- Written by CONOR KING DEVITT
- Published: 10 November 2017
On Oct. 3, BVI Finance Interim Director Lorna Smith distributed a letter to the financial services community.
She was asking for money: The territory’s Commercial Court building — an important cog in the financial industry — had been damaged by Hurricane Irma, and operations were temporarily forced to relocate to St. Lucia.
The relocation, Ms. Smith stressed, was only an interim fix with “shortcomings,” and the “only solution” for the industry going forward would be to bring the court back by December.
That, she explained, would cost about $350,000, a number she was asking private-sector stakeholders to help cover for the wellbeing of the Virgin Islands.
What the interim director didn’t explain in the letter, however, was that the court facility was not insured.
It wasn’t the only public building without protection: Asked about the court’s lack of insurance, former Financial Secretary Neil Smith wrote in an e-mail that the government “generally does not insure its physical assets; they have historically (with a few exceptions) decided to take care of such things themselves.”
Among the exceptions, however, is government’s main headquarters: The Central Administration Building, which was mostly destroyed by Irma, was covered by insurance, according to Mr. Smith, who now serves as the executive director of government’s Office of International Business (Regulations).
Government sent out a tender invitation in May asking for bids on insurance coverage for the building, which was valued at $32 million, according to the notice.
Neither Premier Dr. Orlando Smith, who is the minister of finance, nor Financial Secretary Glenroy Forbes responded to requests for comment on this issue.
Asked specifically about the Commercial Court’s lack of insurance, Ms. Smith — Dr. Smith’s wife — referred the Beacon to High Court Registrar Erica Smith-Penn. The High Court Registry, however, referred the Beacon to the financial secretary.
On Monday, Opposition Leader Andrew Fahie may force the issue to be addressed. The District One representative is scheduled to ask Dr. Smith (R-at large) for a detailed listing of buildings and properties insured and their corresponding insured values.
Mr. Fahie is also planning to ask whether or not government vehicles are independently insured.
The sitting is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.
The VI also doesn’t participate in a regional insurance programme utilised by many of its neighbours across the region.
Sixteen countries and territories in the Caribbean are part of a multi-country risk pool called the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility Segregated Portfolio Company. The VI is not a member.
The CCRIF SPC — established at the urging of the Caribbean Community in the wake of mass regional destruction from Hurricane Ivan in 2004 — aims to rapidly provide liquidity to disaster-battered jurisdictions.
After hurricanes Irma and Maria, for example, the facility distributed more than $20 million to Dominica; more than $15 million to the Turks and Caicos Islands; nearly $6.8 million to Antigua and Barbuda; and more than $6.6 million to Anguilla, all within the month of September.