It’s a new year, and the Virgin Islands should strive to make 2019 the fresh start it desperately needs.
To that end, the time for excuses is over. Instead of blaming shortcomings on Hurricane Irma, the VI must move forward boldly with sound policies and programmes designed to ensure that the territory actually builds back stronger instead of just talking about it.
The good news is that there is no shortage of good ideas for a better VI. The bad news is that many of those ideas have been around for decades without substantive action, and the storms don’t seem to have brought the needed change in thinking.
For the most part, the way forward is not disputed. Indeed, for the past 20 years of two-party politics, both major parties have espoused very similar platforms, and none of the new contenders this year shows any signs of making a radical departure in spite of much rhetoric to the contrary.
Fortunately, these platforms tend to be quite sound. Candidates of all stripes routinely call for better governance, progressive policies and best practices that would make the VI a better place.
But when they get in office, plans frequently fall by the wayside.
Why aren’t such goals getting accomplished much faster? Sometimes it is because they are expensive and difficult to implement, like many good ideas. But too often, well-conceived promises bog down because of a lack of forward-looking leadership, a failure to follow through with long-term initiatives, politics, backbiting, laziness or just plain greed.
These issues have been exacerbated dramatically during the recovery process. Though the territory has come a long way and seen successes since Irma, the shortcomings are egregious. Consider the neglected Elmore Stoutt High School, the West End ferry terminal, the dilapidated roads, the delays in securing needed recovery funding, and government’s refusal to adequately account for relief donations, to name a few examples.
Meanwhile, leaders have been too quick to revert to business as usual.
In 2019, then, a dramatic change is needed. Below are a few examples of the sort of action that should happen soon.
A raft of good-governance measures should be implemented, including ethics legislation, a freedom-of-information law, and a public register of interests for legislators and senior public officials.
A constitutional review should be launched with an eye toward helping to chart the territory’s path toward eventual independence.
Waste processing should be reformed from the ground up, with the implementation of sorting stations and meaningful initiatives that promote reuse and recycling.
Green energy should be more than a talking point.
In tourism, the territory should diversify from the traditional sun, sea and sand by offering more cultural and historical attractions.
In the capital, the territory should resurrect the Road Town Improvement Project, which laid out many excellent ideas for creating a city that would make the whole territory proud.
Roads should be built to last decades, not just until the next big rain.
East End should get a functioning sewerage system.
A library and cultural centre should be constructed to hold the territory’s national archives, and as a complementary step the education system should place a much greater focus on the story of this territory.
Schools from primary to tertiary level should be treated as a priority, not an afterthought.
Environmental laws should be reformed to ensure that the territory protects its delicate resources as climate change looms.
New social safety nets such as unemployment insurance should be considered, and measures to protect children should be strengthened.
The criminal justice system should be reviewed with an eye toward substantive reform focused more on rehabilitation than punishment.
Do these ideas sound familiar? They should, because all of them have been tossed around for years, often without much substantive action, if any. And they are just a few of the many well-meaning initiatives that have repeatedly fallen by the wayside.
Perhaps, then, the best advice in 2019 is to look backward to see the way forward. This is a job for the entire territory, and with an election coming up there is no better time for the public to insist on reform.
This year must be different.