HOA Approves Airports and Seaports Merger Bill

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The House of Assembly adopted a bill on September 23 to merge the territory’s airport and port authorities into a new statutory body responsible for border management.

But Prime Minister Andrew Fahie said the union will not be immediate, as the two authorities will need time to find the best way to combine their forces while ensuring that no jobs are lost.

Mr Fahie said in the HOA that the idea for the merger arose shortly after his administration took office in early 2019, and the new government has observed agencies working in “silos.”

He said one of the goals set by the administration was to improve consistency, coordination and communication across the civil service. “Even though port and airport authorities are statutory bodies that function well, the current era demands that they be configured to be optimized,” he said.

The Virgin Islands Air and Sea Ports Act 2021, which was passed with amendments on September 23, would repeal the Airports Act 2003 and amend the BVI Port Authority Act 1990 if the draft law receives the consent of the governor.

Under the bill, a board of directors consisting of seven to nine voting members and three ex-officio members would oversee the management and finances of the new authority. The prime minister said the government is currently interviewing for the newly announced new board member positions.

Advantages

In Cabinet, members saw only benefits from the merger, Fahie said. Operations would be cheaper under one umbrella, and there were no obvious negative legal implications, he added.

National security is also expected to improve, he said, as greater coordination should allow ports to share information more effectively and implement new security measures.

Deputy Prime Minister Dr Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley, speaking in favor of the bill, said his experience with the National Security Council had shown him the importance of collaboration between enforcement agencies. of the law of the territory.

In addition to being more effective, the new authority will benefit from operating according to a shared vision, he said.

Especially since the territory depends on imports and tourism, he said, efficient port services are needed.

He added that they will be even more important in the future as the VI seeks new export opportunities across the region.

Pay cut

Dr Wheatley also praised authorities for finding a way to keep working even with the decrease in travel and therefore income at the worst of the pandemic.

In June 2020, the Prime Minister announced that non-salaried employees of the BVI Ports Authority had their hours reduced equivalent to a 25% pay cut affecting 126 employees. However, Mr Fahie declined to provide information about the authority’s finances requested from the House last April, saying disclosure would affect his competitive advantage.

Last week, however, Dr Wheatley said: ‘Covid has been pretty brutal on our airports and seaports due to declining numbers of visitors and some of the challenges we have all over the world because the supply chain impact has led to some cost increases.

Financial direction

Opposition leader Marlon Penn supported the bill in principle, but called for expert consultation from both authorities on issues such as international regulations and the financial framework to support the new entity.

Mr Penn said he particularly wanted experts to look at how the merger might affect compliance with Air Safety Support International regulations, which require personnel with certain skills to be present to manage airport facilities.

Looking at how the new authority would be funded under the bill, Mr Penn pointed to a section that allows the authority to borrow or raise funds by issuing debenture shares. The authority would also be allowed to overdraft and borrow money from the government in order to carry out its functions, and the Minister of Finance would have the power to set the maximum total amount to be borrowed or raised.

“This is something that I have never seen in any of the other statutory organizations,” Mr. Penn said. “It suggests a certain level of privatization of authority, because you’re talking about issuing stocks and issuing stocks, and allowing ports to invest in those stocks and stocks and raising capital.”

Mr Fahie replied that such details of the merger would be a “political decision of the government of the day” to be worked out in the coming months.

He disagreed with the claim that the bill privatized authority in any way, but said the government planned to review the section in committee behind closed doors to ensure that the language is clear that the organization is not under the control of foreign investors. He added that he did not foresee any problem with respect to ASSI and the International Code of Safety for Ships and Port Facilities recognized by seaports.

The House suspended after the bill was passed, and House Speaker Julian Willock has said it will resume on a date to be determined next month.


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