It is always good to meet with you one-on-one to share information and at the same time respond to your questions.
This afternoon, I want to speak to you about our commitment to the employees of Little Dix Bay who will be affected by a closure; Air Access; and the labour and immigration reform.
I will speak in that order.
As you know, last week the BVI tourism sector was rocked with the news that on May 1, 2016 the hotel will begin a complete resort renovation, marking the most extensive renovation and beautification project in its more than 52-year history.
Little Dix Bay has been the flagship property in the tourism business for the BVI for quite a long time, and many of the resort’s employees have been a part of that success for Little Dix Bay over the years.
I want to publicly thank these employees for their contribution to the BVI tourism industry while working at Little Dix Bay.
On Thursday January 14 the management of Little Dix informed me that they decided that it was important to renovate the hotel in order to remain competitive, and in so doing, keep the BVI at the forefront of Caribbean tourism.
In order to achieve that objective, they thought it was necessary to close the hotel for a period of time, 18 months, in order for the work to be carried out expeditiously and to the highest standards.
Now while I recognise the importance of having the hotel renovated and uplifted to be able to be competitive, my first concern was also for the welfare of the staff who work at the hotel.
I immediately stated that my Government and I would implement measures to help to support all the staff who work at Little Dix Bay.
So today, I am pleased to report we are moving forward to provide assistance to those persons.
Yesterday evening, I led a delegation to our first official meeting with the employees of Rosewood Little Dix Bay to hear their concerns following the announcement.
On that trip were my Ministers, Ninth District Representative Dr. the Honourable Hubert O’Neal, Permanent Secretaries from the Premier’s Office and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour, heads of the Labour and Immigration departments, the Chairman of the BVI Tourist Board, and other support staff.
We engaged in open dialogue and candid discussions with the employees. They were very open and took the opportunity to share their very valid concerns and comments.
We were also able to share information with them regarding the Help Desk that will be established and coordinated by Mr. Albert Wheatley to provide personal assistance to all affected employees. The Help Desk will also coordinate opportunities, in conjunction with the Labour Department, that arise for new employment, as well as handle other queries and concerns.
I am indeed heartened that some members of the BVI business community and our other tourism industry partners have already reached out to assist with providing new opportunities for the affected employees.
I am encouraging the rest of the BVI business community to do the same.
The employees were happy that we were able to have a discourse with them. We were happy to have met with them and we will continue to hold Little Dix Bay accountable for all the promises made.
About two weeks ago, on January 12, I invited you to hear the ‘game changing news that would help us to be more competitive in the global market place.
I announced then that the last quarter of this year direct flights will commence between the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport and the Miami International Airport aboard BVI Airways.
Now we are well on our way solving the problems with air access to and from the British Virgin Islands.
The partnership with BVI Airways is meant to fill the immediate need to solve our air access issues and constitutes another investment by my Government in the continued development of the BVI economy and its people
The next big step or the next game changer is the extension of the runway.
We have successfully met the requirements of our medium-term fiscal plan. We have received the support of Her Majesty’s Government to complete this affordable project.
I have instructed the Deputy Premier to have a contract to me for signing by the middle of this year.
With a larger airport, we expect consequential infrastructural development in the tourism sector; higher participation of BVI businesses in activity outside of the BVI; and ultimately more employment opportunities for our people.
Direct air access is a great significant step in the development of the Virgin Islands.
And, today, I stand firm on my words that my Government is building a better Virgin Islands.
We have completed the extension of the cruise pier. Now we are accommodating and welcoming more than 400,000 day-trippers aboard large ships.
Tortola Pier Park is moving along quite nicely. I was pleased to see the many local businesses that have already established operations there and the others that are preparing to open within the next few weeks.
I was able to visit the facility not too long ago and I was very pleased to see the many residents and visitors who were patronizing the many local businesses at Tortola Pier Park and we expect that this will become a major commercial centre in the British Virgin Islands.
As can be expected, with any project of this magnitude, we have had some challenges, but we continue to overcome them and forge ahead.
I wish to make it clear my Government is committed to the highest standards of transparency and accountability as it relates to the development of this project. That is why I have ordered an audit on this project which will be carried out by an internationally recognised firm to ensure that we have maintained those standards.
My Government is committed to the people of this Territory and I remain confident as their leader doing all that I can to improve the standard of living for all of the people of the Virgin Islands.
In matters of Immigration and Labour reform, the teams from the Immigration and Labour departments have updated me on strategies to reform and strengthen the labour and immigration processes in the Territory and the short-term solutions being implemented to jump-start the changes.
You would recall that Global consultants, McKinsey and Company facilitated a financial services consultancy in 2014, in which it identified priority initiatives for the future development and strengthening of the financial services sector in the BVI.
These initiatives have since been brandedBVI Forward, the Government’s campaign to strengthen the financial services industry and secure a sustainable future for the British Virgin Islands.
The report identified labour and immigration reform as a key area for reform with the core objective of bringing immigration and labour policies in line with international best practice.
Though proposed by the Initiative Working Team, the responsibility for implementation of the planned reforms rests with the Financial Services Implementation Unit (FSIU) and the respective Government departments.
The FSIU has been working in close collaboration with immigration and labour officials and many meetings have been held in recent months with discussions focusing largely on streamlining processes at both departments.
The next step in the proposed reform process is the review of reforms by the Cabinet.
Overall, my Government remains committed to the people of this Territory, and to the development of all sectors of this economy.
As the leader of Government business, I remain confident my Government is making significant progress to improve the standard of living for all.