The following are more suggestions for the territory’s Recovery and Development Plan, continued from two previous commentaries.
A total of $43.59 million is to be allocated for education, according to the draft plan. Again, a detailed cost estimate should be presented to the public rather than a summarised one so persons understand how the funds are allocated for each area. Major allocations are (1) repairs to public schools for $13.57 million; (2) major repairs to public schools for $20.5 million; and (3) recreational facilities for $3.3 million. All these amounts need to be broken down so we understand what applies to which school and which recreational facility. Because this area is not clear, I’m unable to also determine if any other significant buildings were left out. For instance, the Virgin Gorda library also needs repair and I am uncertain if it’s in the plan.
The short-term and medium-term plan do not seem feasible as outlined on Appendix II. The education estimate indicates that only a quarter of the work ($10.51 million of the $43.66 million) will be done in the first 18 months of implementation. This cannot be accurate as the schools are critical to the recovery process. I would expect the bulk of $43.66 million to be spent within that period to get the schools up and running as quickly as possible.
Pride and culture
Reopening museums is vital as well. A national library, which should fall under the education sector, is long needed in Road Town and should be a focus for the short-term planning. Planning a multi-purpose building in town to house museums, performing arts and a national library, as suggested by the plan, does not seem practical and is not necessary for recovery at this stage.
I believe that historical sites, parks, gardens and signs should be reviewed for heritage tourism and for our own pride and identity. Some sites to consider are the Virgin Islands Folk Museum, distilleries and forts, the Old Government House Museum, the Noel Lloyd Positive Action Movement Park and the statue there, the Sir Olva Georges Plaza and the statue there, the J. R. O’Neal Botanic Gardens, the 1780 Lower Estate Sugar Works Museum, the Sir Rupert Briercliffe Hall, and the Sunday Morning Well, to name a few.
It’s my opinion that the former post office building can be remodelled for something in the area of pride and culture.
Again here I think more information is needed other than the summarised cost estimate. Additionally, in reviewing the plan, I do not think enough work will be done in the short term to fix the roads. If you look at the allocation to roads for $56.35 million, only $14 million of this will be spent within 18 months. This is only 25 percent of what is allocated. Some $19.38 million will be spent in 18-36 months and $22.98 million will be spent in 36-plus months. In my opinion, the roads should be fixed with a greater speed, similar to electricity. We have to take territory pride into consideration as well as tourism and the safety of our people driving on the roads. It also appears that seaports, water and sewerage will be addressed in a staggered timeframe. It could be that the bulk of funds that are allocated in the 36-plus-month bracket are for development and not recovery. Please review the order of priority in this area so we have good infrastructure to be proud of. I believe clarity is really needed as it appears that some major sub-sectors under infrastructure are not being given the priority that is needed in the short to medium term.
Business and economy
To follow up on infrastructure, the plan notes under “business and economy” that infrastructure is mentioned as a priority in part to encourage the return of business. This is wonderful, but it is not reflected in the cost estimate presented in the plan. Also not reflected is the level of work that will be required to get the infrastructure in a better order.
In relation to tourism, I believe more can be achieved in enhancing our tourism product, which was the largest contributor to the gross domestic product. One way is that the government should consider embarking on an authentic VI brand programme as it relates to heritage tourism, culture and traditional values. Consider opening an art and craft education centre. I believe we can create an art and craft industry that can generate good revenue. Policies should be put in place to govern this industry as it relates to raw material use, production, branding, packaging, innovation, promotion, marketing and profitability. The reality now is that a majority of the crafts that are seen in the VI are imported. We can have items that depict, for instance, the turtle dove, Anegada iguana, national dress, historical landmarks, flag, map, sloop and so on. The Crafts Alive vendors and shops geared towards tourism should have input in this undertaking that would improve economic activity. Tourism is one of our twin pillars, and it would be good to work on improving heritage tourism to generate income for our people and territory.
The VI should also attract international investors, carefully, for some of its capital projects. The territory certainly doesn’t want to look like a borrowing machine for every major undertaking. Promoting the territory in the area of trade and commerce and forging strategic partnerships will help our economy. Areas that can be considered are agriculture and fisheries, water and sewerage, hospitality, telecommunications and some sort of economic zone for international companies to set up physical offices here to spur job creation.
Work time and business revenues are lost due to poor internet and telephone connections. Data charges are a big problem that needs to be tackled. Residents are not getting value for money. This is an area that requires meaningful government intervention.
Agriculture and farming
Please refer to comments under business and economy. I see agriculture as more of a development issue rather than a recovery issue given the limited amount of agriculture we produced before the weather events. This area requires great exploration as to how we can achieve sustainability. I believe the territory should seek international partnership to develop this industry to make it sustainable. Therefore, money spent here should go beyond recovery.
I also suggest the following.
- Since the youths are our future, revitalise the VI Youth Parliament and engage it in the decision-making process.
- Have a mandatory evacuation plan in place for any serious disaster threat. People may need to evacuate for medical reasons, for instance, or simply just to save lives.
- Development of our territory is vital and I look forward to having more information on the proposed expansion of the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport. However, I do not view this capital project as a part of the recovery process as suggested in the plan. If we do not have a solid investor, then this capital project could be on hold for a while. I note that $50 million was allocated on the cost estimate for the short term, which may indicate more information could be forthcoming. If you separate this capital project from the plan presented to the public, then the suggested financial need is really in the region of $500 million less any other development/expansion projects that are being proposed.