In the 2017 hurricanes the BVI Post suffered damage to all of its locations, including letterboxes, and the recovery has been an ongoing struggle, Postmaster General Pascha Stoutt told legislators during Standing Finance Committee deliberations in April.
As a result, she said, all staff members from across Tortola were reassigned to the Road Town office, where she said conditions were “inappropriate,” according to a report on the closed-door SFC proceedings.
All mail was being collected, sorted and distributed to customers at the central location as well, she said, adding that a Cabinet paper had been drafted regarding the procurement of new letterboxes and the waiving of the tender process.
Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration Minister Vincent Wheatley inquired about a statement in Ms. Stoutt’s presentation indicating that the letterboxes for Anegada and for North Sound and The Valley in Virgin Gorda would be installed in 2021, and asked whether there were already any letterboxes at those locations and whether the installations would be upgrades.
Ms. Stoutt replied that letterboxes were being “installed in three phases,” according to the report.
Third District Representative Julian Fraser also asked about the letterboxes at Sea Cows Bay and the former post office in Road Town, to which Ms. Stoutt responded that the letterboxes for SCB would be installed during “Phase Two” of the project.
She also said the former location in Road Town was not safe to enter because of structural and mould issues, and added that the letterboxes there were outdated and that the keys needed to open them are no longer manufactured.
Junior Minister for Tourism Shreen Flax-Charles asked about the construction project that was being undertaken at the letterbox location in Road Town near Scotiabank, noting that the way the area was boarded up at the time posed safety concerns by forcing pedestrians to walk into traffic. Ms. Flax-Charles asked Ms. Stoutt who was responsible for boarding up the area, but the SFC report did not include Ms. Stoutt’s response.
When Mr. Fraser pressed Ms. Stoutt on the delay in restoring the letterboxes, she cited a lack of funding and resources.
She also said that the BVI Post needed a cost accountant to ensure that the costs of delivering and processing mail were “adequately covered.”
Financial Secretary Glenroy Forbes said that $377,000 had been allocated in the department’s 2019 budget to purchase and maintain letterboxes, and that $119,000 had been allocated in the 2018 budget for this purpose as well.
Ms. Stoutt also stated that the 2018 budget — in which 64 percent of funding went towards personal emoluments, 23 percent went towards contractual agreements and 13 percent went towards operational expenses — was “not feasible,” but the SFC report did not state if she specified any suggested changes.
The budget estimates suggest that the office’s overall budget remained about the same this year: The 2018 estimate was $3,155,809, versus $3,104,860 for 2019.
Ms. Stoutt also expressed concerns about “a proposal regarding self-declared rates” put forward by the United States, which she said could cause issues for the BVI Post.
For example, she said, the Virgin Islands would have to pay the US 80 percent of the cost of delivering a packet of mail “on their behalf.”
Likewise, she said the US would have to pay the VI 80 percent of the cost to deliver a packet.
Because the VI’s postal rates are much lower than the US and other countries, the policy would mean a major loss of revenue for the department, she explained.