Our government was obviously very impressed when a large cruise company approached them and said, “Hey, we are building bigger ships and you need to increase the size of your pier to cope, or we won’t be coming to the Virgin Islands anymore.

And by the way, we would like to build a lovely village at the dock side, so we can make more money out of our passengers.”

I suspect government is being persuaded, shanghaied, bamboozled or conned into this expansion of the cruise ship pier, at great expense, to cater for ever larger ships. Either that or government is doing the same to the public to persuade us that it is necessary. But is it?

Certainly cruise lines are building bigger ships. But cruise ships generally have a life of 30-40 years (think the Queen Elizabeth II), with several refits during that time. So the ships we have at present are going to be around for a long time to come, and we can continue to cater for them with the present pier. If the pier is expanded it will still only cater for two monster ships. Provision for four would fill the harbour.

Agreed that, if we must have cruise ships, we need to make the cruise ship dock area more tourist friendly, but the rest of our infrastructure can’t or won’t cater for so many more tourists at a time. Where are the extra public toilets, taxis and buses, and their drivers to come from? If we need bigger buses, can the roads cope? Will more belongers or expatriates be employed, and what will they do in the off season?

Smaller ships

Instead of government spending this money (and don’t say it won’t cost a penny), the cruise lines and the BVI Tourist Board should boast in their advertising that we cater for smaller cruise ships, where the monsters can’t go, and so provide a more pleasant, less crowded atmosphere. A number of cruise lines with smaller ships already advertise like this, and smaller ships certainly have advantages in Alaska and other cruise areas.

In the budget address, the premier announced a new “environmental levy” on all people leaving the islands. Good try, but this is an increased departure tax by another name. But, hey, every passenger and every crewmember on a cruise ship leaves the VI, so shouldn’t the levy be applied to them also? That would rake in far more than would be gotten from airline and ferry passengers! The ships’ agents should be tasked with auditing the number of people on each ship and paying government accordingly.

It’s up to them how they recover the money from the cruise lines.

Incidentally, you can bet that none of this extra tax will be earmarked and spent on environmental projects, whatever they are, in the same way that in the United Kingdom the vehicle excise duty (which used to be called road tax) is not used to improve the roads, but merely goes into the treasury.

Similarly, the Air Passenger Duty (which affects us negatively) will never be used to clean up the environment, and as for the chance to offset your carbon footprint when you buy an airline ticket — don’t make me laugh.

‘Contingent liability’

The premier also said in his budget address that the Biwater contract has to be considered a “contingent liability” to the possible tune of $49 million, and that would restrict what government can allot to other capital projects. And not a peep from the opposition, which, considering the row over the “leaked” letter and the previous premier’s huffing and puffing, is surprising.

If, previously, governments had recognised that there is inflation by increasing subsidies to statutory boards, why on earth did they not acknowledge inflation by allowing water, electricity and taxes to increase accordingly? The public would not be crying hurt so much if that had been done.

Revenue-wise, the Ministry of Education gets by far the biggest slice of the pie. And what do we get for that? Rundown school buildings, underachieving students not educated enough to fill the types of jobs available.

Unfulfilled promises

Now, a couple of reminders to the public and government of how promises are not fulfilled.

1. Communications and Works Minister Mark Vanterpool promised that within a year of coming into office (i.e. now) every house would have been provided with energy efficient, long life, light bulbs. Has that happened? Is it going to happen any time soon? Where can I collect mine?

2. We were told that all plastic bags in supermarkets would be phased out by July of this year. I see no sign of that happening, though some shops are giving a 10-cent discount for providing our own bags.

3. Thirty-two doctors and 200 nurses for the new hospital (if it ever happens) to cover a population of 30,000. The mind boggles! Filipinos, Cubans, Indians and Africans must be filling in their application forms already! Are the existing private clinics and staff to be taken over or phased out?

Health insurance

I still don’t see how a national health insurance system can work here with such a small population base. Medical costs increase hugely year on year, and contributions will need to be way beyond the reach of most wage earners. Either that or government will go bust subsidising it.

So the Department of Motor Vehicles spent 50 percent of its income from licences, etcetera, collecting them! It doesn’t say whether that included salaries.

We might just as well do what they do in France: You pay a one-time fee when you buy a new car and that lasts its lifetime, regardless of the number of owners. Tax is collected through gas costs.

Oh, and please tell us again: What management skills does the good pastor have?

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