Hon. Premier Donaldson Romeo joined his counterparts from the other British Caribbean Overseas Territories in Miami, Florida last week to discuss their approach to requesting recovery aid from the United Kingdom.
A release from published by the Office of the Premier Cayman Islands follows.
The Premier, Hon. Alden McLaughlin returned from Miami over the weekend after chairing a special meeting of elected Heads of Government from Caribbean British Overseas Territories. Hon. Tara Rivers who has Ministerial responsibility for Hazard Management Cayman Islands also attended.
Other Heads of Government in attendance included Chief Minister of Anguilla, Hon. Victor Banks; Premier of Bermuda, Hon. David Burt; Premier of the British Virgin Islands, Dr. the Hon. Orlando Smith; Premier of Montserrat, Hon. Donaldson Romeo; and Premier of the Turks and Caicos Islands, Hon. Sharlene Cartwright-Robinson.
This special meeting of the Caribbean British Overseas Territories was arranged and hosted by the Cayman Islands to allow leaders to discuss disaster response, recovery, building resilience, preparedness and mitigation in respect of the unprecedented hurricane season of 2017. In addition the aim was to ensure that these topics are top of the agenda at the upcoming Joint Ministerial Council (JMC) meeting, which will be held on 27th and 28th November in London.
Mr. McLaughlin said, “My objective is to ensure all the territories show solidarity when we go to London at the end of November and that we are presenting a unified stance with regards to relief and recovery funding.” He continued, “I remember after Hurricane Ivan the Cayman Islands didn’t receive a penny from the UK Government. It took us years to get fully back on our feet and we were fortunate that we had millions in insurance money coming into the Islands, which helped our recovery, however that’s not the case for these other Overseas Territories.”
Leaders of the affected islands expressed their gratitude for the humanitarian, law enforcement and military assistance provided by the UK Government and fellow Overseas Territories in the immediate aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. They also noted the visits by the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel and Minister with Responsibility Overseas Territories, Lord Ahmad.
£62 million in relief funds has already been confirmed by Lord Ahmad. However, what remains unclear is whether these funds include the cost of deploying the military, the ships and the assistance that came immediately after the hurricanes. If this is the case, available financial aid could be diminishing rapidly and there could be little left for ongoing relief and recovery.
The meeting began with updates from the three islands impacted by the hurricanes on the current status of their recovery efforts, and estimates of both the cost of damage and the cost of recovery. The discussions highlighted some of the lessons learned including the need for public buildings, home owners and businesses are better insured, strengthening infrastructure, and improving building codes and discussed ways of providing each other with further assistance, expertise and technical support.
Hon. Tara Rivers, Minister for Home Affairs added “I was happy to be able to share with the group some of the initiatives and actions taken by the Cayman Islands in our own recovery and reconstruction efforts post-hurricanes Ivan and Paloma. As the Minister with responsibility for Home Affairs, it was very informative to hear the experiences and lessons learned by each of the affected territories of these most recent hurricanes. I know that here at home we have rebuilt stronger and increased our ability to be resilient to such natural disasters; however, I think the information sharing about the disaster management plans and structural organisation that was put in place by some of the territories versus others, and the intended reconstruction plans was very helpful from a forward planning perspective. I will certainly be having discussions with my team in Hazard Management in light of this meeting held.”
Recovery efforts are making slow but steady progress. Mr. McLaughlin commented, “What we’ve heard is that cruise tourism will be the first to come back to the islands after the hurricanes. All three islands, Anguilla, BVI and Turks and Caicos are hoping that cruise ships will begin to start back at the end of November. Cruise tourism will bring in much needed revenues to the Governments of the affected islands and provide employment for their people. This was also the case in Grand Cayman after Hurricane Ivan and further reinforces the argument for a new cruise port in the Cayman Islands.”
One significant challenge is that the islands affected are unable to access the UK’s £13 billion aid budget, because they are classified as “high-income countries” by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This has caused controversy in the UK and has led to Priti Patel, Secretary of State for International Development writing to the OECD asking for changes to its rules to reflect the fact that small island nations are particularly vulnerable to disasters like Irma despite their national income. These efforts seem to have had some success, as on Monday, 30th October, the body that sets international aid rules was to consider allowing access to aid by the OT’s impacted by hurricanes this year. At the moment though it’s not thought any decisions on this will be made in the short term. Hurricane Irma: Aid rule change to be considered.
The Premier of Montserrat, Hon. Donaldson Romeo shared his unique viewpoint. While, Montserrat only received a relatively light brush from the recent hurricanes and were even able to send humanitarian assistance to BVI, he forewarned, “It is 22 years since the volcano erupted in Monserrat and we are still suffering due to the lack of investment in recovery. After all these years, 60% of Montserrat’s annual budget comes from the UK paid by the British taxpayer. I don’t want to see this happen to the islands that have been impacted by these hurricanes. The UK has a legal, moral and constitutional responsibility to its Overseas Territories to not just help with immediate relief but to assist with the recovery of their economies so that they can return to being self-sufficient.”
The meeting concluded with agreement to a joint letter signed by all leaders of the Caribbean Overseas Territories that would be delivered to Lord Ahmad. The letter sets out the urgency of focusing the upcoming JMC agenda on matters to do with disaster relief and recovery. In addition, a formal request will be made for a meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May, who has shown a continued interest in the welfare of the affected Territories.
Mr. McLaughlin concluded “I was very pleased with the outcome of the meeting. At the end of the day we have a clear strategy on ensuring the agenda for JMC reflects the urgency of need in the affected OT’s. The reason I lobbied so hard when I was recently in Manchester and London was to encourage the UK Government to meet its obligations to the OT’s. Today it is Anguilla, BVI and Turks and Caicos, tomorrow it could be The Cayman Islands. This meeting has shown the continued solidarity of the OT’s and our commitment to support each other in times of need.”
The attached communique was agreed by all leaders at the end of this meeting.
Lord Ahmad, Minister for Overseas Territories will host the JMC meeting on 27th and 28th November in London.