Moves towards e-government are welcome but overdue in an economy dependent on telecommunications to make its tourist product and financial services industry more attractive and efficient. We might emulate Estonia’s success in being a small country whose prowess in information technology earned the respect of the entire European Union, as I noted in my March 28 Beacon commentary “Concerns about hackers linger.”

During Estonia’s national general election on March 3, a large proportion of the votes were cast online. This example offers an obvious way of meeting Virgin Islands election observers’ recommendation to enfranchise absentee voters, which was rejected by the VI Cabinet under the former National Democratic Party administration. I find it incredible if the opportunity to vote was denied to staff in our overseas missions, such as the BVI London Office and BVI Tourist Board offices.

 

Telecoms

When Premier Andrew Fahie announced that he was adding telecommunications to his portfolio, he commented that there was “method in my madness.” Shortly afterwards, he expressed his commitment to regional integration at Guadeloupe’s first meeting as an associate member of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States. If he uses his ministerial responsibilities to bring Flow to heel, doubtless the entire Caribbean Community would applaud his achievement.

The premier also addressed the heads of government of the American Association of Caribbean States at the VI’s introductory summit in Managua on March 27-29. Meanwhile, Liberty Global, Flow’s owner, took another step in its aim for world domination when it bought control of United Telecommunication Services N.V., the supplier of telecom services to Curacao and the other Dutch islands.

I have remarked on the way Flow ignores the recovery needs of customers (mostly private) located away from the more profitable locations along Tortola’s southern coastal highways. Exceptionally, the engineers who responded to my query about replacing my broadband had reached the Upper Room Victory Church, almost to the Ridge Road, perhaps because a VHF radio station was next to it.

 

TV service

My broadband has not been restored yet, but customer services responded to my requests for details of the month’s free trial of Flow’s TV service offered on its website by flatly denying they gave one. However, the promotion appears again on their upgraded website!

Similarly, before Cable & Wireless was taken over by Liberty Global, its site advertised American Airlines miles in exchange for loyalty points, but nobody in the Road Town office knew anything about that offer — only that points could be exchanged for discounts on equipment. None of the various managers I wrote to for over two years, on principle, knew anything about the promotion either.

The fault seemed to lie at some nebulous, higher level than local office staff, who have almost invariably been courteous and helpful and include family, friends and neighbours.

 

Banks

It is not Flow alone which fails to provide its customers with confidence in its online services. A few months ago, my credit card was repeatedly declined for inexpensive purchases. Fearing a hacker might have emptied my account, I was relieved to find online that it was still intact.

After I emailed the customer services manager to remove the bar on my account and reassure myself that my creditworthiness would be unimpaired, he merely copied me an instruction to an assistant to investigate the matter. A few weeks later, I got a similar response after seeking reassurance that my accounts had not been compromised during my original ransomware attack (as recounted in my Feb. 14 Beacon commentary, “Cyber-attack victim recounts his ordeal”). The bank’s staff has yet to revert to me on either issue.

 

Bank issues

I’m surprised that Roger Harris has only just encountered problems as a VI resident in dealing with United Kingdom financial institutions, as outlined in his letter of last week. As a Barclays UK customer, I naturally chose Barclays VI for my first account in the early 1980s. It transitioned to First Caribbean International after the Canadian bank bought out Barclays UK’s share of their joint venture.

A few years ago, Barclays UK terminated our longstanding relationship by giving me notice of the closure of UK accounts for VI residents as a cost-cutting exercise. Ironically, a local bank manager had told me they used funds from the VI to maintain services elsewhere in the region, as a bank that couldn’t make a profit here would be unable to do so anywhere. His greatest regret was that residents did not save more.

I have since had other experiences with UK financial institutions to which I’d entrusted my lifetime savings. All asked me to sign declarations of my sources of UK income and my residency for income tax purposes since I am taxed on my UK pension as a non-resident but am resident in a jurisdiction with zero-rated income tax.

That is problematic in itself, but they all insist on the forms being sent by airmail, which usually takes a month each way. At the end of it, some may still also insist on closing my account.

I hope the premier will also reconstruct the post office branches and investigate the appalling slowness and unreliability of its mail services.


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