Despite a promise from the Government of an amicable solution to recently implemented port fees increase, Opposition Leader, Hon. Marlon Penn has called the increases a travesty to the people of this Territory and the economy.
In a release to the media issued today, April 5, Hon. Penn said, “This is simply not the right time.”
In a media blitz following public backlash to the new fees, several port officials appeared in the media to explain that the recent decision to increase port fees as a means to operate and develop the ports facilities in an effort to retain international shipping certification and keep persons employed.
In a recent interview, Hon. Penn said the current cost of doing business in BVI is high and indicated that the increase will only result in inflation of those costs - the consequence of which will have a detrimental impact on the economy.
The Leader of the Opposition further explained that in driving up the cost of goods and services, this will be reflected especially on construction materials resulting in increased cost of construction. He reasoned that this then will cause persons to halt new construction projects, which will, in turn, reduce economic spending, subsequently bringing about a decline in jobs and economic growth and finally send our economy into a recession.
“For those business owners whose businesses are already on life support this fee increase will only create undue hardships for those already struggling businesses. Business owners will have no other choice but to pass those very same increased fees onto the consumer, thus negatively impacting our economy,” Hon. Penn said.
The BVIPA took significant heat for not holding consultations with stakeholders and had initially held off on implementing the fees, but after a few weeks decided to forge ahead with the increases despite a request from the BVI Chamber of Commerce & Hotel Association to meet with senior port officials on the matter.
“I am extremely concerned with the timing of these increased fees. It comes at a time when we can ill-afford it; a time when persons do not have the ability to sustain this shock imposed by the Government,” Hon. Penn stated.
The Opposition Leader called on the Premier as the Minister for Ports to step up and acknowledge that this is not the right time and rescind the current decision. Additionally, in his capacity of Minister for Finance, Hon. Penn implored the Finance Minister to find the resources to support the BVI Ports Authority (BVIPA) in retaining its international shipping certification.
The issue has now reached a boiling point and Premier and Minister of Finance, Hon. Andrew Fahie promised in his Easter message of an amicable resolution. However, it is not clear at this stage if the Premier's resolution includes rescinding the new fees as called for by Hon. Penn.
However, in urging the Premier to take a step back and consider how this decision adversely affects both businesses and consumers, Hon. Penn stated that the Government cannot pass this burden onto the businesses and ultimately consumers, many of whom have been unemployed or under-employed for over a year now due to bad economic policies.
The Leader of the Opposition mentioned, that during this critical time of the global pandemic, the BVI Ports Authority proceeded to purchase property and rent space throughout the Territory. The BVIPA continued increasing its expenses while cutting salaries to daily paid workers, all the while executives of the Port maintained their salaries.
“The people of this Territory should not have to pay for the mismanagement of the BVIPA. These poorly thought out decisions hugely underscores what my colleagues and I in the Opposition continue to express; that this administration has proven there is no plan in place for the economic recovery of these Virgin Islands,” Hon. Penn stated.
He added, “I urge the Premier to present an Economic Plan and put policies in place to stimulate the economic growth versus slowing it down.”