It is with great interest and concern that I provide my views on the proposed Recovery and Development Plan for the territory 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 up to its current state. I have also looked at potential 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.
I am of the opinion that great thought was given to the plan by the selected committee, whose members should be commended for their work. However, I believe the plan lacks vital and transparent information and clear proposals 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 Virgin Islands come 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 utilise the expertise of our people meaningfully from the outset so we are all in this together to better position our territory for prosperity.
My preliminary comments on risk management and the environment follow.
- The territory should 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 territory 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 minimise 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 territory’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 people, deaths, job losses and so on. I believe government should also provide financial assistance to severely injured people and families who have lost a loved one due to a natural disaster.
A large number of our government buildings and schools had no insurance, which doesn’t help. This is something which 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 and received insurance payouts within one or 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 territory, thus reducing the potential impacts on life, property, business and the environment.
- The government should create a meaningful business-friendly environment. 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;
- providing financial and technical support to small businesses, outside of loans;
- being willing to adapt to change and make sound decisions to ease the burden on small businesses that can sustain the economy.
To be continued.