In my recent commentaries, I have been imagining the Virgin Islands of 2030 through the eyes of a 10-year-old Guyanese girl named Maria, her older brother Zak, and their father Troy. This week, the VI family’s chronicle continues.
Troy and Zak followed the narrow, freshly cut track to the dormant autonomous excavator, which had lowered its protective shield and switched itself off the night before. Sitting down on a rocky outcrop, they looked across to the sister islands and agreed that the retirees would love the view from their new homes.
Despite the new constitution giving long-resident expatriates the right to apply for British citizenship, private land was still mostly owned by Old Virgin Islander Families (OVFs), who were reluctant to sell any to outsiders, while land bought under non-belonger landowner licences was largely in the hands of wealthier expats. Consequently, the government was building blocks of assisted-living apartments for retirees who had always rented their homes.
Each block included communal recreation and dining rooms for residents who preferred company; a remotely served medical clinic; and the manager’s accommodation. Pensioners were able to mix and match the decor and their basic furnishings virtually before moving in, from three-dimensional catalogues attached to their headsets at home. Free transport to town was available, and an emergency helipad was shared with neighbouring blocks. The manager showed residents how to instruct the flying shopping robot.
Land-use surveys identified public land considered suitable for retirement blocks in each district of Tortola and on the main sister islands, then an excavator would cut a narrow strip around the boundary of each one. Government archaeologists. mineralogists, botanists and biologists then conducted environmental surveys to look for any previously unrecorded resources within the boundaries before any development was approved.
But Troy had not brought Zak up to see a development they could have explored online. He knew that Zak was excited at being able to vote for the first time and wanted to be uninterrupted while warning his son that politics brings out the best in people inspired to work selflessly for the good of their communities, but can corrupt others into grasping any opportunity to feed their desire for personal recognition and financial gain, creating a subculture of petty corruption and white-collar crime.
He related a cautionary tale a co-worker in a trust company had told him many years ago. During a serious economic downturn, another trust company declared some of its more recently filled posts redundant. Beattie had been asking her human resources manager for help with clearing a backlog of work before she took a vacation, so she readily agreed to accept Ms. X as an assistant. Her HR manager said she was a Virgin Islander who had only recently moved back from Florida before becoming redundant.
Beattie found Ms X rather slow to learn, but she hoped she could keep down the routine work while she was away in a couple of months’ time. However, one morning she found her in tears. Ms. X sobbed out that her father in Florida had been suddenly taken ill. He had been so keen on his grandchildren growing up in the VI that he had been paying her rent for a house she wouldn’t otherwise have been able to afford.
He hadn’t been able to transfer the rent to her account before falling sick, so she hadn’t enough money for the rent, as she had just paid a specialist in Puerto Rico for treating her baby daughter. Now she didn’t know whether her father would live long enough to see his granddaughter for the first time. Beatrice was so distressed that she offered to lend her the rent out of her retirement savings, not realising that was to be the beginning of a long list of misfortunes which would prevent Ms. X from repaying the loan.
Bea began to worry about how long Ms. X was spending on the telephone and her lack of interest in learning new tasks, wondering how her assistant would manage while she was away. However, when she mentioned that to her HR manager, he told her he had interviewed Ms. X for a more suitable, higher paid post that would be vacant soon and that he would keep an eye on Ms. X while she was away. Greatly reassured, Bea got Ms. X to sign a repayment schedule, starting from her first payday in her projected new post.
When Bea’s husband took her to an expensive restaurant for her birthday before their vacation, loud laughter from a far table led her to notice her HR manager among the smartly dressed diners, sitting directly opposite to Ms. X and another man. When she returned to her office, she was shocked to find the mail had piled up during her vacation, as Ms. X had resigned and returned to Florida.
She later discovered that the HR manager and Ms. X’s husband had worked together in the government party’s successful general election campaign and there had been an unwritten agreement that party workers would support each other afterwards. After hearing her lawyer’s pessimistic opinion on her chances of recovering her loan, Beatrice decided to keep Ms. X repayment schedule as a reminder of her own foolishness and to be wary of any politician’s promises.