Within the space of three hours there were two live broadcasts presenting different opinions on how the economy of the British Virgin Islands should be reinvigorated and what the stimulus to citizens and businesses ought to look like. The dual scenario saw the Opposition holding its live press conference around 4:15 pm on 19 May. During the broadcast the Opposition parliamentarians criticized government’s response to the Covid crisis; this was followed by a live broadcast from Premier and Minister for Finance Hon. Andrew Fahie during which he slapped down the Opposition’s suggestions and chided them for their criticism.
Both the Government and the Opposition agree that the economy of the Territory needs to be boosted and both also agree that a stimulus package is needed for the troubled economy. Unfortunately, neither agrees with the suggestions of the other.
The members of the Opposition had revealed their economic recovery plan for the Territory from the day before the press conference. This articulated plan addresses the needs of the small business sector, the support to workers and families, through: unemployment benefits; income support; maintaining and supporting the financial services sector; embracing and facilitating the construction sector; developing the agriculture and fishing sector; and restarting the tourism sector.
This plan was noted during Tuesday’s press conference at which time some members of the Opposition emphasized that BVI citizens are in need of a firm announcement on not only an economic plan but also solid action on the promised stimulus package.
During the press conference Leader of the Opposition Hon. Marlon Penn said, “The discussion needs to shift now in terms of how we are going to get the economy going again. How are we going to support persons who are misplaced on their jobs…support individuals who are in a very bad position and businesses that need the support? They need to hear what the plans are moving forward.”
In reference to the pre-economic recovery plan that was revealed by the BVI Government Hon. Penn said that the plan lacked “cohesiveness” as it relates to economic recovery. In elaborating on his statement, the Opposition Leader said, “You can’t just take $12 million here and drop it over there, take $2 million here and drop it over there and there is no correlation in terms of what you are doing to stimulate workers and families, and what you are doing to move the economy at the same point. They both have to work hand in hand.”
On the other hand, senior member of the House of Assembly and Third District Representative Hon. Julian Fraser announced that he was very concerned about what the government’s pre-economic plan looks like: “This [plan]that I am looking at is concern to me; [it]has no relevance as far as stimulus is concerned. I talked about the garbage collection, substituting house-to-house collection for bin collection. That’s a trade-off, that’s not a new initiative. This particular item is not new money, this is monies that was being spent to pick up garbage anyway. I am saying that government has not addressed the issue of stimulus for the country, its people and the economy. That has not been addressed, not by what I am looking at here,” Hon. Fraser stated.
All of the Opposition members criticized Premier Fahie for taking too long to deliver his full plan. In fact, all three legislators acknowledged that the Premier promised to deliver a plan on 28 May but stated that the document is overdue.
Most critical of the delayed plan was Second District Representative Hon. Melvin Mitch Turnbull who told the media, “We were promised about a month ago that this plan was coming when we asked for a meeting with the Health Emergency Operating Center we were told that on a Thursday we would get the draft I think the meeting was on a Tuesday…that’s over a month ago; we still don’t see it.”
In further criticizing what was revealed so far by the Government Hon. Turnbull said, “… today you see seven points that were just chucked together to say that this is the response to the economic plan. This is the Government of the Virgin Islands that has a budget of $414Million. This is a government that has been elected to represent the people of this Territory since February 2019. What I see on this paper is just a bunch of numbers of things that were done. Be it some of them are good and some of them were necessary.”
In a live broadcast around 8:00pm Premier Fahie scolded the members of the Opposition and accused them of telling false truths: “It has come to my attention that Her Majesty’s tri-party Loyal Opposition has returned to their familiar strategy of engaging in propaganda, by promoting a magic-potion plan for healing all the economic wounds of COVID-19,” Premier Fahie declared.
The BVI Leader also criticized the plan that was presented by the Opposition stating, “Anyone can just list out lofty activities for millions of dollars, but the question is how will these things be paid for? Who will pay for them? This is what the tri-party Opposition and their operatives have failed to tell you the people, and it is why [their]pronouncements must be approached with extreme caution. People of the Virgin Islands are well aware that the Territory’s financial resources are not limitless, but more than that, our position is under certain constraints that were not of this Government’s making – and which your Government has been working hard to overcome over the last 15 months. Some factors were the result of poor management and poor decisions by persons before, the majority of whom now form the Opposition.”