I agree in principle with your editorial of last week arguing that Virgin Islands roads should have names of local significance.
There are several categories of VI heroes and heroines who have been overlooked. This territory was built on their vision, creativity, industriousness, entrepreneurial spirit, sweat and selfless love for their homeland. Their hallmarks were integrity, honesty, generosity and more.
We stand on their shoulders, yet we have forgotten them. Seems like only some count for honouring today. Of course many are now dead, and honouring them does not guarantee political or other gain.
In a 1987 article titled, “A Destiny to Create, a Nation to Mould,” the call was made for the creation of structures to remember and honour VI values, history, writers, civic leaders, health workers, politicians, preachers, educators, artists, designers, builders, boat captains, fishers, farmers and other worthy citizens. Follow-up reminders highlighting some categories were also published in the newspapers.
This article focuses on one such category of forgotten VI heroes: They were called “government agents.”
Before the introduction of ministerial government in 1967, there was by appointment a government agent in every district of the VI. The officer was the government representative in the district, which typically consisted of several villages. The duties included receiving and accommodating government officials from Road Town and overseas, as well as accompanying them on specific missions to overhaul and assess situations concerning land and projects; to settle disputes; or to witness claims. Other duties were collecting taxes and issuing receipts; ensuring the maintenance of the public roads; providing postal services; organising civic events and celebrations; distributing the “poor fund;” keeping the peace and more. Some agents were also required to be road wardens and local constables or to establish and manage the public pound.
The extra mile
The government agent’s house was the rent-free administrative centre of the district, with no financial recompense, and the salary was only a pittance based on a percentage of taxes collected. But they were contented.
Such was the calibre and integrity of the people who really served, and were always prepared to go the extra mile without looking for “overtime.”
Compare that social conscience with government’s current rent bill and the exorbitant money-grabbing culture inflicted upon the Treasury today.
Honesty, integrity and fairness are turning in their graves. Let us remember and find ways to honour those who possessed those values and qualities that are sadly missing in our society today.