Toxic fumes from the garbage fire burning on the hillside at West End are poor rewards to the First District’s electorate for its past loyalty to the disgraced former premier. They share the impact with non-belongers, our American neighbours, and the tourist industry that supports our economy.
Open burning caused by the poorly functioning incinerator epitomises much that is wrong with the governance of the whole territory, from the impoverishment of basic services and disregard for the welfare of the community, to cost overruns on the purchase of poorly sourced and improperly funded equipment.
The previous Virgin Islands Party-led government’s record on the implementation of its campaign promises, including various governance and transparency reforms, was very disappointing. Members scarcely addressed the need to tackle poorly functioning public services, raising questions about the use of funds which should have been budgeted for services like the public library and post office district networks.
Both these services have been largely out of action since Hurricane Irma, reflecting badly on both the past VIP administration and its National Democratic Party predecessor alike. Who profits from the need to hire couriers to carry goods and even correspondence in a timely fashion?
Correcting such faults within two years would present insuperable challenges to the new National Unity Government, which represents under a third of residents and is made up of politicians who oversaw past mistakes and first-term legislators tutored by the disgraced ex-premier.
A new commission on constitutional reform should be appointed as soon as possible, tasked to report within a given number of months. Wide-ranging discussions throughout our community on its findings should not be inhibited by a constitutional need to hold a general election within a year. Meanwhile, we should immediately enshrine in law provisions already present in the 2007 Constitution, including a Human Rights Commission.
The new Constitution must balance belongers’ fears of being overrun by outsiders against the need for a more transparent, fairer route to VI citizenship for long-term residents. Currently, up to two-thirds of the VI’s population is subject to an inefficient and much-abused work permit system.
Some work-permit holders cannot afford the fees they would be charged to return to their homes in the VI, yet the government has pussyfooted around employers who have illegally withheld the deductions their workers have paid for social security and health insurance.
The Royal Virgin Islands Police Force is investigating various allegations of criminality and corruption that emerged during the COI, but numerous others have swirled around our small community for decades, such as rumours that an underhand attempt to gain control of a rival media outlet was presented to members of a startup unincorporated club as a genuine investment opportunity.
After the scheme failed, its proposer allegedly then asked the club for a short-term loan at a mouth-watering interest rate, but later came to an arrangement with the club’s other officers to settle for less than he owed, without the internal auditor’s awareness, in return signing a non-disclosure agreement.
Letter to the editor
On Oct. 29, 2020, the Beacon published my support of an editorial published two weeks earlier titled “Premier should stop bickering with the UK.” This was over two months before the Commission of Inquiry was appointed. However, I expressed some reservations about the editorial’s accusation that the UK bullied the VI government into its commitment to open registers, while the premier may have been chafing under UK accountability measures.
Two-thirds of people who took an unscientific online poll posted by the Beacon had opined that the VI should never go independent, apparently being unconvinced that it would be either desirable or achievable, particularly in view of the questions raised in a Beacon article on the lack of transparency regarding the use being made of the government’s economic stimulus package.
However, the editorial had initially assumed that constitutional reforms would eventually lead to independence, then later moderated this stance by referring to the VI’s quest for greater autonomy. I suggested possible alternatives, like an association with the UK, representation in the UK Parliament, or union with neighbouring overseas territories or independent countries in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States.
At the time, then-Premier Andrew Fahie had spread distrust of Governor Gus Jaspert’s motives at home and abroad. Regional bodies like Caricom and the OECS, which decry proposals to suspend the VI’s Constitution, do a disservice to the human rights of their compatriots who have made their homes in the VI.
Some comments posted on social media in October 2020 already invited the UK’s intervention to rescue the territory from what might, at the very least, be described as financial incompetence.