The British Virgin Islands and United States Virgin Islands are making progress to strengthen ties in areas of mutual interest following the Seventh Meeting of the Inter Virgin Islands Council (IVIC) on September 2 in St. Thomas.
Premier and Minister of Finance of the British Virgin Islands, Dr. the Honourable D. Orlando Smith, OBE and Governor of the United States Virgin Islands, Kenneth E. Mapp led their respective delegations of Government officials to report to the council and further discuss areas of shared interests.
Premier Smith, in his opening remarks said, “Our mutual commitment to the Inter Virgin Islands Council over the years, demonstrates that both our Governments, recognise the need to build an even more effective framework for continued meaningful and productive social, economic, and political exchanges.”
He added, “Many of challenges we face are often brought about as a result of our differing political and governance structures. For, while we share the same waters and a common heritage we are part of two separate sovereign countries. It therefore requires us all to continue to work together to ensure the practical implementation of policies and laws, particularly those which emanate from our respective administering authorities.”
At the opening ceremony, Governor Mapp said, “I ordered today from sunrise to sunset, that the flags of the BVI to be flown over Government House area in the capital, so we are displaying the colors of the BVI today as a testament to our friendship and our welcoming of you, Premier Smith, and your Government and the wonderful people of the British Virgin Islands.”
Governor Mapp added, “Today I look forward to wonderful conversations, good workout sessions on the key issues that are common to each of our people and look forward to festering and strengthening this bond that exists between the people of the British Virgin Islands and the people of the United States Virgin Islands.”
During the meeting, reports were received from the standing committees on law enforcement, pleasure boating and sports fishing, cultural preservation, tourism, energy and utilities, health, mutual disaster, preparedness and assistance, as well as education. Also discussed was the update on progress made regarding cooperation for BVI Musician Work Permits.
Coming out of these discussions, the respective standing committees comprised of officials from both territories, have agreed to hold regular annual meetings, strengthen their capacity building efforts, improve the exchange of information, and collaborate more on public information outreach efforts.
During the reporting presentations, the Committee on Pleasure-Boating and Sports Fishing intends to have greater harmonisation of operations and synergy in closed seasons for the two territories. Additionally, there are plans for greater educational efforts to the fishing and boating community. There will also be improved public outreach and information sharing to stakeholders.
In tourism cooperation, the standing committee for tourism advised that the two territories will revisit the current ferry operation schedules, and align with flight schedules. Furthermore, the tourism committee has agreed to exchange dialogue on any training initiatives and the curriculum to improve customer service to visitors in both territories.
To improve management of energy and utilities in the “Greater Virgin Islands”, the Committee on Energy and Utilities advised that their collaboration strategy includes information-sharing on utilities and energy production; mutual strengthening of their public education programme on energy efficiency; joint transitioning to, and testing of new technologies such as the use of LED or solar lighting; and establishing a mutual way forward in regards to finding a waste-to-energy solution.
To strengthen law enforcement efforts in the two territories, the Committee on Law Enforcement has agreed to greater sharing of information and an exchange of officers to help build capacity.
The Committee on Education focused on higher education and agreed on the need to further operationalise the Memorandum Of Understanding for educational exchange that was signed in 2014 between the University of the Virgin Islands and the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College. In addition, the committee discussed a number of possible areas for training, as well as areas of collaborative research.
In their presentation, the Committee on Cultural Preservation agreed to have cultural and historical exchanges on traditions that are similar, yet different, and the rationale behind it. The cultural preservation committee has also agreed to explore the possibility of the BVI-USVI Friendship Day being expanded into a cultural festival celebration and create a weekend of cultural events versus a one day event.
The Committee on Health, in their reporting presentation, agreed to collaborate on their responses and public education for the management of Zika. Among other areas of information exchange, the committee has agreed to explore mentoring and coaching opportunities between health practitioners and sharing of technical resources towards accreditation and quality management.
The Committee on Mutual Disaster Preparedness and Assistance agreed that there is a need for greater research collaboration, capacity building and higher learning in the various areas of disaster management.
In his closing remarks at the meeting the Premier stated, “Listening to the presentations, it is obvious that the differences that we have between us are so small, compared to the things that we can do together, and the presentations have demonstrated how we have already started to do some of those things and the plans for the way forward.”
He said that it was a great opportunity to be able to continue the meetings, the discussions, and working together as the communities of the “Greater Virgin Islands” will be better off as a result.
Governor Mapp, in speaking about the outcomes of the meeting said that it was a very productive day and one of learning, and agreed that there are more commonalities between the two territories than differences. He added that the closeness and relationship as a people, underscored by the fact that the blood of many people of the BVI is flowing through the veins of the people of the USVI and vice-versa, makes us “One”.
Governor Mapp said that the two territories should continue to work together on our mutual interests and find resolutions to some of the distinctions that are driven by the two national governments.
The next IVIC meeting will be held on October 6, 2017 in the British Virgin Islands. The Inter-Virgin Islands Council was established on Saturday, 29 May, 2004, when former USVI Governor Dr. Charles Turnbull and Chief Minister Honourable Dr. D. Orlando Smith, OBE signed a joint Memorandum of Understanding. The Council’s first meeting convened on St. Croix in April, 2005.