Good day and God’s blessing to all of you and my heartfelt prayer that you remain safe and secure in these special times.
The Government of the Virgin Islands and the entire Public Service has been exceptionally busy these past weeks to secure the health and well-being of our people.
At the same time, we have been focused on securing our economy.
I wanted to assure you that, very much central to every action that we take and every decision that we make is our mandate as your leaders, to still be as responsive and as responsible as we can be in managing our economy for now and the future.
In that vein, I felt it important to take the time from my hectic schedule both to thank and to reassure all those persons in our financial services sector who keep the engine of the BVI’s financial services industry turning.
As I am one who likes to get things in the right order, let me first take this opportunity to offer my sincere expressions of thanks.
Your Government wants to let you know that our care and concern for our financial services industry is real as we recognise its importance to us.
We are thankful to you for the structured way in which you have put your business continuity plans into place again.
Whilst we would not say that you had to ‘dust them off’ (as they were put to an equally vigourous test only two years ago), your level of preparedness to date has been calm, orderly and admirable.
I have called persons in the financial industry to chat with them for their input and ideas on the way forward now. We are thankful that most of you have not yet realised the need to slim your staff complement.
We will get through this together as one BVI.
We are incredibly grateful for the contribution you are making and the efforts being made to keep our financial services industry going and to keep the BVI’s global business open.
We are also grateful to your industry partners globally, many of whom are in Asia, and your Government would like to thank them for their invaluable partnership with BVI over the past decades.
Please let them know that they are in our thoughts daily and wish them a speedy and healthy recovery. Whilst they may be self-isolating, they are certainly not alone for we are with them, supporting them in any way we can.
My other mission to you today is to reassure you that BVI financial services is open for business.
You, through your actions, are making that possible every day. I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know that we are listening to you, and that we hear you as well.
My Cabinet has just approved the Financial Services (Exceptional Circumstances) Bill which will shortly be introduced into the House of Assembly.
When passed, there will be a legislative mechanism that can be immediately called into action to make special and urgent provision for the temporary disruption in the local financial services industry to occur in an orderly fashion if the time comes when it is necessary for you to do so.
The same law will allow you to relocate in BVI or elsewhere, and will also modify the application of certain regulatory obligations to you in the event that exceptional circumstances have been declared.
We want to assure you that the industry would be able to continue to operate under certain circumstances, and in a reasonable manner, without the fear of penalty.
As we continue to listen to you, we have heeded your concerns about the level of preparedness of our telecommunications infrastructure.
This is a real concern, not only in BVI but globally, as you will now be competing for internet services with thousands of students being schooled from home, thousands of others working from home, and the thousands of other anxious family members who are trying to stay in touch with relatives overseas.
However, even before the advent of COVID-19, you would have heard me recently in the House of Assembly on the motion to appoint a new Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC), give a very clear and unconditional mandate to these persons to do what it takes to give the BVI the improved telecommunications network that it needs.
I asked them to leave no stone unturned – and I meant it.
While the borders are closed for 14 days, communications remains frequent and I have given the mandate to TRC for the broadband to be the level that is needed if it means bringing in another entity.
I will spare no efforts to ensure this.
More recently, I had the leaders of all the telecommunications providers speak to the financial services industry at a session hosted by BVI Finance a couple of weeks ago and every single one of them has assured us that they have strengthened their systems to minimise congestion on their networks in anticipation of the heightened use of people working remotely.
Businesses must be able to continue efficiently especially those working from home. I have called up a few industry leaders to gather their views and suggestions and to reassure them that the economy of the BVI will not stop.
We ask you, however, to use the systems responsibly and to be considerate in your usage, bearing in mind at all times that others are also trying to work remotely.
Also consider working sometimes at nights.
But, overall, my plea is for you to try to reduce unnecessary use of the telecommunications systems.
As one of the telecommunications representatives at the meeting succinctly stated, “the internet is not infinite”.
We will continue to engage with your global clients and let them know that you are still available to provide services that they may need.
Although you may not be able to have in-person meetings, you can still have remote face-to-face meetings with colleagues, as well as clients, using various technologies at your disposal.
When working remotely, keep your staff safe and your systems secure.
Key staff should be designated to carry on business functions and be equipped with the resources to do so from varying locations.
When working from home or other remote locations away from your offices, we ask you to make sure that you are sending and receiving data via the most secure platforms and that you observe the security protocols required to do this business.
This is critically important to our financial services industry because of the often sensitive nature of business and of clients’ confidential information in your protective care. We ask that you communicate regularly with your global clients and partners, but that you do so securely.
In my quest to support you, I have also ensured that all the key Government bodies and agencies that you rely on remain available to you.
The BVI Financial Services Commission is currently operating its own business continuity programme and taking steps necessary to continue to provide service to the industry.
The Commission is facilitating remote transaction processing from its BVI and HK offices.
Access to the Commission’s VIRRGIN service remains available for the usual range of services.
Additionally, a wider range of certificates have been made available via electronic delivery to meet the needs of clients globally.
Firms who require additional assistance are encouraged to contact the Commission.
The Commission has issued various communication to the industry and industry practitioners are asked to continue to monitor the Commission’s communication channels for pertinent information regarding operations.
The International Tax Authority (ITA) has activated its business continuity plan, and continues to work to honour its continuing international obligations where possible.
The ITA should shortly issue a statement to confirm that some consideration will be given to those entities that cannot meet certain economic substance obligations due to travel disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic. Confidentiality and data safeguards remain critical also for the ITA’s functioning and strict security measures continue to apply to all remote working.
BVI Finance is devising a number of strategies to engage with the industry to help communicate the BVI’s messages globally via various digital platforms.
These will help the industry to remain proactive and on the front foot during this time of limited mobility and in-person interactions.
At Cabinet, we agreed that apostilles are an essential service. As a Government, we will continue to provide that service under a controlled environment. The Deputy Governor’s Office endeavor to have these digitally provided and will let you know more about this in due course.
It is important that I let you know that BVI Finance has also issued a COVID-19 Business Continuity Guide which you should find useful. BVI Finance is also continuing its efforts for marketing and promoting the jurisdiction globally on your behalf.
The Financial Services Institute has switched the delivery of all FSI classes from face-to-face format to delivery by distance using online technologies.
Our court system as part of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, is using teleconference and video technology for hearings.
The BVI is proud to have a robust network of experienced professionals who remain available using the most modern technologies to do BVI business from their locales in Asia, North America, South America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and around the world.
While we maintain substance in the jurisdiction, our financial services industry has the built-in infrastructure to allow people to do BVI business from anywhere in the world and to do so via the most advanced technologies.
We live in the digital era and we want you to continue to communicate to our trusted partners from the world’s leading corporate firms, trust companies, law firms and accounting firms, as well as others involved in this industry, that the BVI’s global business is still open.
Above all, let me end how I began – with words of thanks. We are truly thankful that we have our health.
The virus has had a major impact on international business and the global economy and as a consequence, we as an international finance centre has been equally impacted.
There is no doubt in my mind that while the business cycle rests, there will come a time in the coming months when it will reset and the pent-up demand within the world’s economy will be release.
We are truly thankful that BVI is still in business and the best place to do business now is the BVI.
What we are doing is taking the precautionary measures to ensure that all sectors of this economy are able to reopen.
The financial services industry remains buoyant.
This is what we are trying to preserve.
This is why your Government has been working around the clock to put in place measures that will ensure that we, by the Grace of God, will be alive and healthy when this pandemic passes.
And this too shall pass.