After imposing an hour and a half maximum time for each member of the House of Assembly to voice their concerns under personal business, Speaker of the House Julian Willock opened the floor to a wide variety of topics across two days, with many members offering their condolences to community members who lost loved ones.
On Sept. 2, Deputy Speaker Neville Smith and opposition members Julian Fraser and Mark Vanterpool voiced their priorities in addressing the pandemic and other issues.
The sitting continued Sept. 9 in the second-ever virtual meeting of the House with the remainder of the speakers.
Mr. Smith, who recently lost two family members, encouraged people in the community to consider getting vaccinated against Covid-19 if they haven’t yet, and to lend a hand to neighbours where possible.
Junior Minister for Trade and Economic Development Shereen Flax-Charles joined in the condolences and also commended the Ministry of Health and Social Development for helping young people get vaccinated in the United States Virgin Islands.
She said increasing vaccinations should ultimately help the territory open up faster, alleviating some of the financial pressures she’s seen community members experience this year. She also urged those who decide against vaccination to take every precaution possible.
“Without tourism, we’re going to have a hard time rebounding,” she said.
Mr. Fraser asked people to follow safety protocols, and Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration Minister Vincent Wheatley warned against the possibility of seeing more Covid variants crop up if swift preventive action isn’t taken.
Ms. Flax-Charles also commended the staff members who she said worked diligently to help bring the VI Investment Act to the House. She said some people have labelled the law “the single-most important piece of legislation to be passed in the House of Assembly in the last 30 years.”
The bill purports to promote sustainable economic development and growth via foreign and domestic investors.
But she said it should by no means be considered “selling out” but rather nation building.
Sports were also discussed. Following the recent successes of the territory’s Olympians, Mr. Smith called for a more comprehensive approach to supporting youth in the territory and more public recognition of key community leaders through renaming facilities and roads.
Mr. Fraser said the territory needs to do a better job of maintaining the infrastructure at sports facilities, but that can only happen with adequate government financing.
Referencing the six schools in District Two, Mr. Turnbull last Thursday highlighted the need for adequate transportation to make sure students have easy access to their campuses. He said the bus programme of five years continues to serve students, including those traveling from sister islands.
He added that it’s especially important to alleviate some of the cost of transportation for families during the pandemic.
But he noted that maintenance issues like mould continue to plague schools in the territory. Partially spurred by these issues, Mr. Turnbull said he remains concerned about teaching vacancies.
For District Eight, Mr. Smith sought to add more roadside disposal sites to address an increase in litter. Specifically in Greenland, he urged action in clearing derelict vehicles.
Sharing similar concerns, Mr. Fraser said large items like old washing machines tend to sit out for a long time before being carted away. He also shared concern about reports of a sewage pipe in the Slaney Hill area that is broken somewhere just offshore.
Meanwhile, District Six Representative Alvera Maduro-Caines highlighted the need for a new home for seniors, for home-care assistance, and for more social programmes.
She also called for more robust government support for organisations like the Family Support Network