From next Monday 8 January the Government will be seeking public opinion on its Disaster Recovery plan. Meanwhile, Leader of the Opposition and First District Representative, Hon. Andrew Fahie has described the proposed consultation as an after-thought because critical decisions such as major loans had already been made.
The public meetings were announced by Premier and Minister for Finance Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith on 14 December during the Twelfth Sitting of the Second Session of the Third House of Assembly. At that time the Premier said the views of the public on its proposals for the recovery of the British Virgin Islands in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria and the early August tropical wave that affected the Territory were needed. These views were deemed essential as it relates to setting out top priority actions for the recovery of the BVI.
However, the Leader of the Opposition did not share the views on the urgency of the proposed meetings as he announced in a statement issued on 27 December that the call was a “sham.” Hon. Fahie declared: “The current process of this government to seek input from the people of the Virgin Islands on the recovery plan is just a ‘sham’. It is an after-thought.”
In explaining why he referred to the consultation meetings in such manner the Leader of the Opposition said: “The NDP Government negotiated loans outside the Territory on our behalf for the recovery process and informed us only when the final approval had to be sought by the House of Assembly. This means that even after hurricane Irma, they continue to behave as if it is business as usual.”
“Case in point the $65million loan that was recently approved in the House of Assembly with a bare minimum majority. Most elected Members had absolutely no clue about the details of the $65million loan with CDB, nor that it was being negotiated on our behalf.”
In further noting that the public is being kept in the dark, Hon. Fahie said: “Present and future generations are now bound by the decision when none of us, to date, know what the detailed plans of this loan are”.
Hon. Fahie suggests that “There is no accountability and transparency in the actions of this fovernment. In addition, all indicators seem to suggest that all the arms of government with the Constitutional responsibility to ensure accountability, transparency and good governance in the financial conduct of this Administration have gone to sleep since this government has taken office,” Hon. Fahie said.
He explained that the expenditures from the recently approved $65 million CDB loan as well as the transparency in the way of contracts will be awarded from the proceeds of the mentioned loan needs to be examined closely and monitored even closer.
“The only time this government provides financial reports is when they want to tell a one-sided story by fabricating information to make them look good and everyone else who challenges them on their poor financial conduct be looked upon in a negative light.”
Further Mr. Fahie said that the people of the Virgin Islands must demand more involvement from policy makers before major decisions are made on behalf of the people especially when it involves sizable loan funds.
Premier Smith explained that the recovery vision is for a stronger, smarter, greener and better BVI that is more resilient and sustainable. This plan, he said is government’s roadmap for the BVI’s recovery vision. “By following it, we hope to get back to a state of normalcy in the short term and to a stronger and more resilient BVI in the longer term,” Hon. Smith said.
“At the core of our recovery plans is the rebuilding of the lives of the people of the Virgin Islands. As such, Human and Social Services is one of the key areas of focus for the government. We are working to ensure that our homes are rebuilt in a timely manner, and to resilient standards, and that our education and health facilities are similarly restored and developed,” the Premier added.
The Premier and Minister of Finance also pointed out that: “Government is committed to contributing $58.9M and is seeking $52.7M from grants, $221.7M from loans, $331.4M from private/NGO/Statutory sources and $56.7M from insurance payouts.”
It was also mentioned that government is negotiating with a number of potential donors and lenders to secure sustainable financing. “The UK has already pledged a loan guarantee of up to £300M in lending and to provide a grant of £10 million. We are also currently in discussions with Caribbean Development Bank about borrowing an initial USD$65 million for rehabilitation purposes,” the Premier said.
On 20 December the House of Assembly approved the borrowing of a sum not exceeding $65,291,000 from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) for the purpose of rehabilitating and assisting the Territory in recovering from the impact of hurricane Irma. However, the vote for the loan was not unanimous among the 13 members.
In fact only six members voted in favor of the loan. While Junior Minister for Trade Hon. Marlon Penn and Sixth District Representative, Hon. Alvera Maduro Caines abstained from the vote.
On the other hand Second District Representative, Hon. Melvin ‘Mitch’ Turnbull and Junior Minister for Tourism Hon. Archibald Christian were absent at the time of the vote. As Opposition Leader, Hon. Andrew Fahie, Third District Representative, Hon. Julian Fraser and Deputy Speaker Hon. Delores Christopher voted against the loan.