Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley talks during the debate on the Schedule of Additional Provisions last Thursday in the House of Assembly. (Screenshot:HOA)

After spending about 15 hours in closed-door committee over the course of a week, the House of Assembly voted unanimously last Thursday to pass a Schedule of Additional Provisions, freeing up more than $15 million in additional spending.

Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley also announced that the government will seek to secure a loan to improve infrastructure “in short order.”

The SAP accounts for spending not figured into this year’s budget, and it adjusted recurrent expenditure by $16,259,880; capital expenditure by $3,350,525; and capital acquisition expenditure by $2,275,762, according to Dr. Wheatley.

More than $16 million will come from the Consolidated Fund, with nearly $3 million coming from the Development Fund and the rest coming from the Transportation Network Improvement Fund, the Miscellaneous Purpose Fund, the Environmental Protection and Tourism Improvement Fund, and grants, he said.

This is the fourth time since June 2022 that government has shifted funds within the budget to meet economic demands.

The premier said that ministries have requested additional funds for the continuation of government operations and to fund new units established after the April general elections.

He noted that the SAP — which was introduced in the HOA on July 7 but had not been made public as of Beacon press time yesterday afternoon — was discussed in detail and passed with amendments.

“Throughout the year there may be a need for any government to bring a schedule of additional provisions to the House of Assembly for its consideration,” he said. “This can be a result of a plethora of reasons, including a reprioritisation of its projects, programmes, and initiatives; unforeseen expenditure that may have arisen; and the insertion into the budget of grant funding that is administered by central government policy decisions following the elections.”

New ministries

Dr. Wheatley also noted that two new ministries — for financial services, labour and trade; and for tourism, culture and sustainable development — need funding for staff and operation.

Most of the government’s budget, he said, goes toward the salaries and operations of central government statutory bodies.

“We have to come to the conclusion that we have to grow our economy to keep up with all of the demands of our economy,” Dr. Wheatley explained. “Our situation was not helped by the vast destruction of the storms of 2017, Covid-19 and all the other challenges in recent years — and that includes the Commission of Inquiry, which is also demanding resources from us.”

He also spoke of the importance of diversifying the economy and saving money. One way to do this, he suggested, is to return government offices to the Ralph T. O’Neal Administration Complex, which has been undergoing repairs since sustaining extensive damage in the 2017 hurricanes.

“In this [SAP], we have been able to address some key concerns,” he said. “This [SAP] will not be able to do everything that we want it to do, so we continue to push to complete projects, to address existing challenges, while we seek to raise more revenue to be able to properly meet the challenges that we have.”

Public debate

Last Thursday, every elected member took the opportunity to speak about the SAP, starting with opposition member Mitch Turnbull (R-D2).

“We have to first decide and pay attention to what the priorities of the country are,” he said. “Having spent 10 or 11 months as a minister in the last House, I have a further and deeper appreciation for why things don’t happen the way they should happen.”

Junior Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries Dr. Karl Dawson (R-D1), Opposition Leader Ronnie Skelton (R-at large), and opposition member Stacy “Buddha” Mather (R-at large) all spoke about the importance of the SAP to help solve longstanding water woes.

Mr. Mather also mentioned that approximately $900,000 would be allocated to the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force for greater port security.

Deputy Premier Lorna Smith called the SAP a “fresh start” and expressed gratitude that it would help fund her ministry and its initiatives.

Opposition member Myron Walwyn, however, said a “substantial portion” of the issues important to residents weren’t addressed in the SAP, including improving the tourism product and extending the runway at the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport.