Courts, pensions, resources for the opposition, roadworks and other infrastructure, healthcare, the airport expansion project, housing costs and more were debated for nearly two days before the House of Assembly passed an amended budget on Tuesday night.

During the debate, government members defended measures laid out in the $470 million budget, which Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley said “captures my administration’s commitment to strategic decision-making, focused investments, and unwavering dedication to the advancement of our beloved territory.”

Opposition members, however, highlighted areas of concern ranging from rising insurance costs for homeowners to a perceived lack of support for small businesses.

“As a people, we are in trouble,” Opposition Leader Ronnie Skelton said during the debate. “There are problems in the country. … We need to fix the country for all the people.”

Speaker of the House Corine George-Massicote permitted each member an hour to debate the budget, and most members spoke for two days before the House went into committee.

Late on Tuesday evening, the budget passed unanimously with amendments.


Deputy Premier Lorna Smith said the budget provides many tools needed to help the people of the Virgin Islands to “flourish,” and she agreed with Mr. Skelton that opposition members need resources to do their jobs properly.

She then turned her attention towards developments like Peter Island, Long Bay Beach Resort, Norman Island, and others.

“I’m encouraged that at the end of 2023, the [gross domestic product] has grown by five percent, and I’m also pleased that despite the prediction of last year, … revenues did stay on par, although it is true that there was a drop in the number of incorporations in the Registry of Corporate Affairs,” she said.

Opposition member Marlon Penn commended the deputy premier for her support in allocating resources toward the opposition before expressing concerns in other areas and calling for new economic products and greater government efficiency.

“We have to fix this Procurement Act,” Mr. Penn said. “It is not working for our people. It is creating a bottleneck in terms of the process of getting things done and getting services in place, and it’s hurting the private sector and it’s hurting the business sector.”

Health services

His opposition colleague Julian Fraser raised questions about the $43 million in the budget going towards the BVI Health Services Authority.

“When I consider what BVIHSA is doing and is being allowed to do, that is what I consider to be a scandal,” Mr. Fraser said.

He alleged that the hospital hasn’t properly billed for services rendered and instead has turned to government to pay its bills.

Mr. Fraser also questioned the $3 million allocated towards the airport expansion but expressed his support for a runway extension.

Transportation and Works Minister Kye Rymer, however, defended the government’s plans and responded to opposition criticisms about infrastructure spending.

“As we go through the budget, you will see there’s money there for pipes. We need to do more in terms of revenue. We have ideas: We just need to get them done,” he said.

Mr. Rymer added that his ministry was allocated 16 percent of the budget, and he pledged that whatever infrastructure work is done in the next year will be done within that allotment.

The premier also defended the budget, claiming to correct the record following opposition criticisms and calling for teamwork.

“Politics will make you minimise the good and maximise the bad,” he said. “It’ll make you minimise strengths and exacerbate what you see as deficiencies. We have a huge battle on our hands, and to be successful in this battle we need unity.”

Climate change

Also during the debate, Dr. Wheatley provided updates about recent meetings he attended overseas and said his government hopes to access new funding to mitigate the effects of climate change in the territory.

“We were able to engage with the United Kingdom to advocate that they should create a climate change fund specifically for the overseas territories and unlock millions and millions of dollars,” he said of the COP28 climate change conference he attended this month in Dubai.

Dr. Wheatley noted that the territory currently doesn’t have access to the Green Climate Fund or the UK’s official development assistance for overseas territories.

He went on to explain the importance of climate change for the territory, stating that the hurricanes of 2017 had a “massive impact” on the VI’s revenue and expenditure.

“The debate is generally over: They are as a result of global warming,” he said of such hurricanes. “The waters where the storms travel on are supercharged with heat and they create these massive storms. We are no longer in the era of industrialisation. We have to shift our thinking. We have to shift our approach, and we have to look at everything through the lens of our response to climate change.”