The 8th Inter-Virgin Islands Council meeting and the first since the hurricanes of September 2017 convened today, February 4, 2020, in the conference room of Maria’s by the Sea on Wickham’s Cay 1, Tortola.
It is also the first Inter-Virgin Islands Council meeting for the administrations of Premier and Minister of Finance of the Virgin Islands, Honourable Andrew A. Fahie and Governor of the US Virgin Islands (USVI), Mr Albert Bryan Jr.
The Inter Virgin Islands Council is the formal side of the BVI-USVI relationship and brings together the Premier of the [British] Virgin Islands and the Governor of the US Virgin Islands as Co-chairs of the council.
Government officials and policymakers and their counterparts will explore different ways to work together to find solutions to various problems and introduce initiatives designed to improve the quality of life for the people of the two Territories.
Speaking at the opening of the meeting, Premier Fahie said this year, 2020, is significant in many ways, including that it is the year the VI is observing 70 years since the enactment of its first modern constitution, in 1950, which provided for the restoration of the legislative branch of Government, bringing the law-making function for the Territory back to Tortola from Antigua, the seat of Government for the Leeward Islands Federation at that time.
He noted too that six months later, the very first Inter-Virgin Islands Conference was held, on May 9, 1951.
According to the Premier, this period in 1950 marked a significant turning point in the history of the Virgin Islands.
Year for Constitutional Review
“It is important to highlight this milestone as this year we will also be launching a review of the 2007 Virgin Islands Constitution Order, with the aim of taking further steps towards self-determination.”
According to Premier Fahie, the Territory recognises that the world is changing and the VI too must continue to establish itself towards the fulfilment of its highest aspirations.
Putting people first
“Since my Government took office we have been on a steady mission putting people first. We are a government of inclusion. We are a Government who believes strongly for the people to have a stake in the growth, rebuilding and development of this economy, their economy.”
He added that the VI was built on the common man and so the focus is on helping the people to reclaim their lives in ways that make them better than before.
“It is about regaining control of a few things we had lost before the hurricanes, like good financial management, an abundance of stored resources so we could be our own help in the time of need and the encouragement of citizens input in all government-led initiatives.”
Premier Fahie added that Government is committed to adapting to climate change and promoting a blue economy.
The Greater Virgin Islands ‘a blessing from God’
Noting that the VI and USVI are not just a group of islands, Premier Fahie said the Territories are a blessing from God. “We are already great. We just have to work on bringing out the greatness.”
He said the two Territories together can set policies to help the people of the Virgin Islands and United States Virgin Islands to be able to contribute and benefit from the respective destinations as jurisdictions with a shared purpose where possible or necessary.
“Our history has always been one in which the people have used their faith. They prayed to God to give them renewed energy and ideas on how to move forward the Virgin Islands.”
Friendship came from the people
The Premier also spoke of the practice of early Virgin Islanders bartering between the two territories and the bond that was formed since then.
“A lot of our people were able to go to the USVI and start to make up the USVI and our friendship came not from Government to Government but they came between people to people. That is where the strength of the Inter Virgin Islands Council comes from, people to people.
“So when we meet it is about how the Greater Virgin Islands, through the people, can use what we have in our hands to build each other.”
He said as the two Territories forge ahead they will continue to remember their shared experiences and continue to work together in pursuit of their highest collective aspirations.
“I am certain that our continued spirit of friendship, economic advancement and goodwill, which has served us so well in the past, will continue to guide us through this new period of transformation.”
‘We are one people’- Gov Albert Bryan Jr
Governor Bryan Jr noted that the inhabitants of the two Territories “we have always been one people, but the Crowns that have reigned on our lands for so many years have separated us in many different ways. It is important that we always recognise that we are one people and move forward as such.”
Mr Bryan Jr also said the two Territories meeting is not just about problems being faced but about opportunities for all the people.
He also said he was amazed at how himself and Premier Fahie share the same views on recovery “even though we don’t speak on a regular basis. So when I hear him speak about the Virgin Islands and as we move forward it is the same message that we as a people must be strengthened by individuals.”
“Because strong, resilient people makes strong, resilient families who would make strong, resilient communities, strong, resilient Territory and strong, resilient Virgin Islands. That is where we start, and in our recovery that is where we are focused on, in allowing people to be their best self.”
A resilient people
The USVI Governor said the VI has overcome tough times and so has the people of the USVI. He referred to when HOVENSA, a major oil refinery in St Croix, had shut down.
“It was a time of great discovery. Because it is through tough times that you find out who you really are and what you really have in you.
“We see that every single day in the BVI,” Governor Bryan Jr said, adding that last night he went to dine at Quito’s in Cane Garden Bay and “I was just amazed at the can-do spirit of the BVI. I had the opportunity to tour the small hotel there and eat in the restaurants and see the rooms, it blew my mind away how being independent and being able to lock out certain change doesn’t mean that you don’t survive. It just means that you keep going and going and going to find ways to charge through all those difficult parts.”
He added that the determination and perseverance of the people who would not be kept down is what will make this Virgin Islands great.
“So as we talk today we know how we have this interdependency that is really based on family. That we have a social and economic responsibility to both places to work together, not just to make things ok but to make these islands strive.
“That we must seek, to see what are the dependent businesses and industries that we can work collaboratively to make this place better,” Governor Bryan Jr said.
Matters for discussion
Initiatives up for discussion at the 8th meeting of Inter-Virgin Islands Council include: Coordination on precautionary measures on the Coronavirus, Air traffic coordination, cruise ship/cruise line coordination, forming and organising tourism strategies, airport and seaport development, joint marketing and public relations initiatives between USVI and VI, fishing matters, inter-territorial cooperation between VI-USVI charter yacht companies and border security.
The Inter-Virgin Islands Council was established on Saturday, May 29, 2004, after former USVI Governor, Dr Charles W. Turnbull and Chief Minister, Dr The Honourable D. Orlando Smith, OBE signed a joint Memorandum of Understanding.
The council’s first meeting convened on St Croix in April 2005.