Honourable Andrew A. Fahie
Premier of the Virgin Islands and Minister of Finance
27 August, 2021
Virgin Islands Unity is Progress
Good day and God's Blessings to all the people of the Virgin Islands and beyond.
Some months ago, I promised to come to you on a more regular basis and to keep you updated on important matters taking place in the Territory as it relates to work being done by your elected Government.
I consider it a sacred duty for a Premier to keep citizens informed of what their elected Government is doing, and hence I have been holding to this promise.
These updates are also important to you as residents and Belongers because they contain information that will help you to position yourself and your companies, to align with the changes that are taking place as we work to transform the economy and to benefit from the opportunities that would emerge in this process.
Before I go any further, I must say a special thank you to all our public officers, all our healthcare workers and all our volunteers who have gone above and beyond to help our Territory to flatten the COVID-19 curve and to bring the number of reported infections back down.
COVID-19 is the worst public health crisis to hit the world in more than 100 years. Its effect is crippling the economies of all governments around the world.
You would recall that around 28 June, 2021, after more than one year of having a very low infection rate and only one unfortunate death due to COVID-19, the Territory experienced a spike in positive cases accompanied by community spread.
Your Government acted swiftly to petition God with a 21-day Prayer and Fast while putting measures in place including overnight curfews, and some restrictions on public gatherings and opening of some categories of businesses, to stop the further spread of the coronavirus. After all, prayer without works is useless.
These measures, like all the measures implemented before, were informed by the advice of our public health professionals including the Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ronald Georges and our epidemiologists. The projections were, based on science that if these measures were not taken immediately, the number of positive cases could climb to as much as 5,000 persons with the possibility of our healthcare system crashing and a high number of deaths.
At the peak of the COVID-19 spike, the number of confirmed infections across the Territory was in excess of 1,600 persons.
In less than four weeks we lost an additional 36 members of our community to this dreaded virus. We continue to pray for those families who have lost loved ones.
In the Virgin Islands, we are a close-knit community and when one family is hurt, we all feel the grief.
Just to give you an idea of the tremendous task performed by our health teams and all the supporting personnel, in the 59 days since the major COVID-19 outbreak we have performed and processed over 21,000 lab tests. We have managed over 2,300 positive cases and 108 hospitalizations – all in 59 days.
Through the work of all our health professionals, the cooperation of the national community and the grace of our God, the fatality rate has come to a virtual stop, and we are down to just 25 active positive cases as of today. And to that we say, to God be the Glory.
We cannot take this progress for granted and allow ourselves to become complacent. Because if we let our guard down we will again jeopardise everything – and nobody wants that to happen.
We, of course, continue to pray for the speedy recovery of those persons who are still battling COVID-19. We continue to pray that everyone in the Virgin Islands remains safe from this wretched virus. And we continue to pray that our Territory remains on the path to economic resurgence without further disruption from the pandemic.
Your Government continues to provide the resources to our health team so that they can attend to your needs – whether it is to get persons tested for COVID-19 or to provide treatment to those who need it. We continue to train additional personnel in areas such as administering COVID-19 rapid antigen testing, to further strengthen our capabilities and our capacity.
The last 17 months have been very trying on our medical professionals – especially the last few weeks, and we must continue to be appreciative for the hard work of our doctors, nurses, support staff and all health workers, for their dedication to duty during this worst pandemic in more than 100 years.
You would have heard from the Minister of Health that over 17,000 persons have taken COVID-19 vaccines, of which just under 13,000 are fully-vaccinated.
Of course, you would be familiar with our efforts to get as much of the population vaccinated.
We still need about 5,500 persons to become vaccinated to put us on the path to developing herd immunity. I know that we will achieve this goal; we are in this together.
The Ministry of Health will be conducting another vaccination drive-thru exercise at the Festival Grounds in Road Town, starting tomorrow Saturday, 28 August, and continuing daily until Tuesday, 31 August. Persons are welcome to walk up or to drive through and sit in the comfort of their vehicles and be vaccinated.
The Ministry of Health is finalizing the arrangements for the drive-thru and the details will come to you shortly.
There are some vaccine supplies that would be expiring on 31 August, 2021, and we do not want these to go to waste. We are fortunate in the Virgin Islands to be able to access vaccines for every person who is eligible to be vaccinated. There are thousands of persons in other countries who are not as fortunate. So let us not be wasteful. Come out and be vaccinated.
Vaccination is still the most effective tool available to us in this worst pandemic in over 100 years. Vaccination is the tool to help us to keep our population safe; to keep our Virgin Islands as a safe competitive tourist destination and for us to fully reopen our economy and to push it into overdrive as we were doing before the recent COVID-19 spike.
Vaccination remains voluntary in the Virgin Islands. The choice remains yours. But, as your Premier and Minister of Finance, I urge everyone who does not have any medical or religious issues to go and get vaccinated. Let us build up the Virgin Islands’ resilience and resistance to COVID-19. Help us to push the economy forward. Help us to push the tourism industry forward. Help us to get our people back into their jobs.
I want to point out as well that when you get vaccinated, you are not only helping the Virgin Islands to get closer to herd immunity, but you are helping us all.
You are helping to protect those persons in your household and in your community who are unable to become vaccinated because of their medical situation or their religious beliefs.
Understand that those persons may be vulnerable to getting extremely ill because of their medical history. By being unvaccinated – not by their choice, they are also at risk. For many of them, vaccination is not a choice that they can make. Their situation is such that they cannot take the vaccine.
But when you vaccinate, you reduce the chances of you picking up the virus somewhere and bringing it back to those vulnerable persons.
So, I urge you to please think about the people you love – your children, your members of your household, your beloved elderly parents and grandparents, the persons in your circle who may have a medical condition. Think about what can happen to them if they contract COVID-19. Think about them and go and get vaccinated.
If 80 percent of our people become vaccinated, by doing so, they will be providing a layer of protection to the remaining 20 percent who do not or who cannot take the vaccine. The vaccinated can protect the vulnerable.
Apart from thanking the health workers for their dedication and determination to the safety of our people, I also wish to thank all those persons who volunteered or contributed in some way to our vaccination drives.
We continue to be grateful to Public Health England for providing us with vaccines and to our neighbours in the US Virgin Islands for extending the hand of friendship so that many of our people, especially the children, can get access to alternative vaccine options such as the Pfizer vaccine through the BVI-USVI Vaccination Bubble initiative.
We must also acknowledge our public officers who have been working under very tiring and trying circumstances since the start of this pandemic to keep the machinery of Government functioning.
During the initial lockdown in 2020 our public officers continued to work from their homes. During the recent COVID-19 spike many of the Government offices had to be closed due to potential exposure and for sanitization. Again, our public officers worked remotely without access to the facilities in their offices. Many others performed in their supporting roles to hold the system together so that the public could continue to be served. This is true BVILOVE!
It is because of their dedication and continuous work that we are seeing a constant flow of important legislation going to Cabinet and to the House of Assembly, why so many projects are being implemented, and why the public was able to continue accessing Government services.
This commitment from our public officers must not go unnoticed.
For instance, during the past months the Treasury Department and the Financial Secretary’s Office have made significant progress in clearing the backlog of outstanding Audited Financial Statements for the Government accounts.
I am pleased to say that I have been advised the 2017 Financial Statements are in the final stages of approval. The statements were resubmitted to the Auditor General for consideration. The 2018 Financial Statements are near completion and it is hoped that by the end of September 2021 they will be submitted to the Auditor General for consideration.
Once these submissions are made, work on the 2019 Financial Statements will commence.
Your Government and the public officers in the respective Departments are committed to ensuring that the Audited Financial Statements are brought up to date. And for this progress, we are thankful to the officers in the Treasury Department, the consultants, the staff and the Acting Financial Secretary for pushing the work.
This reflects a shared and pervasive commitment to ensuring that your Government is compliant with the provisions of the Constitution, the Public Finance Management Act and the other laws of the Virgin Islands.
This is proof of our commitment to accountability, transparency and Good Governance.
As I speak of the Public Finance Management Act, you would be pleased to note that this legislative framework is currently under review to further strengthen our provisions for managing public finances and to further modernize the system.
Meanwhile, the Public Procurement Act has already undergone a review and the new Public Procurement Bill has already been tabled in the House of Assembly for First Reading. The Second and Third Readings should commence in short order.
This Bill and the proposed regulations will establish the legal framework for public sector procurement in the Virgin Islands.
The objectives of the Public Procurement Bill are to:
- Maximise economy and efficiency in public procurement;
- Foster and encourage participation in public procurement proceedings by suppliers and contractors regardless of nationality, thereby promoting international trade;
- Promote competition among suppliers, service providers, and contractors for the supply of the subject matter of the public procurement;
- Provide for the fair, equal and equitable treatment of all suppliers, service providers and contractors;
- Ensure that domestic suppliers, service providers and contractors are provided with ample procurement opportunities in order to encourage and support national development;
- Promote the integrity of, and fairness and public confidence in, the public procurement process; and
- Achieve transparency in the procedures relating to public procurement.
The legislation will further modernise the procurement process in the public sector with current best practices. It will enhance the existing procurement procedures and bring greater structure to the procurement process.
Further, the Public Procurement Bill and accompanying regulations will provide for value for money, greater transparency and flexibility in the procurement of goods and services, and allow for greater accountability by all involved in the procurement process.
This Bill will further strengthen our Good Governance framework
Your Government is working. Our public officers are working. And this work will result in progress for our Virgin Islands.
Work is continuing across all the Ministries and Departments of Government, and we must recognize and appreciate the commitment of our various teams to the goal of transforming the Virgin Islands into a leading regional economy.
I also want to recognize the hard work of the teams at the BVI Airports Authority, the BVI Ports Authority, the BVI Gateway Portal team, the team at Environmental Health, the health teams that are conducting COVID-19 testing at the air and sea ports, and the team at our COVID-19 lab that is processing the COVID-19 tests.
We must also say a special thanks to Customs and Immigration for their roles in facilitating the arrival of residents and visitors through our ports of entry and for their roles in border protection.
We must not forget the important role played by the officers of the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force in maintaining law and order, and working with the other members of the law enforcement teams to keep the public safe.
Statistics from the BVI Gateway Portal show that between 1 December, 2020 and 26 August, 2021, more than 36,200 persons have entered the Territory through our air and sea ports.
This includes approximately 28,000 non-residents coming to our shores for vacation. These tourist arrivals have been bringing business to our hotels, guest houses and villas; providing work for our charter companies, taxi drivers and tour operators; patronizing our restaurants, bars and food vendors; contributing to economic activity across our various sectors; and generating revenue for the Territory. However, we still have a lot to do.
Even during the period of the COVID-19 spike, which started at the end of June, the numbers of arrivals have been encouraging. In July 2021, we welcomed over 6,800 visitors and so far for August we received over 2,000 tourists.
It is important to note that the air and sea port staff were also affected by the recent COVID-19 spike. Several employees tested positive and had to be quarantined. Coworkers who were exposed to them also had to be quarantined as a precaution. But despite this, our air and sea port teams pulled together and ensured that our ports remained open. In so doing, our air and sea port teams kept the economy moving. We must commend them for their efforts for finding the right balance to achieve this.
As we look at the August numbers, we must bear in mind that we are in the Hurricane Season – and heading into September, which is usually the most active month for hurricanes. This is, therefore, the traditional slow season for tourist arrivals. Additionally, many of our charter companies and accommodation properties closed their bookings to perform preparations for the new tourist season, which will commence in October.
With our COVID-19 numbers back down and more of our residents vaccinated, we are optimistic that the upcoming tourist season can be a healthy one given the appetite in the global tourism market and the increase in travel, which is happening in part due to the vaccination programmes in all countries.
This is another reason for us to get more of our residents to become vaccinated.
It would be tragic for the Virgin Islands, with all this potential business lining up for our tourism businesses, if we find ourselves having to roll back our protocols and restrictions, and if our businesses are forced to lose out on the opportunities when the new season comes because of another outbreak.
And I do not need to remind you that the pandemic is not yet over, and there are new threats such as the Delta Variant out there.
As your Government, we want our economy to fully open up and for it to stay open. We want all our businesses to be able to stay open so that they can have income and so that persons can be able to work and provide for the needs of their families.
The only hope we have for keeping businesses open and keeping persons employed, is if we can get as many people vaccinated as possible and get to the target for herd immunity.
So, let us make another push to encourage our loved ones, our friends and our co-workers to become vaccinated. Speak to them in a respectful way. Be mindful that some persons may have medical and religious reasons why they cannot become vaccinated.
But at the same time, encourage the others to speak to their doctors and to disregard disreputable information sources.
And may I also point out that we need to ensure that everyone remains vigilant about wearing their masks, washing and sanitizing hands and surfaces, coughing and sneezing into the elbow, avoiding touching the face, practicing social distancing, and following whatever other protocols are advised.
Before I close, I want to draw your attention to the Amendment to the Customs Management and Duties Act which was recently passed by the House of Assembly a few days ago and put into effect soon – what we are calling the BVI Going Green Initiative.
The BVI Going Green Initiative makes provision for you to make significant saving by adopting or transitioning to green, renewable energy sources such as solar and wind energy, and transitioning to electric vehicles.
All the green, renewable equipment, products and vehicles that I will list below will be zero-rated for an initial two years. After the two years, the rate of import duty stated below will take effect after the two-year window ends.
- Renewable Energy - Solar
- Solar Water Heater - 5%
- Solar Powered Electric Systems - 10%
- Solar Photovoltaic Modules - 10%
- Solar Powered Electric System Inverter - 10%
- Solar Powered Electric Racking Systems - 10%
- Solar Powered Electric Systems Accessories - 10%
- Solar Powered Lighting Systems - 7%
- Renewable Energy - Wind
- Wind Powered Electric Systems - 7%
- Wind Powered Electric Systems Accessories - 7%
- Renewable Energy – Other Systems
- Waste-to-Energy (WTE) Powered Electric Systems - 5%
- Hydro-powered Electric Systems - 7%
- Geothermal Powered Electric Systems - 10%
- Tidal Wave Energy Powered Electric Systems - 7%
- Biomass energy Powered Electric Systems - 10%
- Energy Storage
- Design for Solar Electrical Systems Batteries - 7%
- Battery Energy Storage Systems - 10%
- Electrical Static Convertors - 5%
- Electrical Accumulators - 7%
- Energy Efficiency Equipment
- LED Light Fixtures and LED Light Bulbs - 10%
- Inverter air Conditioning Units and Other Energy Efficient Cooling Devices - 7%
- Energy Management Systems and Energy Monitoring Equipment - 10%
- Energy Efficient Appliances - 7% and 10%
- Solar Cookers/Solar Ovens - 7%
- Electric Vehicles - 10%
- Electric Small Boats, Vessels - 2%
- Electric Scooters and Cycles, Bicycles - 5%
- Electric Vehicle Chargers, Station Equipment - 5%
- Parts solely design for electric vehicles engine, electrical systems - 7%
All the above items will have zero import duty for an initial two years, and thereafter the stated rate of duty will take effect.
I urge all our citizens to take advantage of the opportunity to save money by making full use of the two-year duty-free window with this Go Green initiative.
Many person may be doing renovations and repairs to their properties following the destruction caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. This is an opportunity to rebuild green and clean, and with modern technology – at significant savings to your pocket.
Transitioning to green, renewable energy is important for our environment. The global community has set a target of achieving net-zero carbon by 2035, and we in the Virgin Islands will not be exempted from this goal.
The target, by the way, is essential for curbing the rise in global temperatures which are resulting in rising sea levels, increases in catastrophic climate events such as hurricanes and floods, injury to sensitive species such as coral reefs and marine life, and more.
Your Government has been proactive in establishing the following high-level goals for the Territory:
- To generate 100% of the Territory’s electrical power from renewable sources by 2035;
- To utilise 100% renewable energy for all uses in all sectors, including transportation and cooking, by 2050.
- To be 60% Green by the year 2030 or before.
I want to remind you that the BVI Electricity Corporation has been setting up the net-billing system whereby if you generate your own electricity you can sell any surplus you have to the national grid, and earn yourself money.
Switching from fossil fuel can save you, the people of the Virgin Islands, US$78.5 million over a five-year period initially, and more money thereafter.
The average consumption of fossil fuel in the Virgin Islands is presently one million gallons per month. The BVI consumes approximately $2.18 million in fossil fuel per month at base cost. That is $26.16 million per year, and $130.8 million over 5 years, that has been leaving our shores - and continues to leave our shores - to enrich other countries and other economies.
By reducing our fossil fuel consumption by 60 percent, we can reduce this leakage by approximately $15.7 million per year, based on the current usage and prices.
This is how we arrive at saying that the taxpayers of the Virgin Islands can save $78.5 million over the next 5 years. This potential savings can be retained and re-circulated throughout the Virgin Islands’ economy, and improve the quality of life and the prospects for our people.
When you are generating your own electricity, you literally have power in your hands. You have the ability to earn or to save money – lowering the cost of living.
A network of private solar systems feeding into the national network means we no longer have all our eggs in one basket.
It means that if, because of a hurricane or some other reason, the Territory’s generators go down, persons are not without power. We will have multiple independent sources that can generate some volume of electricity, at least until the system is restored.
When our hotels and rental properties are generating their own power, it means our guests and tenants will have more reliable power. This makes us more attractive for persons who are looking at us as a destination for remote working.
There are opportunities for persons to go into business by setting up electric vehicle charging stations. There are business opportunities for persons who will import these items. There are opportunities for the skilled workers who will build and install this infrastructure. There are career opportunities for persons who are - and who will - become trained in the installation, maintenance and repair of the equipment.
You would recall that we have rolled out the solar training programme in collaboration with the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College (HLSCC), to equip our people to take advantage of opportunities, both present and emerging.
As the Virgin Islands develop a cadre of persons who are skilled in installation, maintenance and repair of this equipment, we have the opportunity to export these services to other countries in the region that may not have the workforce to conduct their own transition.
This is our opportunity for the Virgin Islands to lead the renewable energy industry in this part of the region.
This is an opportunity for us to propel the Virgin Islands into becoming a leading regional economy.
This is an opportunity for us to further open up our economy, create new industries, and to create jobs for our people.
So, let us embrace this initiative for going green. Utilize the two-year tax free window. It will be worth it in the long-run.
As you can see, your Government is working, and we are working hard to develop the Virgin Islands, to transform our economy, to provide opportunities for our people and to improve the quality of life for all our residents and Belongers.
Notwithstanding all the challenges from COVID-19 and all the other distractions, your Government is laser focused on doing the job that you elected us to do.
Let us work together and push our Territory forward.
United in a common purpose, we can transform the Virgin Islands into a leading regional economy, with our people at the centre thriving as innovators, entrepreneurs and investors.
The time is now and the opportunities are here. So, let us grasp them with both hands.
I thank you and may God continue to bless and protect these beautiful Virgin Islands and her people.