Although a board was appointed in May to oversee the new Trade Commission, the statutory body has not started functioning due to longstanding delays caused by a shortage of human resources and funding, according to Deputy Premier Lorna Smith.
“The cost of running the [Department of Trade, Investment Promotion and Consumer Affairs] is something like $800,000, and the cost projected for the first year of running a Trade Commission is $1.7 or $1.8 million,” Ms. Smith told opposition member Marlon Penn during a question-and-answer session in the House of Assembly on Sept. 7. “I’m talking about a large amount of planning. My concern is to make sure that the people of the [Virgin Islands] receive value for money.”
Mr. Penn also asked Ms. Smith — who is the minister of financial services, labour and trade — when the commission is expected to be operational. She said she was unable to provide a specific timeframe, adding that she anticipates a discussion on the financial and human resources constraints in a “subsequent session” of the HOA.
Mr. Penn pressed further, asking again why the board is still not functional.
Ms. Smith said the Virgin Islands Trade Commission Act 2020 provides for the establishment of the Trade Commission, which is tasked with the mandate to “promote and oversee business, trade, investment and consumer affairs.”
The HOA passed the act in June 2020 along with the Consumer Protection Act 2020, requiring the establishment of the new statutory agency to be overseen by a seven-person board.
Under then-Premier Andrew Fahie in March 2022, the Cabinet appointed a board headed by Chairman Michael Fay and Deputy Chairwoman Sasha Hodge.
But last October under Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley, Cabinet rescinded that decision without explanation. Then, on March 15 of this year, Cabinet approved the appointment of a new board headed by Chairman Dr. Jerry Smith and Deputy Chairman John Cline.
This month, Ms. Smith cited “significant challenges” hindering the commission’s “effective functioning.”
Dr. Wheatley added to Ms. Smith’s response in the HOA, stating that the transition from a department to a statutory body required a “certain period of transition.”
“Operations are not transferred to the statutory body completely until the statutory body has been set up,” the premier explained. “It should be expected that the Trade Department would continue to process trade applications and provide other services to the businesses until the point where the Trade Commission is set up. The Trade Commission has a board, and they cannot operate and serve the business community until they are fully set up.”