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Response to VI Recovery & Development Plan

Mitsy J. Ellis-Simpson, entrepreneur and author, has shared her views on the Virgin Islands' recovery and development plan. Photo: Provided
Chart 1: Sub-Sector Data - Five Year Plan, Funds Allocation per Term (%). Photo: Provided
Chart 1: Sub-Sector Data - Five Year Plan, Funds Allocation per Term (%). Photo: Provided
Chart 2: Infrastructure – 5 Year Recovery & Development Plan Analysis. Photo: Provided
Chart 2: Infrastructure – 5 Year Recovery & Development Plan Analysis. Photo: Provided
Chart 3: Human & Social Services – 5 Year Recovery & Development Plan Analysis. Photo: Provided
Chart 3: Human & Social Services – 5 Year Recovery & Development Plan Analysis. Photo: Provided
Chart 4: Governance – 5 Year Recovery & Development Plan Analysis. Photo: Provided
Chart 4: Governance – 5 Year Recovery & Development Plan Analysis. Photo: Provided
Chart 5: National Resources & Climate Change – 5 Year Recovery & Development Plan Analysis. Photo: Provided
Chart 5: National Resources & Climate Change – 5 Year Recovery & Development Plan Analysis. Photo: Provided
Chart 6: BVI Recovery & Development Plan by Sector. Photo: Provided
Chart 6: BVI Recovery & Development Plan by Sector. Photo: Provided
Table: Funds Allocation Table by Sub-Sector. Photo: Provided
Table: Funds Allocation Table by Sub-Sector. Photo: Provided
Mitsy J. Ellis-Simpson

It is with great interest and concern that I hereby provide my views on the proposed recovery and development plan (the “Plan”) for the [British] Virgin Islands (the “BVI”, the “Territory”) that I love and cherish. I have examined the situation of the Territory prior to the unprecedented weather conditions that occurred from August – September 2017 up to its current state. I have also looked at potentials for the future.

For this purpose, I have placed greater attention on risk management and the recovery aspect of the Plan. The development aspect requires a further review since it creates significant expenditure and commitments that will be inherited for a very long time.

In my findings, I am of the opinion that great thought was given to the Plan by the selected Recovery and Development Plan Committee which should be commended for their work. However, I believe the Plan lacks vital and transparent information and a clear proposal in several areas. Clarity and specifics are extremely important especially in this time where the resources for checks and balances have been compromised. Some detailed information was withheld which I’m sure can be made available to the public for clarity.

I am a firm believer that the people of the VI comes first and so I agree with the Plan that our people are our greatest asset. On this note, I want to reiterate that it’s in our best interest to utilise the expertise of our people, meaningfully, from the outset so we are all in this together to better position our country for prosperity.

My preliminary comments on risk management and the environment follows:

1. Invest in Disaster Risk Insurance to Strengthen Resilience

One of the greatest adjustment the Territory has to make is in the area of disaster risk management in order to strengthen our resilience in the short, medium and long term. People need to have the confidence that as a country we are considering risk mitigation while we aim to recover and develop. With an escalating debt and increased fiscal need, the Reserve Fund is simply inadequate to protect us against major disasters which evidently can increase financial demands post-disaster. Additional disaster risk investment can provide immediate assistance to persons affected by a disaster and minimise the burden on our Government and its reliance on loans and donations at the outset. Some of these natural disasters are being brought about due to climate change, therefore, the time is now to review the country’s risk strategy and get additional coverage. Such coverage can immediately assist with providing meals, help persons with damaged and destroyed homes, help small and medium sized businesses, help with injured persons, deaths and job losses etc. I believe Government should also provide financial assistance to severely injured persons and families who have lost a loved one caused by a natural disaster.

A large number of our Government buildings and schools had no insurance which doesn’t help. This is something which should never be repeated. We can take the examples of other countries that were impacted by Hurricane Irma or Maria such as Dominica, Antigua and Anguilla which were all insured with the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF SPC) and received insurance payouts within 1 to 2 weeks after the hurricanes. This positioned them to respond to emergency needs fairly quickly. So while we plan, we should take this opportunity to form a dedicated disaster risk management committee to address risk mitigation for our country which will reduce the potential impacts on life, property, business and the environment. 

2. Create a meaningful business-friendly environment

It’s important that our Government creates a meaningful and an inclusive business-friendly environment going forward. In particular, I’m talking about all the small and medium size businesses that are significant contributors to job and revenue creation for the economy through investments, salaries, taxes and other government fees.

The following would help a smoother recovery and aid progress:

1. Less bureaucracy in getting things accomplished at government offices.
2. Faster turnaround time in approving job and trade applications.
3. Responsive communications rather than the constant follow ups with government offices.
4. Consulting with various industry leaders on the recovery process meaningfully.
5. Provide financial and technical support to small businesses – outside of loans.
6. Be willing to adapt to change and make sound decisions to ease the burden on small businesses which can sustain the economy.

FEEDBACK ON PROPOSALS

1. Health and Social Services - $80.14M

A detailed cost estimate should be presented to the public rather than a summarised one so persons can understand exactly how the funds are allocated. The major allocations are (i) expansion of health infrastructure and services for $23.3m, (ii) permanent housing assistance for $16.0m, (iii) social programmes and services for $10.83m and (iv) improvements to waste disposal for $10.7m. These amounts need to be further broken down for the public to understand where exactly the funds will be spent. Is it necessary to spend $23.3m on expansion in the short to medium term rather than focus on what we have lost? How much of the $80.14m allocated to health and social services is actually for recovery rather than long term development?

Please consider:

a) Improving health care on sister islands, improving emergency response and maximising use of existing health facilities.

• The health care plan should be revised. While polyclinics are essential in East and Western Tortola, please consider the current state of the health system in sister islands such as Anegada and Jost Van Dyke as a priority. Both islands are in dire need of 24-hour health care, better health facilities and adequate personnel.

• An Air Ambulance (helicopter) should be considered for purchase to better serve all the islands. It’s also necessary post disasters. Alternatively, seek a partnership that can provide such service on call if purchase is too costly.

• The new Peebles Hospital should be utilised to its fullest potential. If there are empty spaces on this building, then a better plan for its use needs to be implemented now.

• Great attention needs to be given to Assisted Living. The Adina Donovan Home, for example, is in poor condition. I feel the country can do much better in taking care of our seniors.

2. Social Protection

Please consider:

a) Increasing payouts to 6-12 months under the Public Assistance Grant Programme

Three months payout is not enough for many persons. The health and well-being of our people is of utmost importance. In this regard, the duration of the Public Assistance Grant should be increased from 3 months to a minimum of 6 months and even up to 12 months on a case by case basis. It’s still a financial struggle for many persons who have lost their jobs and practically everything. So, this is a mere $800 - $1,200 per family for 6-12 months; an average of about $12m in expenditure for the well-being of our people. It would be good to know that a significant amount of our recovery funds were spent directly on our people, giving them a chance to restore their lives with less struggle.

b) Implementing short term plan for adequate shelters

Some of the emergency shelters (government and non-government owned) were damaged. However, there’s a $0.00 allocation towards repairing shelters on the cost estimate, which appears to be an error. It is important that adequate shelters are repaired prior to the next hurricane season.

c) Implementing short term plan to operate Disaster Management Office

A new building to house the Disaster Management Office (DDM) should be listed as a part of the short to medium term Recovery Plan with state of the art mechanisms in place for their effective operation. However, a short term plan is necessary for this department to function in the interim. Please considering sharing a more detailed cost estimate to the public for transparency and the comfort of our people.

d) Dissemination of information between DDM and the public needs improvement.

3. Housing Solution Plan needs to be clear

Implementing a range of housing solutions for over 5,200 displaced persons with estimated cost of $522m as suggested by the Plan is quite a broad and unclear undertaking. More information is required here as to how persons will be assisted and in what sort of timeframe. Housing is critical to the overall economy and well-being of our people.

4. Education (Schools) - $43.59M

Again, a detailed cost estimate should be presented to the public rather than a summarised one so persons understand how the funds are allocated for each area. Major allocations are (i) repairs to public schools for $13.57m, (ii) major repairs to public schools for $20.5m and (iii) recreational facilities for $3.3m. All these amounts need to be broken down so we understand what applies to which school and which recreational facility. Because this area is not clear, I’m unable to also determine if any other significant buildings were left out. For instance, the Virgin Gorda library also needs repair and I am uncertain if it’s in the Plan.

The short term, and medium term plan do not seem feasible as outlined on Appendix II. The education estimate indicates that only a quarter of the work ($10.51m of the $43.66m) will be done in the first 18 months of implementation. This cannot be accurate as the schools are critical to the recovery process. I would expect the bulk of $43.66m to be spent within that period to get the schools up and running as quickly as possible.

5. Pride and Cultural

Reopening museums is vital. A national library, which should fall under the education sector, is long needed in Road Town and should be a focus for the short term planning. Planning a multi-purpose building in town to house museums, performing arts and a national library, as suggested by the Plan, does not seem practical and is not necessary for recovery at this stage.

I believe that historical sites, parks, gardens and signs should be reviewed for heritage tourism and for our own pride and identity. Some sites to look at are: Virgin Islands Folk Museum, Distilleries and Forts, Old Government House Museum, Noel Lloyd Statue and Park, Sir Olva Georges Statue and Plaza, Botanical Garden, Sugarworks Museum, Sir Rupert Briercliffe Hall, Sunday Morning Well to name a few.

It’s my opinion that the Old Post Office building can be remodeled for something in the area of pride and culture.

6. Infrastructure

Again here I think more information is needed other than the summarised cost estimate. Additionally, in reviewing the Plan, I do not think enough work will be done in the short term to fix the roads. If you look at the allocation to roads for $56.35m, only $14m of this will be spent within 18 months. This is only 25% of what is allocated. $19.38m will be spent in 18-36 months and $22.98 will be spent in 36+ months. In my opinion, the roads should be fixed with a greater speed similar to Electricity. We have to take country pride into consideration as well as tourism and the safety of our people driving on the roads. It also appears that seaports, water and sewerage will be addressed in a staggered timeframe. It could be that the bulk of funds that are allocated in the 36+ month bracket are for development and not recovery. Please review the order of priority in this area so we have good infrastructure to be proud of. I believe clarity is really needed as it appears that some major sub-sectors under infrastructure are not being given the priority that is needed in the short to medium term.

7. Business and Economy

To follow up on infrastructure, it’s noted under business and economy that infrastructure was in theory mentioned as a priority to encourage the return of business. This is wonderful, but it is not reflected in the cost estimate presented in the Plan nor is the level of work that will be required to get the infrastructure in a better order.

In relation to tourism, I believe more can be achieved in enhancing our tourism product which was the largest contributor to the economy. One way is that the Government should consider embarking on an authentic BVI brand programme as it relates to heritage tourism, cultural and traditional values. Consider opening an Art and Craft Education Centre. I believe we can create an art and craft industry that can generate good revenue. Policies should be put in place to govern this industry as it relates to raw material use, production, branding, packaging, innovation, promotion, marketing and profitability. The reality now is that majority of the crafts that are seen in the VI are imported. We can have items that depict for instance, the turtle dove, Anegada iguana, national dress, historical landmarks, flag, map, sloop etc. The Craft Alive vendors and shops geared towards tourism should have an input in this undertaking that would improve economic activity. Tourism is one of our twin pillars and it would be good to work on improving heritage tourism to generate income for our people and country.

The VI should also attract international investors, carefully, for some of the country’s capital projects. The Territory certainly doesn’t want to look like a borrowing machine for every major undertaking. Promoting the country in the area of trade and commerce and forging strategic partnerships will help our economy. Areas that can be looked at are agriculture and fisheries, water and sewerage, hospitality, telecommunications and some sort of economic zone for international companies to set up physical offices in the VI to spur job creation.

Work time and business revenues are lost due to poor internet and telephone connection. Data charges is a big problem that needs to be tackled. Residents are not getting value for money. This is an area that requires meaningful Government intervention.

9. Agriculture and farming

Please refer to comments under business and economy. I see Agriculture as more of a development issue rather than a recovery issue given the limited amount of agriculture we produced before the weather events. This area requires great exploration as to how we can achieve sustainability. I believe the country should seek international partnership to develop this industry to make it sustainable. Therefore, money spent here should go beyond recovery.

OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS:

1. The youths are our future. Revitalise and engage the Virgin Islands Youth Parliament in the decision making process.

2. Have a mandatory evacuation plan in place for any serious disaster threat. Persons may need to evacuate for medical reasons for instance or simply just to save lives.

3. Development of our country is vital and I look forward to having more information on the proposed expansion of the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport. However, I do not view this capital project as a part of the recovery process as suggested in the Plan. If we do not have a solid investor then this capital project could be on hold for a while. I note that $50m was allocated on the cost estimate for the short term which may indicate more information could be forthcoming. If you separate this capital project from the Plan presented to the public, then the suggested financial needs is really in the region of $500m less any other development/expansion projects that are being proposed.

Please refer to the charts attached for further data. Again, information presented in the Plan is limited and the short and medium term allocation for certain critical areas is of some concern. I’m aware that funds are being sought and this will obviously be critical for the execution of a successful plan.

15 Responses to “Response to VI Recovery & Development Plan”

  • Teacher (07/02/2018, 14:30) Like (8) Dislike (3) Reply
    Wow good stuff but toonly long
    • confused (07/02/2018, 15:19) Like (6) Dislike (15) Reply
      Why did she feel the need to publish her views in the media? Why is this news? There aren others who have contributed much more to this territory and who have submitted their opinions/ feedback on the plan. Not sure why this news.
      • @confused (08/02/2018, 14:15) Like (13) Dislike (1) Reply
        She might be another possible political candidate.
      • @ Confused (08/02/2018, 14:26) Like (2) Dislike (5) Reply
        You sound Jealous rather than confused. Why did you feel the need to type your views in comment in the media about what she wrote ?
      • dog (12/02/2018, 12:46) Like (1) Dislike (0) Reply
        It's called an editorial and it is important to hear and read ideas that get others thinking about the bigger picture.
        Too bad government isn't as forthcoming about plans. Also- I would like to see development plans published in the papers so citizens can comment and see what is going on instead of being surprised with an ugly building blocking their views and driveways. It's called transparency and communication.
  • ------------------------------------ (07/02/2018, 19:09) Like (10) Dislike (0) Reply
    very good points
  • The real Boo (07/02/2018, 21:42) Like (6) Dislike (0) Reply
    Winning the long game is more important than the short one.
  • Dwight (08/02/2018, 09:12) Like (10) Dislike (0) Reply
    Excellent article
  • BoSang (08/02/2018, 10:54) Like (0) Dislike (6) Reply
    nothing to say about the prodigal department Immigration? Hmm you of all person Ms. Misty?
  • B (08/02/2018, 11:07) Like (9) Dislike (0) Reply
    Great article and inputs.
  • kudos (08/02/2018, 21:14) Like (9) Dislike (0) Reply
    This commentary is an excellent demonstration of constructive criticism, with charts to boot! It is important that we ensure that our comments are heard one way or another since we will all have to deal with the consequences. A better plan means a better BVI. Kudos on a job well done.
  • Neha (08/02/2018, 21:24) Like (7) Dislike (0) Reply
    Excellent


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