STATEMENT BY PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE
DURING THE TENTH SITTING OF THE SECOND SESSION OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
Friday, June 19, 2020
Telecommunications Regulator Commission Update
Mr Speaker, thank you for facilitating me to deliver this brief statement.
Your 16-month-old Government and its various agencies and departments continue to work tirelessly to look after the interest of the people of the Virgin Islands.
We promised a higher level of vigilance, responsibility and accountability in Government. By doing this, we are able to deliver more to the people, and at a faster pace, than our predecessors.
This is especially critical in these times of COVID-19 where the Territory’s resources are under intense pressure, and where emergent issues from the pandemic continue to pop up, making demands on those already limited resources.
In these trying times, the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) has stepped up to the plate to pull its weight in a way that has never been done since the inception of Telecommunications Act 2006.
As a result of the diligence of the Commission, $2 million has been raised for the Government’s coffers, which money will be allocated for the commencement of the long-awaited and long-overdue East End—Long Look Sewerage Project.
Mr Speaker, the people of East End—Long Look will be happy and relieved to see the start of this project in the very near future now that some funding is coming into place.
The people of East End-Long Look have endured inconvenience and exposure to health risks for too long. They endured heartbreak in seeing the $8 million allocated under the previous Administration being redirected under that said Administration to the Tortola Pier Park Project.
This sewerage issue was a popular topic during the campaign for the 2019 General Election, both from the perspectives of the redirection of the funds and the propriety of that decision, as well as the suffering of the residents of that area.
Your Government promised that we would see justice done for the people and that we would execute this project. This promise is being kept, and may I say that it is being kept even though the Eighth District seat is occupied by the Honourable Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
Your Government does not discriminate. We are not vindictive. We do not punish people for not voting for us. We are the Government for all of the Districts and for all of the People. And we are fair in how we operate.
Mr Speaker, permit me to explain how these funds were raised and the TRC’s involvement.
To do that, we must first appreciate the provisions of the Telecommunications Act 2006 as follows:
- Section 58 of the Act confirms that the sources of revenue for the Commission includes the Industry Levy and Royalties.
- Section 63 specifies that the Commission shall prepare estimated expenditures for the fiscal year as well as expected incomes arising from any source.
- At Section 63(2), the Act specifies that the estimates shall be accompanied by the work programme containing a general description of work and activities that the Commission expects to undertake in the financial year.
- Section 63 (3) specifies that the Minister responsible for Finance shall, as soon as practicable consider the estimates and work programme submitted by the Commission with a view to:
- Approving the estimates, with or without modification; or
- Remitting the estimates back to the Commission without approval
- Section 63 (4) specifies that where estimates are approved, the Minister responsible for Finance shall, within three months of the approval cause them and the work plan to be laid before the legislature.
The budgets and work plan for the year 2019/2020 having been approved by the Board of the Commission, were approved by me in my capacity as Minister of Finance on 23 March, 2020, and today I hereby lay the both documents on the table as a directed by the Telecommunication Act 2006.
Mr Speaker, you can see that I am well ahead of the Statutory deadline for tabling these documents.
I am subject to correction but I am advised that this is the first time in the history of the Commission that the TRC’s budget has been approved and laid before the legislature.
To explain the significance of the above Sections of the Act:
The Act is clear that the sources of revenue for the Commission includes Industry Levy and Royalties.
The Royalty is currently calculated at three percent of gross telecommunications revenue of each licenced operator.
I can confirm that this sum has been collected from each of the four licenced operators for the 2019/2020 year, and because of this collection the TRC is able to transfer surplus funds to the Consolidated Fund with assignment to the East End-Long Look Sewerage Project.
The Industry Levy is calculated via a process and a formula, and is also supposed to be collected from the four licensed operators.
However, I am advised that since the inception of the Commission and the Telecommunication Act in 2006, the Industry Levy has never been collected by the Commission.
This non-collection of the Industry Levy has led to the Commission operating solely on the Royalty revenues collected and not having the Industry Levy money to service its operations or to apply otherwise.
This year, I have directed the Board of the Commission that the Industry Levies are to be collected so that the regulator can do its work, which is to regulate the industry and champion the causes of consumers.
I can confirm to all that the process has been followed and the levy has been billed with a view to being collected in accordance with the Telecommunication Act 2006.
This sum, I am advised is in the vicinity of $4 million, based on the TRC’s budget.
And since the Commission will have access to the proceeds from the Industry Levy to finance its operations, which is funds due to the Government and which is intended under the Act to be used for the TRC’s operational expenses, the lawful transfer of the Royalties will now take place with these funds being transferred over to the Consolidated Fund – as intended by the Act. The Government is able to assign bringing relief to the people of East End-Long Look, and to improve their quality of life.
Mr Speaker, I wish to commend the Chairman, Deputy Chair and other Commissioners of the TRC and to thank them for their diligence in this matter.
With performance like this, your Government is confident that the right selections were made with respect to the appointments to the TRC, and that great things are in store ahead from the Commission, which positively benefit the people of the Virgin Islands and this Territory.
I thank you.