the Director of the Virgin Islands Shipping Registry, Mr. John Samuel.
Preliminary impressions are that this was a successful mission. The BVI delegation was able to hold a number of meetings with stakeholders and influencers, to promote our destination in the super-yacht market. We impressed upon them, of course, that the BVI is the sailing capital of the world. We have some of the best sailing waters, with complementary offerings such as our beautiful beaches, wondrous sceneries, our amazing dive sites and our other offerings. We also promoted the benefits of sailing and registering in the BVI, and our world-class services through our Red Ensign Category 1 Shipping Registry. The persons we spoke with were very receptive and I am confident that we will generate some good business for the territory and the shipping registry from these efforts.
The BVI has been a regular participant in the Monaco Yacht Show, however, we have not attended since 2017 due to the Hurricanes and the COVID-19 pandemic. That is a seven-year absence from the most prestigious global forum in the super-yacht industry. There is a saying that, “Out of sight is out of mind.”
We have to continue to aggressively market our destination and our products and offerings, if we want to hold and grow our share in the market; especially since all our competitors are out and about promoting their destinations and offerings, and trying to woo customers. Forums like these are also beneficial for us to see the new and emerging trends in the industry, so that we can adjust our strategy accordingly.
Yes, we do have a strong product and a good reputation, but we cannot sit back and just confidently say that people will come to us. We have to do our marketing and promotion, and we have to appreciate that the market is always changing and becoming more competitive.
United Nations General Assembly
I would like to provide an update on my recent visit to New York to make a statement to the Fourth Committee at the ongoing 78th Session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly.
It is important for the public to be aware that every year the UN adopts a resolution specifically on the British Virgin Islands. At the UN the name British Virgin Islands is used to avoid confusion with the United States Virgin Islands. However, I will use Virgin Islands here.
The purpose of the UN resolution is to address the Territory’s progress in achieving a full measure of self-government and to recommend any measures needed to support the process of self-determination.
One of the mandates of the UN is the complete decolonization of its list of 17 remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories that remain under its remit, including the Virgin Islands.
The two UN committees that have direct responsibility for decolonization are the Special Committee on Decolonization, also called the C-24, and the UN General Assembly’s Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization).
There is an established formulation and approval process for the passage of the UN resolution on the Question of the British Virgin Islands.
First, the C-24 holds a regional decolonization seminar in either the Caribbean or the Pacific to gather oral and written input on the situation of the 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories from the Territory Governments themselves and their Administering Powers.
In our case, the United Kingdom (UK) is the Administering Power. However, the UK withdrew from the C-24 in the 1980s and does not provide the committee with input on the Virgin Islands at the regional seminar.
Because my Ministerial colleagues and I take the obligation to update the committee on the Territory’s situation very seriously, government continues to annually send a representative to the decolonization seminar.
The C-24 develops a draft UN resolution on the Virgin Islands based on this input and other sources of information, which is considered at the committee’s June substantive session at UN Headquarters in New York.
The Government of the Virgin Islands has the opportunity to send a representative to the session to address the committee in relation to the draft resolution.
Once again, my Ministerial colleagues and I take this obligation very seriously and of course I or a government representative attend and deliver a statement. The UK also has the same opportunity, but does not do so because it does not participate in the C-24, as I mentioned earlier.
The Members of the C-24 consider the statement during the committee’s debate on the draft resolution. Amendments may be made, after which the draft resolution is passed by the committee.
Its next round of UN approval takes place at the Fourth Committee in October during the annual UN General Assembly.
During that committee’s meetings, I or a government representative have the opportunity to address the committee in relation to the draft UN resolution.
As everyone is aware, I made a statement to the Fourth Committee earlier this week which is published on the Government’s website and was broadcasted live via Facebook. A video recording is also available.
Once the Fourth Committee has passed the draft resolution, it then goes on to the General Assembly for final passage.
Once adoption is completed by the UN, the resolution on the Question of the British Virgin Islands represents the will of the international community.
This process was established by the UN to support the inalienable right of the people of the Virgin Islands and the other Non-Self-Governing Territories, under the UN Charter and international law.
As a Government, my Ministerial colleagues and I cannot ignore the fact that a UN resolution on the Territory is adopted every year. The Government must positively engage the UN process. We must ensure the Virgin Islands has a voice at the UN.
I expressed that voice at the Fourth Committee as the Premier of these Virgin Islands.
I called for two things primarily:
- I called for the relevant UN agencies and departments to fulfill their obligations to the people of the Virgin Islands to help them understand the process of self-determination and what the options are for the Virgin Islands to achieve a full measure of self-government. The three options approved by the UN are integration as in the case of Guadeloupe and France, free association as in the case of the Cook Islands and New Zealand, and independence.
- I also called for the UN to follow-through on the request for a C-24 visiting mission to the Virgin Islands so the committee can hear directly from the people on the ground and give them an opportunity to engage the committee on the Territory’s options.
Importantly, I also thanked the UN for all of their support to the BVI which helped us to complete our National Sustainable Development Plan and Blue Economy Roadmap, among other things. They are our major development partner, especially since Brexit.
My Administration will remain positively engaged with the UN, and we look forward to additional support for our sustainable development and climate resilience that they will be providing going forward.
The Governor’s Quarterly Report
With respect to the 4th Quarterly Report by His Excellency the Governor on the implementation of the Framework for Reforms, I am pleased that His Excellency has acknowledged the volume of work that has been done by the elected Government and the public officers across the various Ministries.
The workload is indeed very demanding, but our efforts demonstrate our commitment to get the work done and our genuine belief that implementation of the reforms will result in benefits to our people and our country.
We continue to call for the lifting of the Order in Council. We do see it as something that is not suitable in a modern democratic environment nor in a modern partnership based on mutual respect. Notwithstanding the UK’s position on this matter, the Government and the public officers press forward with diligence. We are resolved to complete this task.
While strengthening the Governance structures is one important goal to be achieved from this process, it is also critical to us that the struggles and achievements of our fore parents are not allowed to fall in vain, and that we are able to pass on the baton to the next generation of Virgin Islanders. So, a lot is at stake, and hence we are fully focused on completing these reforms.
The Government is working on the reform of the immigration systems, particularly with respect to residence and belonger status. Recently we provided some updates such the increase in resources and our plans for a new immigration policy, a draft of which we will soon be circulating to the public for consultation.
Last month, the Virgin Islands Crown Land Policy was circulated for public comment. The draft policy addresses topics such as first time home ownership, lease of commercial and agricultural land, and Crown Land application criteria.
We are also finalizing a draft Community Development Policy which will also be presented for public consultation in the near future. This draft policy will propose the establishment of District Councils so that the people in the various Districts can have a say and be involved in community projects. It will also outline mechanisms for ensuring that there is transparency, accountability and value for money where public funds are engaged.
So, there is a lot of work taking place when it comes to reforming the Government systems.
I hope this brief report has been informative as to the work that your Government has been engaged in on your behalf. Moving forward you can expect regular updates on a variety of matters.
In the next few weeks, I, along with my Ministers and Junior Ministers, will provide the public with a review of progress in our areas of responsibility and as a government as a whole.
I will now ask Minister Kye Rymer to give an update on the response to Tropical Storm Phillipe afterwhich we can open up to questions from the media.
I thank you.