2012 holds promise, challenges

As the holidays wind down, the territory should roll up its sleeves

and prepare for a challenging year that nonetheless promises many opportunities.

Good news could come in 2012, as there are some signs that the Virgin Islands is starting to recover from the effects of the global recession: Incorporation numbers in the financial services sector are rising slowly but steadily, and many hotel and yachting professionals have reported that business has picked up this season.

But not all economic indicators are so positive. Other tourism stakeholders report sobering news, especially cruise ship sector insiders who say scheduled cruise ship visits are down considerably from this time last year.

Meanwhile, the economies of the United States and Europe, to which this territory’s fortunes are closely tied, are by no means stabilised. Experts have warned against putting too much stock in recent indicators of economic recovery in the US, and Europe appears to be teetering on the brink of financial disaster due in part to the ongoing debt crisis.

The VI, whose finances have all but dried up, is ill equipped to deal with any more rough patches.

In the coming weeks, then, we expect to hear much from the new government ministers, who have remained fairly tight-lipped on many major issues since they were elected in November. This initial posture was reasonable as they assessed the territory’s situation, but now they should be ready to hit the ground running this year.

The new government made many sound promises in the Speech from the Throne, but important specifics are still to come. In 2012, priorities should focus primarily on the weightiest issues facing the territory, such as:

• reviving the economy by bolstering the tourism industry and continuing to jealously safeguard financial services;

• completing capital projects such as the new hospital, the greenhouses and much-needed roadwork;

• making significant progress on the water-and-sewerage scheme, starting with a definitive decision on the Biwater contract;

• taking substantive steps to reform the public service in keeping with the information collected in the ongoing review by KPMG;

• shoring up social services  by implementing the national health insurance scheme and making progress toward a new or renovated high school, among other initiatives;

• reforming the territory’s wasteful system of handing out contracts and managing projects; and

• strengthening environmental protection measures and promoting alternative energy.

These are just a few examples of priority areas that should be addressed right away. The government cannot do it alone, however. Businesses, non-profit organisations and individual community members also have a major role to play.

With a concerted effort on everyone’s part, 2012 could be the year the territory starts to emerge from the economic downturn, laying a solid foundation for a fresh start.