Premier's Remarks At The Premier's Reception
My Lords, Excellences, ladies and gentleman,
It is always a pleasure to meet and greet you here at BVI House, even under the most difficult of circumstances.
Andy, I sincerely thank you for your commitment, and that of Kestrel, to the BVI and the wider Caribbean.
The close ties between the BVI and all of our UK partners, friends and supporters are more important than ever.
It is now my privilege to update you the current state of affairs in the territory.
Impact of tropical wave and hurricanes
On 6th September the BVI was hit by Hurricane Irma, a super category 5 hurricane, just as we were recovering from a tropical wave a week earlier that caused some of the worst flooding in the territory's history.
Irma brought sustained winds of 185 miles per hour and gusts of 225 miles per hour.
Four lives were lost unfortunately as a result of the storm, which was painful for our very close-knit community.
Just two weeks after Irma we were impacted by Hurricane Maria, another category 5 hurricane.
She took one life and did significant damage to our northwestern coast.
Right after each of these extreme weather events we set ourselves to the task of saving lives and cleaning up our communities, but the extent of the damage caused by Hurricane Irma meant we could not do it alone.
We received tremendous assistance and support from the UK, CARICOM, OECS, CDEMA, PAHO, UN agencies and the Red Cross in the aftermath of the hurricanes which helped to stabalise the situation.
The economic and infrastructural damage to the islands has been unprecedented.
More than 70% of housing structures were damaged or destroyed.
About 20% of the population has been displaced.
I lost my own roof to Irma and now reside elsewhere for the time being.
The tourism sector was particularly hard hit as many of our major hotels and resorts were severely damaged or destroyed.
The fleets of many of our yacht charter companies have been wiped out.
Most of these operations will not be replaced before the next tourism season or after.
Estimated damage is $3.6 billion, which is more than three times GDP that stood at just over $1 billion in 2016.
We forecast that in 2018, GDP will contract by 40% from 2016 levels.
In spite of the scale of devastation, recovery has proceeded steadily since we moved out of the initial crisis response.
We are getting back on our feet as power is being restored, telecom service expanded and essential business services resumed.
Public services are also again being delivered. Children are back in school and our hospital continues to function.
The financial services industry and our courts are now temporarily operating from other jurisdictions, ensuring we continue to have a stream of revenue to support our recovery.
The marine side of our tourism sector is beginning to see signs of activity as efforts are made to open yachting for business in the 2017-2018 tourism season.
There is no doubt that the situation remains challenging, but progress is being made.
We intend to build on this progress with the plans we are completing for recovery and reconstruction.
We want to see the BVI become one of the most energy efficient, highly networked, accessible, environmentally friendly and welcoming societies in which to live, work and visit.
Our goal is to build a BVI that is smarter, greener, better and more climate reslient so that we can withstand future super hurricanes should they come.
We will be bringing our plans to the public for their input in the weeks ahead.
I remain hopeful and optimistic about the future.
Joint Ministerial Council
I am in London this week for annual ministerial meetings between the Overseas Territories and the UK.
At the top of the agenga is disaster recovery.
I am seeking UK support for our recovery plan, which we cannot fund alone.
A mix of financial resources will be needed for reconstruction and we are exploring all options.
Just last week I attended a CARICOM-UN Pledging Conference in New York where I welcomed the support expressed for the recovery of the CARICOM Members and Associate Members impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
More widely the BVI continues to receive support of different kinds for relief, education and other purposes.
We have designed a robust governance structure to manage our recovery and will continue to work with our partners who wish to support us.
UK support will be vital to realising our plans for a smarter, greener and better BVI.
I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone here tonight for their thoughts, prayers and support throughput this ordeal: the financial services industry, tourism industry; local and international business partners, charities, diaspora groups, individuals and UK Parliamentarians.
I particularly want to thank the United Kingdom Overseas Territories Association for their support, particularly Bermuda, Cayman, Gibraltar and Falklands.
You have all stood by us during this most difficult time and we are grateful.
Thank you everyone also for your in-kind contributions and monetary donations to our relief fund which we will ensure go to where they are needed most by the people of the BVI.
I understand that there was a marvellous fundraiser last week at the Roof Gardens that netted a considerable sum.
I commend the BVI Tourist Board UK Office and BVI London Office on a job well done.
Finally, I would like to thank the members of my delegation here tonight for their tireless efforts: Hon. Mark Vanterpool, Financial Secretary Glenroy Forbes, Recovery Manager Brodrick Penn and Director of International Business Neil Smith.
I am of course grateful to the BVI London Office that has been exceptional over the past three months.
Ladies and gentleman, I ask that you continue to support us and keep us in your thoughts and prayers.
I wish you an enjoyable holiday season!