In my previous four commentaries, I imagined 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’s love of Caribbean history was kindled by a talk to his London primary school class at The Commonwealth Institute, which showcased exhibits from every country in the Commonwealth, including the Virgin Islands. The wife of an exiled black Guyanese politician (formerly a foreign minister) told them about The People Who Came. His father told him how their family got to be in Guyana, the Land of Six Races.
In his teens, Troy started to research their family tree, helped by an innate aptitude for languages, and added his own memories while sharing it with his children Maria and Zak in 2030. While working from home for a trust company in Tortola in 2000, he had studied online for a master’s degree in Caribbean history, and replied to innumerable enquiries from people worldwide who had discovered family connections to the VI.
When he heard about the formation of a Constitutional Review Commission in 2020, he wondered when the public would realise their elected representatives had cherry-picked the 2007 Constitution for 13 years, ignoring distasteful parts like establishing a Human Rights Commission. Then he realised they had tacit support from an electorate composed exclusively of Virgin Islanders and belongers, who saw the HRC as a potential threat to their security.
The success of the VI’s tourist and financial services industries created far more job opportunities than Virgin Islanders wanted to fill, but to protect themselves from being swamped by incomers, their politicians established in law that Virgin Islanders and belongers be given first preference for any vacant post. They viewed it as positive discrimination.
Most incomers quietly accepted being non-citizens in their adopted territory as their price for sharing the benefits of a buoyant economy in an enviable environment. However, Troy told his youngsters that he had personally suffered its corruptive effects before obtaining his belongership (a process granting citizenship to foreign residents through marriage or exceptional service after many years of residency).
The party in power called a snap general election for February 2019 after becoming embroiled in some questionable financial decisions, but the opposition swept to an overwhelming victory.
A Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Election Observer Mission (EOM) had been invited to observe the election. Such missions impartially adhere to the United Nations Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation, judging elections against international standards, commitments and obligations as well as domestic laws. The OEM for the VI in 2019 delayed its final report until April following a court case over the result in a district constituency.
The report praised the VI Elections Office for implementing several recommendations made after the 1995 general election and found that the 2019 election reflected the will of the voters, but it offered several more recommendations for reform. It was particularly critical of the lack of campaign finance regulations and the restrictive suffrage rights established in the 2007 Constitution, which contravened the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Troy told his youngsters that the 2010 census had revealed that 61 percent of the population was born outside the VI, most of whom would have been disenfranchised by the Constitution. In 2019, incoming Premier Andrew Fahie made a commendable attempt to ameliorate this injustice by fast-tracking long-time residents into becoming belongers.
However, the premier was poorly briefed before appearing before the UN Decolonisation Committee’s annual regional meeting in St. Georges, Grenada. In his presentation, he acknowledged that few VI residents had testified before the committee in the past, but did not seem aware that all those who had done so had stated either that VI residents did not want independence from the United Kingdom or that they were not ready for it.
Moreover, when he complained that the governor had not been locally elected, he should have known that committee members from Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States countries would have known compatriots living in the VI who had no right to vote and that the committee would expect unfettered access to them as well if the UK agreed to his proposal that the committee send a delegation to the VI to garner residents’ views on independence.
The UK government, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the UN Decolonisation Committee would all at the very minimum expect the establishment of the Human Rights Commission before any agreement on a new Constitution would be made, and they would require that the new one safeguard all residents by adhering to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Troy explained to his children that the VI had been forced to abandon its discrimination in favour of Virgin Islanders and belongers and recognise the treasure trove represented by the multiplicity of birth countries in its midst, before it could progress to the prosperity it was enjoying in 2030.