During last year’s election campaigns, now-Premier Andrew Fahie vigorously opposed the incumbents’ plan to extend the Beef Island runway as soon as possible, insisting that the effort should not be an immediate priority at a time when so many urgent recovery projects were not completed.
But while delivering his annual First District address on Saturday, Mr. Fahie appeared to signal a change of heart.
“While we are having discussions on lengthening the runway at Beef Island — which is a must — your government at the same time is encouraging airlines to add us to their routes,” he told cheering attendees during the annual event at the Cappoons Bay Recreational Area.
The premier also said government is already encouraging airlines to add the territory to their routes. Shortly before Christmas, a Titan Airways Airbus 318 flew here nonstop from Canada, he said, adding that it was the largest commercial aircraft with passengers to touch down on Beef Island.
“When that plane landed, what also landed was opportunities,” he said. “Airlines that previously overlooked the BVI because they were not sure our infrastructure could accommodate their aircraft are now rethinking their position.”
The BVI Airports Authority is also discussing new flights with Caribbean Airlines, he said. Flights from Beef Island currently reach 14 destinations, mostly through interCarribean Airways, according to the website flightsfrom.com.
“So we do not have to wait until the runway is extended,” the premier said. “We can maximise what we have in our hands in the meantime.”
Government is also working to modernise technology at ports of entry on Tortola, both by air and by sea, he said.
“We are working with the BVI authorities to get that 600 acres of land on Beef Island for this territory so that we can develop those lands, which would also provide additional income and opportunities for the territory,” he added.
Mr. Fahie also gave updates on schools in his district.
A donor recently came forward to support the construction of a new building for the Isabella Morris Primary School, he said.
Though he did not name the donor, he said, “The building will be done with green and Smart building strategies to ensure generations will benefit tremendously.”
Mr. Fahie added that crews also tackled the mould problem at Leonora Delville Primary School.
As someone who grew up in the territory, he also said he was happy to see the Bambelela Homework programme make a comeback last August after being suspended due to Hurricane Irma.
“Bambelela, which means ‘never give up,’ is a First District homework study programme,” he said. “It’s still going strong, with over 40 students currently enrolled.”
Mr. Fahie said the First District-sponsored Bambelela bus service is also going strong, and he encouraged representatives in other districts to promote similar tutoring programmes.
Construction on the West End Community Centre is ongoing as well, he said.
“It will soon be in full use, where the community can once again use it as a social hub and emergency shelter,” he added.
He also promised progress on rebuilding the Abraham Leonard Community Centre in Carrot Bay.
Meanwhile, the port facilities at the West End dock have “come back to life” in a temporary structure, Mr. Fahie said.
“Business in the west has been revived,” he adding, citing increased taxi rentals and vendor sales.
Regarding the Pockwood Pond incinerator, which has not functioned since a fire in November 2018, Mr. Fahie said a needed control panel is now installed.
“Within two weeks’ time, the consultant will be here, in full bloom,” he said. “In two weeks, it will be fully functional.”
Mr. Fahie also noted progress on bridge testing and other transportation projects, and he expressed dismay after learning about vandalism at the newly refurbished basketball court in Carrot Bay.
“That is not who we are, and that is not what we do,” he said. “We build communities. We don’t destroy them.”
Looking to the future, Mr. Fahie said he encourages VI residents to embrace creative business ideas. The VI, he explained, can’t necessarily rely on the financial services industry as it once did.
“We have to take charge of expanding our horizons,” he said. “Our people must be equipped to grab the opportunities that will flow as our economy picks up.”
The premier also pushed to put the VI on the forefront of other industries, such as green energy.
Additionally, Mr. Fahie highlighted ongoing efforts to cultivate a marijuana crop on Tortola. Though it is not legal to possess or sell the drug in the VI, the government plans to help facilitate a 40-acre crop in Paraquita Bay tended by local farmers. Government would also pursue creating a lab to verify the product’s quality and full medicinal potential, he said.
Mr. Fahie also reiterated his promise of filling 1,000 jobs in 1,000 days.
Joining him on the stage were the four other government ministers and two junior ministers.
“I think it goes without saying that while the premier is the leader of government and deserves massive respect for that, one of his greatest accomplishments starts a little more humbly, right here in the First District,” said Junior Minister of Trade and Investment Promotion Shereen Flax-Charles. “As a Virgin Gordian myself, having come up in the shadow of the late great Uncle Ralph [O’Neal], I intimately understand the significance of a district continually trusting one representative to fulfill their dreams and safeguard their interests.”
Ms. Flax-Charles said she is eager to bring the VI’s cultural vibrancy and diversity to local commerce. High on her agenda is developing a stronger entertainment industry.
“I look forward to rolling out with the premier a number of dynamic initiatives that I have no doubt you, the trendsetters in the First District, will be quick to be part of,” she told attendees.
Change was also promised in the arena of immigration and labour.
Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration Minister Vincent Wheatley said he is introducing initiatives to streamline those processes.
He aims to bring the departments “back into the 21st Century,” so VI residents can spend more time focused on their business, he explained.
Deputy Premier Carvin Malone, the minister of health and social development, gave an update on recovery efforts for people still struggling after the hurricane.
“We have set a course where we can get you back into your homes,” Mr. Malone said. “[Mr. Fahie] made sure that he made additional funds available so … you can get some material assistance.”
Referencing the video of Irma’s destruction, he said, “We had a long journey back.”
Mr. Malone said his department will focus on getting accreditation for the newly renamed Dr. Orlando Smith Hospital and making sure visitors get top-notch service. He also called for a revised National Health Insurance policy and measures to ensure that elderly residents receive the best care.
“We have to make sure that you are better served,” he said. “The intent is good, but we have to make sure that the delivery is proper and you are enriched in every way possible.”