During The First Sitting Of The First Session Of The Fourth House Of Assembly
I want to start by giving God all the glory, honour and praise.
I recognise all those who have been recognised before. I also recognise the presence of all dignitaries and their spouses. But it would be remiss of me if I didn’t recognise my very good friends from the U.S Virgin Islands, Governor and Lieutenant Governor of the U.S Virgin Islands, Governor Bryan Jr., and Lieutenant Governor Roach – two very good friends of mine.
And I want to let them know that together, we will take our Virgin Islands to heights never seen before economically, socially and morally.
I also want to recognise the former Governor of the Virgin Islands, Honourable Charles Turnbull – one of our own who has graced us with his presence.
I am looking forward to doing great things with our neighbours in the USVI. Our senators and dignitaries are also here and I’ve seen some of them that I haven’t seen in a few years. Together we will do great things for the people of the Virgin Islands, both the British and U.S. Virgin Islands because we are one people, and we are one Virgin Islands.
I want to thank the people of the first district. Whenever I think of them, I get emotional. Not for a show but they took a 28-year old young man in 1999 and brought him to town and put him in the House of Assembly, the then Legislative Council.
They’ve seen me go through thick and thin, good and bad but they always knew my heart and they always knew what was good and what was bad – what was politically motivated and what was not.
I could never repay them. But gratitude is my only form of currency to my people of the first district.
But I want to state clearly, I know I am not the Premier of the First District, I am the Premier of the entire Virgin Islands, and I do not take this lightly- and I want to assure all that I will continue, like I’ve always said, to be steadfast and diligent in actions in the performance of my duties as the Premier of the Virgin Islands.
It would be remiss of me, if I didn’t ask everyone to just pause a minute and stand with me so that we could have a moment of silence for all our past legislators. As it is very important that we honour their legacy with a moment of silence.
To all our former legislators both present and those who are not present or all those who are still living, I also salute you, as well as your spouses, and to all I say thank you for your service.
It is upon all of your shoulders that we all stand here today.
It was Charles Darwin who said, “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change.”
Mister Speaker, since the February 25, 2019 General Elections, the Territory has witnessed change in many respects.
The composition of the House of Assembly has changed and we must manage this change with dignity and respect by adhering to the rules of law as outlined in the Standing Orders of this House of Assembly.
We must respect this Honorable House at all times. Ministers must answer all questions asked by the Opposition Members accurately, truthfully and with respect because it is the people’s work that both sides of the aisles are elected to perform and be good stewards of in every facet.
Mister Speaker, each member of the House of Assembly must also respect this Honourable House and get to the House of Assembly on time, so that the Sittings can start promptly at 10 a.m. Only then will each of us manage the change effectively.
Mister Speaker, the Government also has changed. All Members of the Government must ensure that our actions are transparent, accountable and uphold all the tenants of Good Governance. We have many tough decisions to be made and not all of our decisions will be likeable, but our decisions must be made on sound principles and law and in the best interest of the people of the Virgin Islands so that our decisions can stand the test of time. Only then, will each of us manage the change effectively. A word of caution though - although seven of my eight government members were never elected, does not mean that they will not be effective. This will not be business as usual, but rather business unusual, business unconventional.
Mister Speaker, the composition of the Opposition has changed. We expect the Opposition to bring balance to this Honourable House of Assembly as their role is of extreme importance in ensuring that democracy is restored in these Virgin Islands. We do not expect the Members of the Opposition to oppose just for opposing sake, but to genuinely oppose with options that can be used to best improve that which they oppose, because we are all doing the people’s work – and a good idea is a good idea, no matter where it comes from.
Mister Speaker, the Speaker of the House of Assembly has changed. Mister Speaker, I congratulate you on this new endeavour. I believe in a Virgin Islands where each of us can take our rightful place in this society. A place where grace and mercy reside. A place that offers all a second chance to our people because that is how Christ operates and we all must strive to be like HIM. This is why I am confident in the selection as Speaker in the person of Mr. Julian Willock will be one that will restore the integrity of this Honorable House. Only then will you, Mister Speaker sir, manage this change effectively.
Mister Speaker, the way Government does business in most areas will also change. What is good, we will keep it. We must serve the people, and not have the people serve us. We must keep the main thing, the main thing – which is to improve the quality of life in these Virgin Islands.It will not be about me, but about ‘we’, and fulfilling God’s purpose for the people.
We are looking forward to working with a public service that wants to make a difference, and be the difference. One that understands that they too are expected to be accountable and productive and spend only what is allocated wisely, effectively and transparently. We also must understand that the way Government did business must change for the better in many respects. Hence, being surcharged and being held accountable will be the norm and not the exception. I ask my Government to learn from the lessons of the past so that they are never repeated.
Mister Speaker, what has not changed, is the desire of each Virgin Islander to have a better quality of life in these Virgin Islands. It is for this reason that your new government must manage the expectations of our people.
We are in the process of engaging a firm to do a comprehensive forensic audit of the Finances and overall status and assessment of the Government of the Virgin Islands. This process of assessment will allow us an accurate assessment of where we are so that we can better manage expectations and build a strong foundation upon which to build upon as your new government moves forward so that the people’s work can be done.
This process will be completed within the first 100 days of office. However, this Government will remain steadfast in purpose and diligent in actions in doing the people’s work.
Your new Government will create a more-friendly business environment in the Virgin Islands. I want the world to know that these Virgin Islands under this new government is open for transparent and accountable business that will build our Territory in positive and lucrative areas never seen or heard of before.
Mister Speaker, I want the world to know that the Virgin Islands is open for business especially in the hospitality industry and all linkage industries which include but are not limited to major developments in all our ports, major partnership with our friends and family in the U.S.V.I., the Caribbean region and internationally. The BVI is now open for business for our investors who are serious and are prepared to do business in keeping within good governance whether locally, regionally, or internationally – investors are now welcome. Together we will build these beautiful Virgin Islands into a great little nation. But it will take time. With God’s help we will get it done, together. A speech to give the details of the assessment will be forthcoming in the not too distant future.
We will improve our image and position locally, regionally and internationally. We will make sure that we are ONE PEOPLE, ONE BVI.
Also, we will be ONE PEOPLE, ONE CARRIBBEAN REGION! This Government will work tirelessly to make the BVI known worldwide as a tourism mega, thereby re-positioning the BVI back to prosperity for all.
We will also improve our relationship with the FCO and the UK Government overall who continue to assist the Virgin Islands in many respects especially in the Financial Services Sector. I welcome and applaud their efforts and thank them.
It is unfortunate though, that a few persons in the UK parliament are misinformed of the BVI’s roll in this sector. In this vein, this new government must ensure that we fight to protect our economy and the rights of our people under our Constitution in a manner that does not disrespect nor belittle both the UK government and the people of these Virgin Islands but rather cements unity in a modern partnership that respects the rights and aspirations of all parties. Together we will get this done.
Mister Speaker, we have been entrusted by the people of the Virgin Islands to govern in what can be termed as the most turbulent and challenging times in the history of the Virgin Islands. I am, respectfully stating, that together we will manage the change. However, I must caution all that the difficult, I will do right away; but the impossible, will take a while.
Mister Speaker, we are faced with many challenges locally and abroad specifically with Brexit, public registers, the EU with the substance issues, but with the prayers of the people of the Virgin Islands, our planning ahead, and our deep faith in God, the God of our forefathers, we will look at these problems not as giants but rather as small as grasshoppers. Respectfully, we will prevail victorious. This Government has already hit the ground running on these and other issues.
Today is one of those days as I ask you, Mister Speaker, to please bear with me to inform this Honourable House of the current situation in relations to the EU.
Mister Speaker, as I speak to the people of the Virgin Islands, I would like to let them know through this House, I am pleased to report to you, that the European Union has announced today that it recognises the BVI as compliant with its fair taxation principles as well as being a cooperative jurisdiction.
The BVI have been working closely with the European Union to meet its requirements regarding fair taxation. This milestone has been achieved due to the hard work and tireless efforts of the previous government administration and your new government.
I humbly thank you as well for your continuous prayers to the God of our forefathers regarding this matter.
So I am pleased the EU has said the BVI will not be placed on its ‘blacklist’ of non-cooperative jurisdictions for tax purposes.
This is a significant outcome – but also in some ways it is not surprising.
Why? Because the BVI has always been a jurisdiction that keeps pace with international standards. We have also cooperated closely with the EU. All governments past and present have worked tirelessly to keep the BVI in good stead in the financial sector. This has been our sacred cow across governments.
Although the BVI always has and will continue to provide substance to the global economy, the Economic Substance Act was passed to address the EU’s specific concerns. It includes the need for those companies and limited partnerships which are tax resident in the BVI to have premises, employment and expenditure located in the BVI.
This brings new opportunities where your new government intends to prepare our people to take advantage of, because the future belongs to the prepared.
As the new Leader of the BVI, I have instructed officials to continue positive engagement and discussions with EU officials to ensure additional technical issues are addressed as soon as possible.
Through positive engagement, we will ensure that the BVI’s status as a leading and compliant finance centre, is duly recognised, and today’s announcement by the EU is a stepping stone in the right direction.
To this, I say to God be all the glory.
This new government, as you have heard, has hit the ground running. We will be a Government of inclusion, starting with District and Youth Councils in ALL nine districts.
Mister Speaker, in a few days, this Government in consultation with each District Representative, whether on the Government’s side or the Opposition side, and our four Territorial At-Large Members, will embark on a programme geared towards retooling our people in the marine sector so that they can take their rightful place in this industry. All of our people, especially our young people, will have an opportunity to register to be a part of this programme in their respective district. The H. Lavity Stoutt Community College will play an integral role in this programme and so will other Government entities.
Mister Speaker sir, I congratulate my government members and I pray God’s guidance for each of them. I congratulate each member of the Opposition and I will work with each of them and all members in a respectful and productive manner. But please, do not take my meekness for weakness, because I know when to follow but I also know when to lead.
Mister Speaker, I took this time to set the tone for the journey ahead. I wish everyone the best. May God bless the people of the Virgin Islands and I pray that the peace the Lord reign forever over these Virgin Islands.
I assure the people of the Virgin Islands that I know that I am not perfect, but I am 100% committed to improving the quality of life for all Virgin Islanders, where they can fish for themselves with their own boats and fishing rod and lines.
It is time for our people to get a hand up and not just a hand out.
Our best day are not our yesterdays, but rather our tomorrows that begin today.
Mister Speaker, I thank you.