I am extremely pleased to welcome each of you to the launch of BVI Forward this afternoon.
Of course, we also welcome those of you tuning in via various external media.
I extend a warm BVI welcome to our guest speaker, the Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance for Bermuda, Hon. Everard “Bob” Richards.
As a colleague in the defense of financial services in Overseas Territories, there is no greater champion than Honourable Richards. Sir, I look forward to your words of encouragement and inspiration.
It is good to see such a cross section of the BVI the community here this afternoon, particularly our students.
Today really is about your future and our legacy.
As we sit at the cross-road of our economic development, the compelling question is this: are we going to rise to the occasion, come together and build on the prosperous foundation our forefathers created or are we going to give in to the challenges that seek to hold us back and set us back?
I am here to tell you today as your leader that I am rising to the occasion and strongly encourage each of you to rise with me.
Working together, we can create a new foundation of prosperity to pass on to future generations.
But how did we get here?
The economic and financial crisis that began in 2008 changed the world and ignited the process of changing the rules governing the global financial system.
These changes are affecting every nation and have impacted the lives of all of their citizens, including us here in the British Virgin Islands.
Change has become the ‘new norm’ and those who embrace it will reap the benefits of the emerging new economic order.
Since the crisis began, the Government of the Virgin Islands has worked tirelessly to keep pace with the changes coming at us from all directions and we have done well.
However, our unique circumstances here in the Virgin Islands require us to do more; and that is why we are here today — we are at the end of the beginning.
What do I mean by this?
Well, when my government took office in 2011, our highest priority was to secure the future of our financial services sector. After all, it is the engine that fuels this economy along with tourism.
By January 2012, we launched a Territory-wide consultation to expand and solidify the industry. This culminated in a three-month project beginning in August 2014 which was facilitated by global consultants McKinsey and Company.
The output of all of this work was a report with recommendations approved by Cabinet in January this year and by the House of Assembly in February.
By May I had appointed Mr. Kedrick Malone as Director to lead the team that would drive implementation of the report’s recommendations.
So, today we are at the end of the preparation and at the beginning of taking action: the end of the beginning, and we are moving the BVI Forward.
BVI Forward represents a new beginning of our drive to create a new financial services foundation to drive the future prosperity of the Virgin Islands.
The script is written! The world is waiting and watching! The curtain is opening today! And, now it is time to perform.
But, this is not a one man show, it is not a government show, it is not a financial sector show.
It is a show for all of us: government and private sector, industry and non-industry, BVIslander/Belonger and expatriate, adults and children, local and international; everyone in the BVI moving forward together.
The ten priority initiatives being implemented as part of BVI Forward will touch the lives of every man, woman and child who call this Territory home.
We must, therefore, engage everyone!
Each of us has a role to play in BVI Forward and we must all embrace and play our role.
Mrs Lorna Smith has shared the plan on how we plan to engage the population and I urge you to respond and get involved in BVI Forward.
The significant investment my Government has made in BVI Forward will return little, if you the people of this Territory do not support this initiative.
Each person must, in their own way, embrace and participate in BVI Forward.
Now, there some key players whose role is absolutely fundamental to the success of BVI Forward. The local media in one such player!
On Tuesday of this week at a Media Breakfast, we had a very constructive engagement with the media.
I believe that we have bridged the gap of understanding and have agreed to pursue a stronger partnership based on mutual respect and trust. Whilst there will be disagreements from time to time, if we place the greater interest of the Virgin Islands at the centre of our relationship, we can both fulfill our respective responsibilities to the community.
Another group of key players are the Champions.
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting them and pinning them yesterday at a ceremony in their honour. These members of the community do not work in the financial services industry, but have agreed to lend their voice and champion the BVI Forward message to the wider community.
I thank and applaud you the champions for coming forward to play a central role in BVI Forward.
Likewise, I would like to commend Team BVI, our financial services ambassadors from the industry, for coming on board to spread the BVI Forward message, both locally and internationally.
Over time, we should all seek to be BVI Forward ambassadors.
I am sure many of us have had to defend the “tax haven” label when meeting a stranger and explaining our financial services role to the world.
Through the BVI Forward campaign, we are arming every member of this community with the information to dispel this baseless accusation.
Some may say that all of this fanfare is nice, but where is the beef.
What are we doing? What have we done? When will it be done?
Let me set it out for you:
So we have started!
Please take some time immediately after the ceremony to stop by the Atrium in the main building where you can meet the Initiative Sponsors, the Champions, the Implementation Unit Team and others on the front line to learn of what we are doing, what we have done, what is in the pipeline and begin to play your part.
Make BVI Forward yours!
Let me end by saying a huge thank you to those who have been on the frontline helping us get to this stage.
There are too many names to mention so I will mention the groups:
I particularly want to say thank you to the private sector which has been a strong and unwavering supporter and partner of this initiative from the beginning.
I thank all of the various government departments which have cooperated and supported this initiative.
Your efforts over have demonstrated that we can achieve extraordinary things by working together.
Let us continue to do so!
And, thank you to anyone and everyone who in any way have helped us to get to this step where we are now in a position to move forward together to build a strong and sustainable financial services sector to secure the future prosperity of the Virgin Islands.
And last but by no way least, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, thank you for coming out this afternoon. Your presence here today means a lot to me and to all of us who are on the front line.
Thank you and I look forward to seeing you in the Atrium shortly.
Thank you again.