We are alarmed by recent signs that the government is increasingly struggling to provide the most basic public services.

Perhaps the most glaring example is electricity. In large sections of the territory, power has shut off repeatedly in recent months without warning — and often without so much as an explanation from the BVI Electricity Corporation. Additionally, rotating “maintenance” shutoffs have become routine.

The public water supply has been similarly erratic. The Water and Sewerage Department frequently blames the electricity outages, which it says stall the desalination process. But given the territory’s vulnerability to natural disasters, shouldn’t the WSD have backup generators?

Waste management is also in a very poor state. Government has missed repeated targets for repairing the incinerator after a fire gutted it more than a year ago, and no solution is in sight. In the meantime, toxic trash buried in the unlined landfill in Pockwood Pond frequently catches fire and sends noxious smoke wafting over West End.

Then there’s the sewage. The Road Town treatment plant hasn’t operated since before Irma, and East End still has no sewerage system at all despite decades of politicians’ promises. As a result, the territory’s raw sewage is still flushed directly into the ocean.

Meanwhile, much of the road network is in a state of distressing disrepair that may well have contributed to the recent wrecks in Sophie Bay and elsewhere.

Taken together, such issues raise a giant red flag and suggest that the government is facing a mounting crisis. Besides the almost daily inconvenience to residents and visitors alike, the patchy public services are threatening the territory’s economy as businesses in various sectors struggle to operate in a time of increasing competition from abroad.
What is going wrong? As with so many other problems facing the territory, the answer appears to reach back to Hurricane Irma. Directly after the storm, there was a burst of frantic recovery activity funded in part by United Kingdom grants, insurance pay-outs, and other sources. This got basic services up and running.

But then — despite constant talk of “building back stronger” — the public-sector recovery mostly stalled in the absence of adequate funding for longer-term projects.

This unfortunate situation was rooted largely in successive administrations’ stubborn refusal to access the UK’s offer of a £300 loan guarantee. Elected leaders claimed that the UK’s conditions were too onerous, but we suspect the real reason for their reluctance was the UK’s reasonable requirement for loan-funded projects to be administered not through them but through the independent Recovery and Development Agency.

In any case, leaders managed to source less than $100 million in dedicated loans and other funds for a recovery initially projected to cost more than $700 million. As a result, many major recovery projects have fallen by the wayside — a situation greatly exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Behind the scenes, this situation has also meant additional neglect for the already-struggling essential infrastructure that supports public services: The power plant, the water-and-sewerage network, roads, the incinerator, and other key facilities were often relegated to the backburner.

Now, the chickens are coming home to roost.

The new administration must get a handle on these issues immediately. It is high time for an honest assessment of needs for reliably supplying basic services — and a realistic plan for funding them.

It won’t be easy. Unfortunately, the UK loan guarantee is now off the table, and the cost of borrowing is through the roof. Meanwhile, two months have passed since the general election, and we still have not heard the new administration’s plan to finance the way forward with infrastructure improvements that were the top issue night after night during the campaign season. We hope a comprehensive strategy will be announced very soon.

To that end, leaders will have to get creative. They’ll also have to borrow, implement painful belt-tightening measures, and make unpopular decisions. But if they proceed wisely, they could turn around an ugly situation.

In many areas, it is not too late to build back stronger from Irma. But that goal is currently slipping further away every day.