- Written by FREEMAN ROGERS
- Published: 23 September 2017
Government is waiving import duties on food, water, building material and other essential items until Dec. 21 in order to help spur the territory’s recovery, Premier Dr. Orlando Smith announced during a Friday morning press conference.
The move, he said, is among multiple relief measures that are being implemented as the territory struggles to overcome monumental challenges in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
“I want to stress that the rebuilding of the Virgin Islands cannot and will not happen overnight,” said Dr. Smith, who led the five government ministers in giving updates on their respective portfolios. “My government will also be using the opportunity that Hurricane Irma brought to reset our compasses and to get a few things right.”
Items covered under the duty waiver also include electrical fixtures and materials; plumbing fixtures and materials; household furniture, furnishings and appliances; pharmaceuticals; generators; and cleaning supplies.
“Government has also ordered and received pledges of generators,” the premier said. “We expect them to be on island within the coming weeks and these generators will be donated to businesses.”
He did not say how recipients would be chosen.
The premier also spoke out against price gouging.
“Again I urge businesses to be reasonable,” he said. “Now is the time for us to work together as a community. The quicker residents can get back on their feet, the better it is for businesses and our economy.”
Work permit concessions
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Premier Dr. Orlando Smith invited residents to share their ideas for the territory’s recover during the first in a series of “town hall” meetings from 5-7 p.m. Monday on ZBVI Radio.
Government is also planning concessions for work permit holders.
“Let me make it clear that persons with valid work permits, property owners and longtime residents of the territory are free to return once our airport becomes open for commercial flights,” he said. “Work permit holders will have up to three months after their permits have expired to sort out their immigration status.”
Labour and immigration policies have also been “relaxed” in order to “expedite the processing of skilled workers” needed to assist in the rebuilding process, according to the premier, who did not provide details on this initiative.
Several banks, he added, have committed to giving three-month reprieves for personal, auto, mortgage and business loans: National Bank of the VI; Banco Popular; Scotiabank; and FirstBank.
To further assist, he said, government will create a fund through which businesses will be able to apply for loans within two weeks.
“I’ve noticed that a few more businesses have started to open, and this contributes greatly in keeping our local economy going, but also raising our spirits and encouraging others to start rebuilding,” he said.
The premier, who is also the tourism minister, said that government is putting high priority on restoring the tourism sector.
“All marketing efforts were suspended and the [BVI Tourist] Board continues to concentrate its efforts on supporting and speaking with tourism stakeholders locally as well as monitoring and responding to media coverage globally,” he said.
He added that one charter company, which he declined to name, has promised to get 120 boats operating by the end of November. Such businesses, he said, will help lead the way toward recovery.
The premier also spoke reassuringly about the territory’s other main economic pillar.
“The Monday following the passage of Hurricane Irma, our financial services industry continued their work,” he said. “Our services play a key role in business development globally, so our system and industry partners have always planned for business continuity.”