The man or woman who wants to understand the present Virgin Islands moment and look with clarity into the future must read and objectively assess recent history. At the very least, they should read narratives of the VI print press over the past 30 years.
But to begin with a caveat is appropriate. This writer doubts residents want a United Kingdom takeover in the manner of the Turks and Caicos Islands. What residents hope for is the placing of mechanisms that check impunity and ensure the prosecution of officials who cross the line between legitimate governance and criminal misconduct.
Then there is a national warning. The rule of law cannot be optional. Residents must adopt honesty, integrity and morality as core to a fully functional society. It takes all residents to plough the moral ground that leads to a secure and safe territory.
That history lesson will reveal that 25 years of visionless politics, poor governance and mismanagement has left the VI in a stagnant time bubble. The territory remains where it was 20 years ago.
Yes, there has been a vast increase in personal wealth, as revealed by any glance at the scores of new mansions on the hills and the construction of large buildings in Road Town. But this reflects deep wealth inequalities, not a wave of social prosperity.
The social and physical infrastructure remains poor for a territory that has seen tens of billions of dollars pass through its borders.
The territory is going nowhere, and fast. If anything, the territory has gone backwards. The early nationalists — men of true honour and integrity who helped usher in the current degree of self-autonomy — must be rolling in their graves today, as they see from eternity what their progeny have sowed and reaped.
Today, the future for the young depends upon a financial services and tourism economy owned by expatriates. Jobs in government, statutory boards and the public service are no longer guaranteed to young natives as in years past, owing to a non-diversified mono-economy. Secure employment is increasingly unsustainable.
Leaders today are only now realising the need for a food-sufficient, diversified economic culture with local manufacturing at the core that also produces supermarket-ready, homegrown produce and livestock and creates hundreds of sustainable jobs.
Expensive scholarships for natives mostly go to kids who migrate to the United States and Canada, using Virgin Islands’ taxpayers’ cash for the benefit of employers and businesses in the US and elsewhere.
The national infrastructure, both physical and social, remains unsuited for a “rich country,” and is more appropriate for a far poorer country.
Lessons of history
History explains how the territory got to this place.
The VI got here owing to two decades of mismanagement and poor governance, a lack of proper oversight of the executive branch, and a visionless politics that has no long-term plan for taking the territory to the proverbial promised land.
All is not lost. The VI will get back to where it should be, but only with the effective interventions and corrections of a powerful governance watchdog that shows the red card as soon as the Rubicon has been crossed from legitimate governance into criminal misconduct — thereby stalling illegitimate activity before it becomes a financial albatross.
Furthermore, a mechanism must be in place where a governance watchdog can circumscribe a government that recklessly and irresponsibly walks away from a nationally accepted national development plan, especially where resources for projects in a development plan are wilfully misappropriated for some other scheme or alternative spending binge that has no bearing on what the national development plan or stated national vision projects and dictates.
History shows that countries that condone executive impunity with no plan or vision, and populations that are apathetic to a governance type that has no respect for the rule of law, end up on the scrapheap of history, reaping poverty and national misery.
Simple observation of postcolonial Africa is an excellent example of the malevolence and dangers of executive impunity.
Postcolonial Africa is a horror story of poor governance. In Africa, a failure to check and circumscribe the executive branch has led to tyranny, dictatorship, the looting of treasuries by strongmen, poverty, war, disease and death.
The VI may not be following that exact script, but there are similarities, such as attempts to centralise power in one office; nepotism and cronyism; entitlement and discrimination; victimisation of those who fail to accept illegitimate directives; lack of financial accountability; and a culture of silence and fear.
The VI Commission of Inquiry is the last chance before the territory suffers the disastrous fate of becoming a true banana republic, and decades of social misery.
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