Madam Speaker, whatever our yardstick, the month of September 2017 will long live in the annals of our history. No person has been untouched by the passages of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. We each remember them in our own way and have prepared and responded to the aftermath as best we could.
Madam Speaker, as my Government transitioned into the recovery phase we began to formulate plans on how we would address the short term needs of the Territory. We were fortunate to have been able to engage a number of our regional and international partners, as well as NGOs and volunteers who helped us to address the immediate needs of our people. For this we will forever be grateful.
On October 24th, I gave a comprehensive update of what our collective efforts towards recovery and development had already achieved. There is still much to do, and I know that no Member of this Honourable House will rest until we rebuild our Territory.
Madam Speaker, driven by the vision of a better, stronger and greener Virgin Islands, the Government has been developing a comprehensive recovery and development plan which will identify, short, medium and longer-term objectives to restore our territory and put in place the conditions for the private sector to drive and deliver a return to economic growth.
In this statement, I want to outline for this Honourable House the Government’s recovery and development priorities and the delivery structure that the House will be asked to approve.
These areas are:
- Infrastructure and Utilities – including roads, ghuts and drains, sea walls; electricity; water and sewerage, sea ports and airports;
- Human and social services – including health facilities and systems, social facilities and systems, waste and debris management, education, schools, parks and recreation;
- Business and the economy – including commercial and retail businesses, SME’s, Tourism and Financial Services;
- Governance – including central government, our legal and security systems (Police and Courts) and disaster management;
- Natural resources and climate change – including our beaches and other terrestrial and marine environment, agriculture and fishing; and
- Pride and social identity – including the restoration of culturally significant elements of our community such as our museums, recreation and sporting facilities
Our teams have worked for the past several weeks to develop detailed plans for each of these priority areas. In the near term, beginning in the coming days and weeks we will be discussing those proposals in order to develop a national consensus on how we will rebuild our Territory.
We have many lessons to learn and we also have opportunities to advance and restore our Territory in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly manner.
For example Madam Speaker, you will agree that we have made significant progress in rebuilding the electrical grid as this is critical for day to day living, but in the longer term we are proposing additional upgrades for a more resilient and greener system. We envision that more of our distribution network will be placed underground and that we will pursue with more vigour our ambition for greater amounts of alternative energy.
Madam Speaker, given the magnitude of what we are facing, I think we all can agree that it requires the right structure in order to be able to deliver it.
To this end the Government will bring to this Honourable House legislation to establish an investment and development agency and define the terms under which the Agency will operate. The structure has effectively two tiers – the executive tier and the operational tier.
At the executive tier, the House of Assembly will approve the legal framework for recovery as well as the policy, priorities and action plans that are agreed by Cabinet.
The operational tier has as its core an investment/development agency whose actions are monitored closely by Cabinet. The agency will serve as a multi-partner agency that will manage the recovery.
An independent Board will manage the Agency with board members drawn from both the public and private sectors. International agencies will be invited to participate as observers.
Madam Speaker, I recognise that we must be excellent stewards of any financial resources that we are able to marshal. The Agency will therefore access a ring fenced multi donor investment fund, which will be held in custody for the BVI recovery effort.
The Agency will be subject to internal and external audit, and will operate with rules and guidelines to promote good governance, transparency and accountability.
The agency will have a Secretariat that will drive forward the recovery and development programme. The Secretariat itself will be staffed with technical experts (both internal and external to government) in the areas of procurement and project and contract management and will work closely with the delivery agents, mainly the Ministries themselves who will execute and implement the plans.
Madam Speaker, the Government is actively exploring all potential sources of funding to attract an appropriate mix of grants, and private sector participation supplemented by affordable borrowing.
As part the of the Government’s effort to develop a financing package, I have held meetings with the UK government and parliamentarians, at the World Bank and with the Caribbean Development Bank. We are also exploring opportunities for raising funds on the capital markets.
I will also be attending a United Nations Donor Conference on 21st November where I will further make the case for the international community’s support and assistance for our recovery and development. I will then return to London at the end of November for the Overseas Territories Joint Ministerial Council.
Madam Speaker, our sustainable development, however, requires not just sound planning, adequate sums of money and strong governance — it also requires strong fiscal discipline and the support of our people.
Consequently, when we present the 2018 budget; we will present a fiscal strategy which seeks to strike an appropriate balance to increase revenue, improve public sector efficiency and reduce current expenditure.
This strategy takes into consideration some important changes which we need to make in order to take care of the needs of our people, and to restore our businesses, homes and livelihoods.
Madam Speaker, today my update shared some of the key elements of our recovery planning. We will be sharing much more details of the plans in the coming days and weeks.
I remain very heartened and inspired that our businesses are opening their doors, our company registry systems are functional, our supermarkets shelves are stocked, our fuel stations are pumping gas, our marinas are preparing to have boats in the water, our airport and sea ports are functional, our electricity is being restored, and other critical structures are functioning.
Madam Speaker, before I conclude I would like to pay tribute to all those who worked tirelessly within our disaster management structure as well as to recognize the efforts of our people, whether public or private individuals – they have all contributed to where we are today. I am truly grateful.
Yes, our recovery will take some time. But with careful planning, adequate funding, strong fiscal discipline, ongoing engagement and communication, commitment to working together; and above all with God’s blessings we will rebuild better, stronger, greener.
I thank you Madam Speaker.