By Shaina Smith, Contributor
I write on behalf of a few concerned citizens to give our input to the National Recovery and Development Plan.
We appreciate the gesture because we believe good governance is not possible without the participation of the populace and while we elect representatives, it is always good to touch base with the public to get our perspective, because as Brother Bob Marley puts it, ‘Who Feels It Knows It’.
However, we feel that the public consultation should have been before the plan was presented to the world. But we will not let this occasion pass to give our two cents in this important national conversation.
Firstly, as a project manager, I would advise that the recovery programme be separate from the development programme for clarity as to what needs to be restored in the immediate term and what is new/continuing development in the long term.
The protocols for financial management require the Government of the Virgin Islands to prepare a three-year medium-term economic plan that can be used as the building block for the long-term development plan and already includes some of these projects.
Drop the Agency
Also, in my professional opinion, the plan’s scope is a minimum of a 10-year duration based on the limited information presented. I caution us to be realistic on what can be accomplished in any given year and not bite off too much at a time.
Having them separated also helps to prioritise the recovery effort and fast-track projects/initiatives needed to get the economy roaring again.
On the matter of the recovery governance structure, we do not feel a separate agency outside the public service is the approach to be taken.
A project management office dedicated to the recovery programme can be set up under the Ministry of Finance.
Based on other pertinent information reviewed, we feel it is important that the deciding power over the development of our country remain under our elected officials, which is what our forefathers fought for.
We have controlled our finances since the 1976 Constitution and we see this proposed structure as a regression if we are not prudent.
Public sector reform
Let us sidebar here and say that the public sector reform, especially the financial management (human resources, legislation, policies and procedures), is viewed as being essential to a successful recovery and the future development of our country.
It is unfortunate that though it has been spoken about in budget speech after budget speech since 2004, it is yet to be fully implemented. We’ll be listening to next year’s budget speech to hear this has been completed.
While some are saying ‘government is corrupt so that is why we need a board outside the public service to manage the funds’, we disagree.
Doing that still does not fix the problem of inefficiency and wastage in the public service. We need to break this mentality that someone else is responsible for fixing our problems.
Knowing what to do and not doing it is what we would consider irresponsible behaviour on the part of not only the political leadership (past or present), but we the taxpayers for not pushing for it.
We must have financial reports
It is high time we get on with what is not only needed but urgent at this juncture. How can we make wise decisions about the development of the country if we don’t have accurate financial data?
Informed decision making is crucial to planning with greater confidence. As the stakeholders and shareholders in Company BVI, we should be seeing the annual financial reports of how our hard-earned monies is being spent and invested in our children’s children future.
The sectors and sub-sectors being proposed are nothing new and from general knowledge, we know we will always require capital investment to expand and maintain a modern society.
What we are interested in is the specific projects/legislation/initiatives that make up the dollar amounts proposed.
The programme as presented does not meet the SMART guidelines that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-based and Time-bound.
We don’t need to see the technical details but the projects for each sector would be helpful for context and to understand the allocation amounts.
Business and Economy
Under Business and Economy, to allocate a mere $4.7M for five years towards SME, Trade and Commerce begs us to ask the question how exactly is that supposed to mitigate the expected double-digit decrease in GDP and an increase in government’s revenue base?
Businesses are the hub of the economy and need tens of millions of dollars to restore them to a path of growth.
And on top of that, across our industries, we are currently being held hostage by insurance companies and/or banks and this is necessary funding that doesn’t need to be borrowed to get businesses (jobs, goods and services, tax revenue) up and running in the shortest time possible.
Government needs to directly and swiftly address this situation just as they did with the need for a Curfew Act.
A national airline would be good
We curiously noted that the airport project has been listed for $250 million from private funding.
I reserve my comment on this until I see a plan as to what precisely is being planned. I believe a more effective solution to poor air access is a national airline.
We have done it (Air BVI) before with success, unlike the recent debacle that has yet to get off the ground. If we recover the $7 million, we could put it into the National Business Bureau and towards consumer protection legislation and regulations to prevent the price gouging that happened after the storm.
Food security is another vulnerability exposed by the storm.
We are grateful to God that the major supermarkets weren’t severely damaged, and food was never in short supply until the port was able to re-open.
With that backdrop we would like to see significant allocations made toward agriculture and fishing to stimulate them as emerging industries that will contribute to future economic growth.
We also need to allocate a meaningful sum towards repairing and improving the sports facilities across the territory to facilitate another emerging industry sports tourism.
Under Governance, we believe that not enough money is allocated to HR Development and E-government ($700,000) if we are serious about public sector reform. But, we note with interest the new development agency has a cool $7 million!
Well, at least that is better than the National Security Community programmes or the expansion of HLSCC which has $0.
I think we need a bit of information on what that means. There are a few other dashes in the tables in Appendix III.
Human and Social Services, which is the cornerstone to our society, needs beefing up to ensure we replace the cultural centre with a modern facility; include an archives wing in the national library; new senior citizen home; programme to eliminate chronic diseases (hypertension, diabetes, Alzheimer’s) and a chronic mental health facility to name a few key areas to be addressed.
Under Waste & Debris Management we would like to see a sustainable strategy for solid waste disposal.
Our suggestion here is to relocate the garbage dump from its proximity to residential areas because the open burning of trash is air pollution that can cause diseases. Also, it is very disturbing that debris is still littered across the land and in the sea.
We are eager to see the proposed plan to clean up our surroundings executed soon since we have purported that we are open for business.
Listed under Infrastructure we have the usual suspects – roads, electricity, water, sewerage, etcetera.
Implement Development Control Authority
We want to propose we add a new agency called the Development Control Authority that is a merger of Building Authority and Planning Authority.
If we are going to build a better country, we need to fund a system (human resources, legislation, policies and procedures) that will ensure we develop in a sustainable, eco-friendly manner.
The hurricane has shown us that we need to expand the Port Purcell cargo port, like yesterday.
Apart from the fact that the larger warehouse was severely damaged, the volume of cargo coming into our shores is unprecedented and is unlikely to go back to pre-Irma levels anytime soon, if at all.
All in all, our hope is that this dialogue around our collective vision as a country will continue for months and years to come.
It is imperative that we, the people – the taxpayers footing the bill – are kept engaged and made aware of progress as we embark on this new journey towards a better Virgin Islands!
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