Imagine that a foreign billionaire wants to influence a Virgin Islands election because of a lucrative investment opportunity he wishes to make in the territory.
To do so, he secretly donates $1 million — with strings attached — to the party of his choice, which uses the money to launch a robust advertising push that secures its victory.
Because the VI lacks campaign finance legislation, this hypothetical story could happen.
Such laws, which are commonplace in democracies around the world, discourage nefarious behaviour and help level the playing field by bringing financial transparency to election campaigns. They often set donation limits, for example, and require that all contributions be disclosed to the public.
In the VI, reform in this area has been urgently recommended for more than a decade by the supervisor of elections and foreign election observers alike. Observers here for last month’s election noted that the lack of campaign finance legislation means that the territory is not compliant with the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, which was extended to the VI in 2006.
In spite of the urgency, legislators here have never taken up the ball.
We hope that the newly elected Virgin Islands Party administration will be different. Enacting comprehensive election reform would be a great way for the party to prove that it is serious about keeping its pre-election promise to ensure transparency and accountability.
The new government should also amend the Elections Act in order to follow other recommendations that have been repeated for years, including implementing fixed-term elections, requiring political parties to register, and establishing an independent election commission.
Though the delays in such areas have been most unfortunate, some progress has been made. As voters know, the February election saw the smooth introduction of electronic vote-counting, which eliminated the need to count ballots by hand through the night. This step, which also had been recommended for more than a decade, was a major milestone.
A code of conduct was also added to the Elections Act this year, though, as observers pointed out, the law does not explain who should monitor the code or enforce it. Legislators should take another look at the code as well.
All of these steps are badly needed, but they will take time to implement properly. The new government, then, should tackle them right away with an eye toward passing a progressive legislative framework well before the next election.
Then when voters next head to the polls, they can rest easy in the knowledge that the elections are up to international standards of best practice.