A pleasant Good Day and God’s Blessings to all Virgin Islanders and residents. In a few weeks, your 11-month-old Government will make one year in office.
I wish to take a brief moment to update you on the progress that we have been making to ensure that Good Governance is at the heart of the conduct of public affairs in our Territory- the British Virgin Islands.
During my previous tenure in Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, and in my present role as your Premier, I have always maintained the position that if we do not police ourselves then someone will police us in a manner that we will all regret.
I have always advocated that we have to build institutions so that the reputation of each Public Officer, elected or otherwise, are above reproach.
My credo, and that of your Government, is that Good Governance is not something that should be prompted upon us by anyone, but rather it must be in our way of life. Our resolve in this regard remains intact.
During the tenure of the previous Administration, which you the people brought to an end on 25 February, 2019, with the exercise of your vote in our democratic General Elections, there was a lot of questionable activities in the conduct of certain aspects of Government business.
The $7.2 million BVI/BV Airways deal, over expenditures of more than $40M at the Cyril B Romney Tortola Pier Park, the $1.6 million expenditure on a section of the Elmore Stoutt High School perimeter wall and the redirection of $8 million in funds away from the East End-Long Look sewer project are some of the contentious issues of that period. It is not my intention to dwell on those matters at this time, but I mention them merely for context.
The electors of the Virgin Islands demonstrated that they hold Morality and Good Governance in public affairs in high importance. Unlike what obtained in other jurisdictions where poor Governance was practiced, Virgin Islanders used their votes to signal a rejection of bad Governance practices and changed their Government. Virgin Islanders ensured that, insofar as they had the power to do, some key individuals who were at the centre of those contentious matters were removed from holding Public Office. This speaks volumes for the Moral Standards of the electors of the Virgin Islands and their support for Good Governance.
The activities of the past Administration – the Administration that was rejected by the electorate on 25 February, 2019 – led to the imposition of bureaucratic mechanisms on our BVI systems and procedures by the UK Government, such as the Protocols for Effective Financial Management in 2012 – which the former Administration did not adhere to. Your present Government views these measures as beneficial to Good Governance in the Territory. We would have preferred, however, not to have had these measures imposed upon us as a consequence of the conduct of our predecessors, but rather based on initiative by the then BVI Government. Indeed, the proverb is true that if we do not police ourselves then someone else will police us. That is not the aspiration of your new Government.
This is why your present Government did not have to be prompted into prioritizing measures that would strengthen Governance in the Territory. Important Good Governance provisions were placed into the 2020 Legislative Agenda and the 2020 Budget Address by your Government. The Speech from the Throne, as you know is written by the Premier’s Office with the input of the Ministers and their respective teams, and it is delivered by Her Majesty’s Representative, His Excellency the Governor, in the House of Assembly.
The Speech from the Throne that was read in the House of Assembly on 14 November, 2019, were policies, legislation, and the agenda of your Government. Therefore, the commitment in the Speech from the Throne that legislation such as the Public Service Management Bill, Integrity in Public Life legislation and Whistleblower legislation are on the 2020 Legislative Agenda, is the commitment and initiative of your Government.
The commitment publicly expressed in the 2020 Budget Address which I delivered in the House of Assembly on 19 November, 2020, that public procurement will be strengthened by the introduction of the Contractor General legislation, is the initiative of your Government.
These were policies that your present Government campaigned on in the run-up to the 2019 General Elections. They featured prominently in our campaign advertisements. They are therefore embedded in our social contract with the BVI population.
The inclusion of projects such as the construction of the Halls of Justice and upgrades to our courts and police stations in the Revised Recovery and Development Plan, is the doing of your Government to strengthen the infrastructure and institutions that support Good Governance.
You elected your Government on the promise that we would conduct our affairs and your business on the basis of transparency, accountability, Good Governance and best practices, and that we would put the systems in place to ensure this. That is why your new Government has issued these commitments in black and white and in documents such as the Speech from the Throne, the Budget Address and the Revised Recovery and Development Plan, which are public. We have done this so that you, the public, can hold us accountable for the trust you have placed in us.
It is said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single footstep. It is clear that over the last 11 months, your Government has taken many strides in the journey of bolstering our Good Governance framework – far more than our predecessors made in the eight years they were in office.
As I speak, your Government continues moving forward on this agenda.
Immediately, we will be moving to put in place, in short order, the Code of Ethics for Ministers, all elected officials, Public Officers and all Statutory Bodies. The new procurement legislation and asset seizure legislation will also to be brought into force and this will cultivate a new era of transparency which, might I add, would include spouses and extended family members of public officials.
In terms of our finances, when we took office, we found that the audited financial statements were not up-to-date. Not having audited financial statements in place is a violation of the Virgin Islands Constitution. The last time an audited financial statement was done in 2016.
I am pleased to say that the 2017 audited financial statement is in the process of being completed and the 2018 audited financial statement will follow thereafter.
Your Government has set the National Vision to Transform the Virgin Islands into a leading regional economy by 2025 through innovation, entrepreneurship and local and foreign investment. This is how we will deliver our pledge to create opportunities and build our economy. This was a promised made; a promise that is being kept and a promise that will continue to be delivered.
Good Governance is essential for having a level playing field for our people and for providing confidence to investors that they are investing in the correct business environment. Your Government recognizes this.Local and foreign investment are welcome here and no one needs ever to worry about any unofficial prescription to anyone, be it Government officials, Civil Servants or Statutory Bodies. Their investment is for the betterment of the country and the people, and this we consider to be a solemn Partnership. This is our message to the world.
Our own Bishop John Ivan Cline has shared a profound thought, which is that the BVI has survived poverty but we must also survive prosperity.
With prosperity comes the need for us to police ourselves through policies, procedures, regulations and laws that will ensure the highest standard of conduct at all times.
The BVI suffered setbacks in the aftermath of the 2017 natural disasters but we are on the move to once again being prosperous. As your Government, we are moving forward with putting systems of accountability in place to ensure that we not only survive in our prosperity but thrive in it.
With these systems in place, the public purse will be more securely protected. Taxpayers will get greater value for money. Citizens will be treated more fairly. Persons will be able to enjoy a life in the BVI where they would not be unfairly subject to their reputations being tarnished or their character assassinated while they are innocent. Good Governance and transparency will be underlying threads running through the mechanisms in all dealings of Government officials and civil servants inclusive of Statutory Bodies. This will ensure that what is due to Virgin Islanders cannot be snatched away because our accountability systems will stand any test.
This is what your Government promised the people and this is what we are working feverishly to deliver now.
May God continue to bless and protect our Virgin Islands and its people as we usher in a new era of accountability and prosperity.
I thank you.