By Horace Mills, BVI News Online Staff
Minister of Education Myron Walwyn has indicated that the economy of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) is still very robust, adding that the major challenge is in getting the money to trickle down to the masses.
But he said the masses could not escape being affected by what he claimed was more than a $13 million shortfall last year in revenue from financial services, which is the BVI’s largest revenue earner.
Walwyn, in the meantime, expressed concern that, despite a major increase in cruise passenger arrivals, the dollar distribution in the sector is not good enough.
He made the comments during his contribution to the 2017 Budget Debate this week – days after his colleague Delores Christopher suggested that the economy is not as robust as Premier and Minister of Finance Dr D Orlando Smith has been claiming.
Essentially agreeing with the premier that the economy is robust, Walwyn told the House of Assembly: “The fact that the premier said the economy is ‘robust’, people latch onto that word. Strong is another synonym for ‘robust’. The economy of the Virgin Islands is a strong economy; inherently strong.”
“If we are saying that we are having problems perhaps with money trickling down, that’s a different argument. If we are saying perhaps that we are not giving out as much petty contracts as we used to, that’s a different argument. But, in terms of the inherent strength of the economy, the Virgin Islands have two main economic pillars (financial services and tourism). The economy of the country is a strong economy,” Walwyn emphasized.
His opinion, however, is not shared by members of the parliamentary opposition. The opposition, for example, has noted that the government was forced recently to establish a $25 million line of credit with CIBC FirstCaribbean bank in order to pay contract workers and cover other operational expenses.Premier Smith, in defending the aforementioned line of credit, had stated that it was necessary because of challenges in how revenues from the financial services industry flow into Government’s coffers.
‘You have to feel it’
Walwyn, during his in budget contribution, said a notable shortfall in revenue from financial services last year would naturally have affected the behaviour of both residents and Government.
“I think from my estimation we are about $13 million to $18 million behind [in revenue from financial services] at the end of the fourth quarter last year, [compared to the previous year]. When you have a $13 million shortfall in an industry that you don’t control, of course you gonna have some bleeding.”
“You have some people out there trying to fool some people that the government will do what – spend, spend, spend what it don’t have? You have to hold back until you get things going the way you need to get it going. How can you have $13 million or $14 million shortfall in your biggest industry and you don’t feel the effects through the country? You have to feel it,” the education minister said emphatically.
‘Nothing short of a miracle’
Turning to tourism, which is the territory’s second largest revenue earner, Walwyn declared that it was miraculous that the BVI broke the million-passenger mark in tourist arrivals last year.
But he is concerned that enough people are not earning enough especially from cruise tourism.
“In 2016 alone, you have a 26 percent increase in the [tourist arrival] numbers. But what impressed me the most was the whopping increase in the cruise passengers – an increase of 47 percent over the previous years. That is nothing short of a miracle; that is excellent work. For the first time in the history of this country, we have over one million tourists last year – 1,122,067, that is remarkable by any stretch of imagination. This is not something that you should take for granted.”
“The dollar distribution in the tourism spending has got to improve. We are missing too many opportunities to get other villages and other parts of Road Town in particular involved in the tourism product. We are not being deliberate,” added the education minister, who also suggested ways in which the dollar distribution may be improved in the cruise tourism sector.
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