LONDON MEETINGS CONSTRUCTIVE: PREMIER SAYS

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The BVI Government is leaning towards signing the UK Loan Guarantee and maintaining the new line of communication that has been established with the United Kingdom Government. These were two of the announcements made by Premier and Minister for Finance Hon. Andrew Fahie at a press conference on 17 September when he reported that his recently concluded trip to the UK was a success.

The Premier told reporters that while in the United Kingdom his delegation held a total of eight meetings with officials of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), including its Director, Mr Ben Merrick; Ministers of the UK Government – Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon who is the Minister responsible for Overseas Territories, and Minister James Doddridge from the Department for Exiting the European Union (DEXEU); Baroness Patricia J Scotland, Secretary General of the Commonwealth Secretariat; and officials of Her Majesty’s Treasury.

At this juncture Hon. Fahie noted that the aim of the trip was to gain clarity into the conditions of the loan agreement: this objective was achieved. In fact, the preliminary discussions yielded information that helped to alleviate some of the fears and concerns that were harboured. Coming out of the talks the Premier said that the negotiations are ongoing and that UK has agreed to consider proposals/suggestions that the government will put forward on September 27.

One of the major concerns echoed prior to the trip by the Premier was the worry that a loan would put the Territory outside of the debt ratio stipulated in the Protocol for Effective Financial Management. This – the Premier said – was given a favouable consideration by the UK: “The UK Government stated that it is prepared to work with the BVI Government on coming back into compliance with the debt ratio if borrowing on the loan guarantee would cause the BVI to exceed the ratios,” Hon. Fahie disclosed.

As it relates to the other concerns in the agreement the Premier says that most concerns fall under the heading of “verbiage” as he noted that the manner in which the document is written does not bring clarity to certain issues. In noting that concern Hon. Fahie said: “Most of what will take place if we don’t check on the verbiage and have it spelt out may not affect this generation, but generations to come – it will. Like I asked already in terms of the verbiage of some of what we received.”

“We are still in live negotiations with the United Kingdom because we are still holding fast to some of our areas and we are bringing the proposals forward; and we are going to be still in the discussions. They have made the Treasury accessible to us with discussions to carry on. Some areas we have seen right away that there is common grounds … other areas we are still in discussion and we will see how it goes,” the Premier said.

In consideration that FCO Director Merrick mentioned in a 2 September publicly released letter that the Territory needed to inform whether or not the BVI wishes to proceed with the UK’s offer of a loan guarantee by 30 September, the Premier was asked about the status of the deadline. The Premier told the media that a mention of the deadline was made during the UK meeting: “We spoke to the FCO on this and one of the areas of bringing it (proposal) in the 27 (September) is to see if we can make the deadline; to see if we come together in one accord with all the areas that are still under negotiation. One thing I can say with them is that they have said that whatever adjustments needed to be made, to make sure that we try to iron out those areas that they are going to work on,” Hon. Fahie said.

“In anything you have target dates that are set and we are working towards those targets, but at the same time the windows and doors are open for us to continue discussion,” the Premier disclosed.

UK Relations and The Governor

In the last days concerns about the Governor and Premier’s relations and by extension the relationship of the BVI were raised. These concerns stemmed from the fact that the Premier during the 2 September House of Assembly mentioned conversation with the Governor where he questioned if the Governor should be included in the UK trip. The other concern came from a letter that was made public by FCO Director Ben Merrick which stated that the BVI/UK relationship has deteriorated.

However, on Tuesday the BVI Leader hinted that both relationships were intact. As it relates to the Governor, he pointed out that the Governor participated in the UK meetings:  “Attending two of the meetings regarding the loan guarantee conditions was His Excellency the Governor, Mr. Augustus Jaspert, whom I also wish to thank for his involvement with my team during these discussions and for arranging the itinerary to facilitate the deliberations between the Virgin Islands Government and the FCO,” Hon. Fahie said.

As it relates to the relationship with the UK, Hon. Fahie said: “Our disagreement, or difference of opinion, or difference of interpretations was always with what can we get out of it in the best interest of the people of the Virgin Islands. That has been our sole intent…I don’t ever see the relationship as one that’s bad with the UK and ourselves, but if you are telling me that I must always agree with your point of view because we are friends — that is not a friend. That is more as the old people say ‘if someone agrees with everything that you do that is not a friend that is a hypocrite.’ When you can agree to disagree; that is where good relationship and sound good governance comes in. I respect your position you respect mine; and that’s what the Virgin Islands government is doing,” Hon. Fahie added.

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