By Mitsy Ellis-Simpson
It is with great interest and concern that I hereby provide my views on the proposed recovery and development plan for the British Virgin Islands that I love and cherish.
I have examined the situation of the territory prior to the unprecedented weather conditions that occurred from August to September 2017 up to its current state.
I have also looked at potentials for the future. For this purpose, I have placed greater attention on risk management and the recovery aspect of the Plan.
The development aspect requires a further review since it creates significant expenditure and commitments that will be inherited for a very long time.
In my findings, I am of the opinion that great thought was given to the plan by the selected Disaster Recovery Coordination Committee which should be commended for their work.
However, I believe the plan lacks vital and transparent information and a clear proposal in several areas. Clarity and specifics are extremely important especially in this time where the resources for checks and balances have been compromised.
Some detailed information was withheld which I’m sure can be made available to the public for clarity.
I am a firm believer that the people of the BVI comes first and so I agree with the plan that our people are our greatest asset.
On this note, I want to reiterate that it’s in our best interest to utilize the expertise of our people, meaningfully, from the outset so we are all in this together to better position our country for prosperity.
My preliminary comments on risk management and the environment follow.
Invest in disaster risk insurance to strengthen resilience
One of the greatest adjustments the territory has to make is in the area of disaster risk management in order to strengthen our resilience in the short, medium, and long-term.
People need to have the confidence that as a country we are considering risk mitigation while we aim to recover and develop.
With an escalating debt and increased fiscal need, the reserve fund is simply inadequate to protect us against major disasters, which evidently can increase financial demands post-disaster.
Additional disaster risk investment can provide immediate assistance to persons affected by a disaster and minimize the burden on our government and its reliance on loans and donations at the outset.
Some of these natural disasters are being brought about due to climate change, therefore, the time is now to review the country’s risk strategy and get additional coverage. Such coverage can immediately assist with providing meals, help persons with damaged and destroyed homes, help small and medium-sized businesses, help with injured persons, deaths, and job-losses etcetera.
I believe government should also provide financial assistance to severely-injured persons and families who have lost a loved one by a natural disaster.
A large number of our government buildings and schools had no insurance, which doesn’t help. This is something that should never be repeated.
We can take the examples of other countries that were impacted by Hurricane Irma or Maria such as Dominica, Antigua, and Anguilla, which were all insured with the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF SPC) and received insurance payouts within one to two weeks after the hurricanes.
This positioned them to respond to emergency needs fairly quickly. So, while we plan, we should take this opportunity to form a dedicated disaster risk management committee to address risk mitigation for our country which will reduce the potential impacts on life, property, business and the environment.
Create a meaningful, business-friendly environment
It’s important that our government creates a meaningful and an inclusive business-friendly environment going forward.
In particular, I’m talking about all the small and medium-sized businesses that are significant contributors to job and revenue creation for the economy through investments, salaries, taxes and other government fees.
The following would help a smoother recovery and aid progress:
- Less bureaucracy in getting things accomplished at government offices.
- Faster turnaround time in approving job and trade applications.
- Responsive communications rather than the constant follow-ups with government offices.
- Consulting with various industry leaders on the recovery process meaningfully.
- Provide financial and technical support to small businesses – outside of loans.
- Be willing to adapt to change and make sound decisions to ease the burden on small businesses that can sustain the economy.
Health and Social Services – $80.14M
A detailed cost estimate should be presented to the public rather than a summarized one so persons can understand exactly how the funds are allocated.
The major allocations are expansion of health infrastructure and services for $23.3 million, permanent housing assistance for $16 million, social programmes and services for $10.83 million, and improvements to waste disposal for $10.7 million.
These amounts need to be further broken down for the public to understand where exactly the funds will be spent. Is it necessary to spend $23.3 million on expansion in the short to medium-term rather than focus on what we have lost?
How much of the $80.14 million allocated to health and social services is actually for recovery rather than long-term development?
Improve healthcare and emergency response
Government should consider improving healthcare on sister islands, improving emergency response, and maximizing use of existing health facilities.
The healthcare plan should be revised. While polyclinics are essential in eastern and western Tortola, please consider the current state of the health system on sister islands such as Anegada and Jost Van Dyke as a priority.
Both islands are in dire need of 24-hour healthcare, better health facilities, and adequate personnel.
An air ambulance (helicopter) should be considered for purchase to better serve all the islands. It’s also necessary post-disasters. Alternatively, seek a partnership that can provide such service on call if purchase is too costly.
The new Peebles Hospital should be utilized to its fullest potential. If there are empty spaces in this building, then a better plan for its use needs to be implemented now.
Great attention needs to be given to assisted living. The Adina Donovan Home, for example, is in poor condition. I feel the country can do much better in taking care of our seniors.
Government should also consider increasing payouts to six to 12 months under the Public Assistance Grant Programme.
Three-month payouts are not enough for many persons. The health and well-being of our people are of utmost importance.
In this regard, the duration of the public assistance grant should be increased from three months to a minimum of six months and even up to 12 months on a case-by-case basis.
It’s still a financial struggle for many persons who have lost their jobs and practically everything. So, this is a mere $800 to $1,200 per family for six to 12 months; an average of about $12 million in expenditure for the well being of our people.
It would be good to know that a significant amount of our recovery funds were spent directly on our people, giving them a chance to restore their lives with fewer struggles.
Implementing short-term plan for adequate shelters
Some of the emergency shelters (government and non-government-owned) were damaged. However, there’s a zero-dollar allocation towards repairing shelters on the cost estimate, which appears to be an error.
It is important that adequate shelters are repaired prior to the next hurricane season.
Implementing short-term plan to operate Disaster Management Office
A new building to house the Department of Disaster Management (DDM) should be listed as a part of the short to medium-term recovery plan with state-of-the-art mechanisms in place for their effective operation.
However, a short-term plan is necessary for this department to function in the interim.
Government should also consider sharing a more detailed cost estimate to the public for transparency and the comfort of our people.
The dissemination of information between the DDM and the public also needs improvement.
Housing Solution Plan needs to be clear
Implementing a range of housing solutions for more than 5,200 displaced persons with an estimated cost of $522 million as suggested by the plan is quite a broad and unclear undertaking.
More information is required here as to how persons will be assisted and in what sort of timeframe. Housing is critical to the overall economy and well-being of our people.
Education (Schools) – $43.59M
Again, a detailed cost estimate should be presented to the public rather than a summarized one so persons understand how the funds are allocated for each area.
Major allocations are repairs to public schools for $13.57 million, major repairs to public schools for $20.5 million, and recreational facilities for $3.3 million.
All these amounts need to be broken down so we understand what applies to which school and which recreational facility. Because this area is not clear, I’m unable to also determine if any other significant buildings were left out.
For instance, the Virgin Gorda library also needs repair and I am uncertain if it’s in the plan.
The short-term and medium-term plan do not seem feasible as outlined in Appendix II.
The education estimate indicates that only a quarter of the work ($10.51 million of the $43.66 million) will be done in the first 18 months of implementation.
This cannot be accurate as the schools are critical to the recovery process. I would expect the bulk of $43.66 million to be spent within that period to get the schools up and running as quickly as possible.
Pride and Cultural Identity
Reopening museums is vital. A national library, which should fall under the education sector, is long needed in Road Town and should be a focus for the short-term planning.
Planning a multi-purpose building in town to house museums, performing arts, and a national library, as suggested by the plan, does not seem practical and is not necessary for recovery at this stage.
I believe that historical sites, parks, gardens, and signs should be reviewed for heritage tourism and for our own pride and identity.
Some sites to look at are: Virgin Islands Folk Museum, Distilleries and Forts, Old Government House Museum, Noel Lloyd Statue and Park, Sir Olva Georges Statue and Plaza, Botanical Garden, Sugarworks Museum, Sir Rupert Briercliffe Hall, and the Sunday Morning Well, to name a few.
It’s my opinion that the Old Post Office building can be remodelled for something in the area of pride and culture.
Again, here I think more information is needed other than the summarized cost estimate. Additionally, in reviewing the plan, I do not think enough work will be done in the short term to fix the roads.
If you look at the allocation to roads for $56.35 million, only $14 million of this will be spent within 18 months. This is only 25 percent of what is allocated.
Some $19.38m will be spent in 18 to 36 months and $22.98 million will be spent in 36-plus months.
In my opinion, the roads should be fixed with a greater speed similar to electricity. We have to take country pride into consideration as well as tourism and the safety of our people driving on the roads.
It also appears that seaports, water and sewerage will be addressed in a staggered timeframe. It could be that the bulk of funds that are allocated in the 36-plus month bracket are for development and not recovery.
Please review the order of priority in this area so we have good infrastructure to be proud of.
I believe clarity is really needed as it appears that some major sub-sectors under infrastructure are not being given the priority that is needed in the short to medium-term.
Business and Economy
To follow up on infrastructure, it’s noted under business and economy that infrastructure was, in theory, mentioned as a priority to encourage the return of business.
This is wonderful, but it is not reflected in the cost estimate presented in the plan nor is the level of work that will be required to get the infrastructure in a better order.
In relation to tourism, I believe more can be achieved in enhancing our tourism product, which was the largest contributor to the economy.
One way is that the government should consider embarking on an authentic BVI brand programme as it relates to heritage tourism, cultural, and traditional values.
Create Art & Craft Centre
Consider opening an Art & Craft Education Centre. I believe we can create an art and craft industry that can generate good revenue.
Policies should be put in place to govern this industry as it relates to raw material use, production, branding, packaging, innovation, promotion, marketing and profitability.
The reality now is that majority of the crafts that are seen in the BVI are imported. For instance, we can have items that depict the Turtle Dove, Anegada iguana, national dress, historical landmarks, flag, map, sloop etcetera.
The Craft Alive vendors and shops geared towards tourism should have an input in this undertaking that would improve economic activity. Tourism is one of our twin pillars and it would be good to work on improving heritage tourism to generate income for our people and country.
The BVI should also attract international investors carefully for some of the country’s capital projects. The territory certainly doesn’t want to look like a borrowing machine for every major undertaking.
Promoting the country in the area of trade and commerce and forging strategic partnerships will help our economy.
Areas that can be looked at are agriculture and fisheries, water and sewerage, hospitality, telecommunications, and some sort of economic zone for international companies to set up physical offices in the BVI to spur job creation.
Work time and business revenues are lost due to poor internet and telephone connection. Data charges is a big problem that needs to be tackled.
Residents are not getting value for money. This is an area that requires meaningful government intervention.
Agriculture and farming
Please refer to comments under business and economy. I see agriculture as more of a development issue rather than a recovery issue given the limited amount of agriculture we produced before the weather events.
This area requires great exploration as to how we can achieve sustainability. I believe the country should seek an international partnership to develop this industry to make it sustainable. Therefore, money spent here should go beyond recovery.
The youths are our future. Revitalize and engage the Virgin Islands Youth Parliament in the decision-making process.
Have a mandatory evacuation plan in place for any serious disaster threats. For example, persons may need to evacuate for medical reasons or simply just to save lives.
Development of our country is vital and I look forward to having more information on the proposed expansion of the Terrance B Lettsome International Airport.
However, I do not view this capital project as a part of the recovery process as suggested in the plan. If we do not have a solid investor then this capital project could be on hold for a while.
I note that $50 million was allocated to the cost estimate for the short-term which may indicate more information could be forthcoming.
If you separate this capital project from the plan presented to the public, then the suggested financial needs is really in the region of $500 million less any other development or expansion projects that are being proposed.
Please refer to the charts attached for further data. Again, the information presented in the plan is limited and the short and medium-term allocation for certain critical areas is of some concern.
I’m aware that funds are being sought and this will obviously be critical for the execution of a successful plan.
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