“We entered office with great enthusiasm and great energy; there were a whole lot of things we had expect to accomplish, none of us foresaw at that time that we would be in an age like now,” Hon Wheatley said during his wrap up in the House of Assembly on Wednesday, September 22, 2021.
The main item on the agenda was the approval of the $28.9 Million Supplementary Appropriation Provision (SAP) that included the $6 Million for public service increments.
“It is not easy for Government to tell persons that all these things that I promised you I can’t deliver. Mr Speaker, the reality is, COVID is here, we are in the age of COVID, all the countries around the world have been tested and stressed, some collapse, business closing all over the world, never to be reopened again.”
The Minister stated that two other areas costing the government are lawsuits and the ongoing Commission of Inquiry (CoI).
“We have to deal with it; these things cannot be ignored. We spend millions, millions that could have otherwise that could have been used to empower our people to fix schools, and roads and healthcare and so forth, it has to be spent defending lawsuits, defending our good name and so forth,” he remarked, referring to the lawsuits.
“COVID came after the category five hurricanes, and the CoI is not to be underestimated, it has caused a lot of financial strain on this country trying to defend our good name.”
The government earmarked $5 million for its legal defence in the CoI, being carried out by lone Commissioner Sir Gary R. Hickinbottom.
The Minister said despite everything, “we have still been able to do some critical things because in times like these when money is limited, we have to use the next best thing, which is our mind and get creative. Now is the time for creativity to get things done.”
“Someone asked earlier how I felt about the adjusted budget. I told someone in these difficult times, by any circumstance, the country cannot be run by emotions, it calls for a lot of debate, analysis, backwards and forwards and trying to make the best decisions based on the information that you have. And, that’s what we have done here, and I must commend the Premier for the courage to do this, because I know he has gotten a lot of flak, because the people were telling him ‘you can’t cut here, you can’t cut there’ but COVID is here, and COVID is real, and when we have to cut, we have to cut.”
He referenced many other countries who were faced with similar circumstances, but they chose to go the “other route.”
“Today, if you follow the news, you see these countries in trouble with the IMF, the other one in trouble with the World Bank, the other one in trouble with various lending institutions,” he added.
The Labour Minister stated that he was also happy to see the public officers increments were included in the adjusted budget.
“People seem to think that only persons who are not working are affected, but there is unemployment, and there is underemployment. A lot of working persons are struggling as if they were not even working because their circumstances are such that even the paycheck that they get is insufficient to meet all their needs. So it’s not because someone is working mean you shouldn’t try to help them.”
Despite the pandemic and intense criticism from the Opposition and others sworn only to frustrate the Fahie Government, the Virgin Islands Party (VIP) administration has been forging ahead with creating new revenue streams and bringing legislation to support them.