Friday, March 30, 2007

BVI Immigration Department to Launch the New Website

The BVI Immigration Department has launched the new website which will allow people in the British Virgin Islands as well as other countries in the world to get online access to all the information and news related to immigration issues in the BVI.

The new website's address is www.bviimmigration.gov.vg. It includes the list of designated ports of entry, as well as the list of persons prohibited from re-entering the Territory. The website launch forms part of an ongoing programme of initiatives aimed at modernisation of the Immigration Department.

During the media briefing to launch the new website, it was said by the Permanent Secretary in the Chief Minister's Office, Clyde Lettsome: “We are in an information age and being a part of the global community, the BVI must keep pace.” Lettsome also stated that the launch of new website of the Immigration Department is characteristic of the fast moving changes in technology and the way how information is exchanged within a global community. He also noted that this website is important to make the BVI Immigration Department more accessible to the public generally.

Acting Chief Immigration Officer Malvern Brathwaite said that he is pleased the Department established an online presence. He stated that an immigration department, by its nature, is a worldwide network, and “Therefore for us to be able to use this tool that connects the globe and our travellers, moves us closer to realising the creed of the true nature of an immigration department.” Malvern Brathwaite noted that there is another convenience for travellers on the website, of being able to download a variety of immigration forms.

“We will seek to disseminate comprehensive information to travellers, which includes immigration standards and procedures for entering the BVI, visa requirements, policy guidelines that apply to residency applications, and the full range of immigration related data that travellers will need to vacation or work in the Territory,” Brathwaite explained.

The new website of the BVI Immigration Department is very informative, however there are some technical issues that could be improved: Links to the BVI Financial Services (bvi .org) and Disaster Preparedness (bviodp .vg) are pointing to expired domains and can mislead the visitors. Links to BVI Financial Services Commission and BVI Department of Disaster Management would be more appropriate instead.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Offshore Industry Professionals Highlight BVI Regulations' Changes Favourable to Financial Community

The British Virgin Islands continues the improvements of business environment for corporations and financial institutions, which actually started from the British Virgin Islands Special Trusts Act 2003, and the BVI Business Companies Act 2004.

One of the leading global offshore companies, Walkers, has recently expressed its opinion on the newly implemented private trust company legislation and the Legal Profession Bill. Offshore professionals have also highlighted other important enhancements contributing to BVI leading positions in offshore financial world including the development of the Caribbean's first Commercial Court and the appointment of a Managing Judge for the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court.

The planned introduction of the new private trust company legislation was announced in October 2006, and the law provisions came into force on 15 January 2007. Under the newly enacted law, certain private trust companies may be exempted from licensing requirements and other provisions of the Banks and Trust Companies Act. Under procedures implemented by the Financial Services Commission, these exemptions will be applied to the BVI private trust companies which do not offer their services to the general public.

Private trust companies allow for establishing family-controlled structures, and offer trustees all the benefits of limited liability and perpetual existence which are usually the features of corporate vehicles, and can decrease the amount of taxes, by moving the liability from the settlor to the trust company. This kind of corporate vehicles has become increasingly popular in offshore financial centres during the last 15 years.

Other important steps taken by the BVI Government is the development of the first Commercial Court in the Caribbean and introduction of the Legal Profession Bill, which makes provision for the fusion of the barrister and solicitor branches of the legal profession, and promotes legal education and the discipline of legal practitioners. This Bill is another example of how the jurisdiction focuses on providing the highest level of legal services.

New legislation's positive impact on offshore industry is confirmed by the growing volumes of financial services provided by offshore law firms. For example, Walkers law firm has reported the increased amount of work in its BVI office, including the high net-worth corporate transactions and complex international litigation cases. As a result of an increase in litigation work, the law firm recently added three members to its BVI department, and now it has become the second largest law firm in the BVI.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Interconnection Agreement Signed by Cable & Wireless and CCT Global Communications

The BVI fixed-line monopolist Cable & Wireless announced on Thursday that it had signed an Interconnection Agreement Memorandum of Understanding with CCT Global Communications, which is now the holder of the only mobile phone services licence in the British Virgin Islands.

Earlier Cable & Wireless and CCT Global Communications argued on the subject concerning the issue of new licences that provided for the liberalization of the BVI telecommunications regime. The Director of CCT said that Cable & Wireless had charged its interconnection rates above its own retail tariffs, and had disrupted CCT's network by testing a wireless communications system over the same frequencies. Chief executive of C&W had denied the accusations of CCT.

Vance Lewis, CEO of Cable & Wireless, commented signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between the companies: "Interconnection is a necessary agreement linking two networks for the exchange of traffic. With the signing of this MOU completed, this paves the way to an open and level playing field in the BVI."

He also added that the remaining obstacle is the issuance of unitary licences to provide telecommunications services. After issue of these licences, the only thing to accomplish is the launch of bMobile, Cable & Wireless' mobile service in the Caribbean.

Both companies received the extension of their licences until March 31, 2007. The BVI government announced that it will open the market to competition in 2005. The new licences were expected to be issued by the end of January, when the 40-year monopoly of C&W expired; but the government did not take decision on how many new licences should be issued, so the BVI Telecommunications Regulatory Commission headed by Mr. David Iverson has been forced to give extensions to existing licence holders.

Other applicants for licences included BVI Cable TV, whose license was also extended to March 31, Digicel and Virgin Live Media. David Iverson, CEO of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission, has commented: “The number of new licences to be issued is dependent on the Minister’s policy statement, which has not yet been issued. This policy statement is expected in the near future.”

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

David Pearey Re-appoints Veteran Official as Deputy Governor

On Friday, March 16, BVI Governor David Pearey announced re-appointment of Elton Georges to be the deputy governor of the jurisdiction. With the agreement of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and on behalf of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr. Elton Georges would replace Mrs. Dancia Penn, which was appointed as Deputy Governor of BVI in September 2004, with effect from April 1.

It should be said that deputy governor is the second highest position in the British Virgin Islands. He usually acts in the absence of the governor, performing all the office duties and functions. The deputy governor supervises 17 departments, statutory bodies, as well as specialized government units, including the Attorney General's Office, Audit Department, Civil Registry and Passport Office, Governor's Office, Clerk of Executive Council, Human Resources Department, Office of the Legislature, Training Department, Police Force, and others.

Elton Georges was the deputy governor of the British Caribbean territory from 1983 to 2003, and now he came out of retirement. In making the announcement, Gov. David Pearey said he is delighted to welcome Georges back to this position. The Governor also said Georges will help him oversee the islands' affairs until a permanent appointment is confirmed, likely before the end of the year. George will help run the civil service in the jurisdiction, and will also act for Pearey in the periods of his absence.

"Mr. Georges served with distinction in that role for many years and contributed massively to the furtherance of BVI's interests in that time," Pearey said. "I greatly look forward to working closely with Mr. Georges."

The Governor added that he enormously appreciated the contribution of Mrs. Penn, her wise counsel and her dedicated service, and wished her success in the next phase of a very distinguished career. Also, Pearey made it clear that Georges' appointment is an interim one, and said he expects that a full-time appointment to the position would be confirmed before the end of 2007.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Zurich-based Plenum Group’s Fund of Funds in the British Virgin Islands

In March 2007, Switzerland-based financial services firm Plenum Group launched the Plenum Specialized Commodity Fund. The new British Virgin Islands-domiciled fund of funds is investing in commodity funds that find opportunities in unconventional and traditional commodity and energy markets. Initially the fund was expected to launch with some $6 million in equity.

The BVI-based fund of funds charges a 1.5% management fee and 20% performance fee, with a $100,000 minimum investment requirement.

The Specialized fund is already the second fund of funds managed by Plenum Group. The first one was a Pan-Asian fund of funds, dubbed the Plenum Asia Dragon Fund.

The main subsidiaries of Zurich-based Plenum Group are:

  • Plenum Investments AG – an international investment advisor whose main business is structuring and management of investment products in the fields of hedge funds and equities with or without capital guarantees;
  • Plenum Asset Management, formed in 1993 and now providing the following services to the private clients: brokerage and safe custody, investment products, asset management, investment advisory and wealth structuring;
  • Plenum Prudential AG, specializing in life insurance solutions;
  • Plenum Securities AG, a 100% affiliated subsidiary of Plenum Holdings AG in Zug, and an associated member of the SWX Swiss Exchange.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

In January-February 2007, BVI Among the Top Three FDI Sources in China

On Tuesday, 13 March, the government of China released a statement where it announced new figures on foreign direct investments into Chinese economy. In the first two months of the year, foreign direct investment into Chinese economy totalled 9.7 billion dollars, which is a 13% rise from the same period a year earlier. The ministry also informed that in the first two months of 2007, there were 5,716 new foreign-funded enterprises, 11.29% more than previous year.

The British Virgin Islands where many Chinese companies register for tax purposes remain the second in the list of the top three sources of foreign direct investment in the economy of China. In January, BVI companies invested more than one billion USD in Chinese economy. The commerce ministry of China did not provide FDI figures in February. The other
major investors are Hong Kong, - the usual leader by FDI in China, - and Japan.

In 2006, actual foreign investment in China was 69.5 billion dollars, that is down 4.1% compared to 2005. However, if the financial sector of economy were not to be taken into account, the figure totalled 63 billion dollars – that is a 4.5% rise.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

BVI Among the Biggest Foreign Direct Investors in the Economy of Russia

Recently we have discussed the fact that BVI remains its highest positions in the list of foreign investors in the economy of China, which is the country with one of the highest levels of inwards Foreign Direct Investments in the world. Now we will talk about Russia – one more country with one of the most dynamic and rapidly growing levels of inwards FDI, which during the last years allowed it to enter in the world list of leaders by this criteria.

2 weeks ago the Federal State Statistics Service (Rosstat) provided data on 2.7% increase of foreign investments in Russia in 2006, to $55.1 billion from 2005. In 2005, foreign investment in Russia soared 32.4%. Foreign direct investment in Russia grew 4.6% in 2006 to $13.68 billion. In 2005, FDI in Russia grew 38.8%.

The British Virgin Islands are among the biggest direct investors in Russia in 2006, along with Cyprus, Britain, the Netherlands, Luxemburg, France, Germany, Switzerland and the United States. All these countries account for 84.8% of the whole foreign investment stock in Russla,
including 85% of FDI stock.

By the information provided by Rosstat, the stock of foreign investment in Russia increased by 27.8% to $142.9 billion at the end of 2006. This figure included 49.1% of other investments, 47.5% of direct investment and 3.4% of portfolio investment, compared to 53.8%, 44.5% and 1.7% respectively in 2005.

Friday, March 09, 2007

BVI to Host Seminar and Meet Financial community in Dubai

In April, the British Virgin Islands International Finance Centre is to host a seminar for Dubai's business and financial community. The BVI seminar is called “The British Virgin Islands, Opportunities for Growth in Financial Services”.

Delegates to visit the seminar will have a possibility to get informed on the growth of BVI's offshore industry and get acquainted with the opportunities of working with this diversified financial services industry that includes corporate domiciliation, investment business, captive insurance and trusts and estate planning.

Such speakers having much weight in the British Virgin Islands' government and financial community as Chief Minister, Honourable Dr. D. Orlando Smith and the BVI regulator and CEO of the BVI Financial Services Commission, Robert Mathavious will address the interested audience.

To share knowledge and ideas on the success of Dubai regarding becoming a leading global financial centre, the delegation from the BVI will have a meeting with senior members of Dubai’s financial community.

Chief Operating Officer of the BVI International Finance Centre, Humphry Leue, said that hosting such events in strategic financial centres all over the world is important for the BVI International Finance Centre, and that the Middle East is particularly significant as the BVI recognizes the potential business opportunities in this region and can learn from it.

The BVI seminar is scheduled for April 29 to take place at the Burj Al Arab.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

New BVI Constitution Agreed

The successful conclusion of the British Virgin Islands constitutional talks were welcomed by Lord Triesman, FCO Minister responsible for the Overseas Territories, on February 28, 2007.

On February 26-28, delegations from the BVI and UK met in London for the 4th round of talks on constitutional review for the British Virgin Islands. The constitutional talks were hosted by Lord Triesman, and the leader of the delegation was BVI Chief Minister the Hon Dr Orlando Smith.

According to Chief Minister Orlando Smith, the BVI team achieved 95% of the proposals for a modernized constitution, which is a highly satisfactory result from the negotiation.

Drawing conclusions on the talks, Lord Triesman expressed his delight regarding co-operation aimed at producing a new constitution, which is an great step forward for a modern BVI.

The new constitution includes provisions devolving significant new powers to the Government of the BVI. Lord Triesman emphasized the significance of the fact that the BVI has proved it has been devoted to the promotion and protection of human rights by means of including a Fundamental Rights Chapter in the Constitution and congratulated Dr Orlando Smith and his delegation on their dedication to secure what is the best for people retaining the links to the UK. Regarding the issue of internal security, a new National Security Council will be established, which will give BVI Ministers a greater say in police matters. Also, greater influence will be given to the BVI Premier to setting the Cabinet agenda.

To remind of the constitutional review process, it should be mentioned that it began in 2004 with the appointment of the BVI Constitutional Review Commission. After extensive public consultation, in February 2005, the Constitutional Review Commission's report with recommendations was presented to Executive Council. In 2006, constitutional reform talks began in the BVI and delegations from the BVI and the UK had 3 rounds of constitutional talks. Their result was a draft text discussed in London on February 26-28, 2007.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Telecommunications Licences for Cable & Wireless and CCT Extended until March 31, 2007

The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission, at its first meeting this month, extended the existing non-exclusive telecommunications licences held by Cable and Wireless Limited, Caribbean Cellular Telephone Limited, and BVI Cable TV Limited. The licences are extended until March 31, 2007, all terms and conditions of each licence remaining valid and effective during this period.

This extension was pursuant to the new Telecommunications Act 2006, which came into effect on October 24, 2006 and provided for the liberalization of telecommunications in the British Virgin Islands.

Mr. David Iverson, Chief Executive Officer of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission, appointed in October 2006, has given explanations on the matter of license extension: while the licences are non-exclusive, each licensee is still restricted to operating in its own current market, and therefore will not compete in new markets or experience competition from others, until the new 'unitary' licences are issued. He also added that the number of new licences is dependent on the Minister’s policy statement, which has not yet been issued but is expected in the near future.

The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission was established to regulate the telecommunications sector in the Territory after liberalisation. Its members are Chairman Mr. Joseph Archibald, Mr. Iverson, Q.C., Deputy Chairman Ms. Linell Abbott, and Mr. Mickey Farara.

At a time when the BVI is moving to liberalise its telecommunications sector, CCT Global Communications, which is the only mobile provider in the British Virgin Islands, has made an announcement in favour of the liberalisation process. One of the company's directors has said they believe that liberalisation will greatly benefit the economic and social development of the Territory and its people.

It should be noted that CCT and Cable & Wireless are the only two telecoms providers seeking to receive licences from government, as the liberalisation process continues. Another one application, currently examined by the BVI government, is from Digicel.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Three Ministers being on the Constitutional Negotiations in UK , BVI Governor Appoints Acting Minister

David Pearey, Governor of the British Virgin Islands, acting on the advice of the Chief Minister, Dr Orlando Smith, has appointed Delores Christopher as Minister for Natural Resources and Labour for the period from February 23 to March 4. Before taking this position, Delores Christopher was a back-bencher. The appointment of Eileene Parsons as Minister for Natural Resources and Labour for this period was revoked, because of her being overseas due to ill health.

The appointment became necessary because of the absence from the Territory of three government ministers at the same time. Another two ministers, - the Chief Minister Dr Smith and Deputy Chief Minister Ronnie Skelton, - are in Great Britain, on the constitutional negotiations with the UK Government. Dr Smith is the leader of a local constitutional negotiation team to London to be involved in the last round of discussions with the British Government, which started after the familiarisation visit of the UK Parliament member to the British Virgin Islands. The team also includes the Deputy Chief Minister, a back bencher, the Attorney General and other members of the private sector. During Dr Smith's absence from the Territory, he will be substituted by Minister for Education and Culture Lloyd Black.

The announcement of Delores Christopher to act as Minister of Natural Resources and Labour came just a few hours after the BVI News carried a story that Acting Chief Minister Lloyd Black continued to answer for four Ministries, including his substantive post. The posts that remained in the responsibility of Lloyd Black include that of the Chief Minister, the Deputy Chief Minister and the Ministry of Natural Resources. The BVI constitution says no business shall be transacted at any meeting of the council, if there are less than three members present, besides the Governor or other person presiding.