In a previous commentary published in the Beacon on Feb. 9, I started sharing my thoughts on the constitutional review and why it is laying the foundation for the best days of these islands we call home. The more research I conduct on this topic, the more I realise that the system we have is not truly a democratic system but a structure of a monarch and subjects. Democracy is government of the people, by the people, for the people, and this is why being a non-self-governing territory — as the United Nations describes our political status — is unacceptable.
We cannot flip a switch and become self-governing overnight, but it is essential to start the process now so that we will be ready when the time comes. As Spiderman’s uncle told him, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Being in control of one’s affairs as an individual requires maturity, and the same principle applies to a country.
The calibre of leadership required in this season is not to be taken for granted or lightly. The leadership of a country is a reflection of the community they represent. If we are not satisfied with the job they are doing, we have every right to respectfully say so and make changes as necessary. We the people are the employers, not the employees, and we are responsible for holding our leaders accountable to the shared values of our society. Good governance is dependent on the people paying close attention all the time as we are the ones affected when the boat runs aground on the rocks.
Ideas for reform
With these points in mind, there are many areas to consider while reviewing the Constitution.
- Service commissions: Look at streamlining the various service commissions. The reasoning behind having a Police Service Commission and Teaching Service Commission separate from the Public Service Commission is unclear, as they basically mimic each other in responsibilities. The other overseas territories have a Public Service Commission and a Judicial and Law Commission. A sidenote: For good governance, any appointments to commissions should include members nominated by the opposition leader as well as the premier.
- Law reform: To support the rule of law, the law reform exercise started decades ago needs to be completed, and a regulation made that our laws should be reviewed after a set period (such as 10 years) to prevent the legislative framework from becoming archaic and out of touch with the reality on the ground.
- Governor’s powers: Instances of the governor’s discretionary powers, (“acting in accordance with” versus “acting after consultation with”) should be reviewed for fairness. One example is Clause 91 (1) (d) of our Constitution, where the governor consults with the Virgin Islands Civil Service Association for an appointment to the Public Service Commission but can choose not to act on its advice — even though he is required to act on the advice of the premier and opposition leader. The VICSA’s representation of public interests is of no less value and should be given due respect.
- Self-governance: In light of the findings of the 2022 Self-Governance Assessment Report by Dr. Carlyle Corbin, a path with a timetable should be established leading to the attainment of the full measure of self-governance. This may need to be done in stages so as not to overwhelm the systems. As long as our Constitution states that the United Kingdom’s interests supersede the VI’s interests, this is an autocracy — also known as a colony — and cannot operate as a democracy with a government of the people, by the people, for the people.
- A commission on decolonisation should be included in the next Constitution to conduct an extensive public education programme on political status options of full self-government until the territory is fully decolonised with public consultation.
Several election reforms should also be considered as part of the constitutional review.
- I support campaign financing legislation to bring transparency and accountability to support free and fair elections.
- The many recommendations in the former elections supervisor’s post-election reports over the past three election cycles need to be implemented into law to strengthen our elections system, and this should happen by the next election cycle in 2027.
- We also should explore the benefits of a process to recall elected officials as way of the people being able to hold them accountable for their performance. However, I am not sure if this measure is appropriate in the Constitution or the elections laws.
- I support the idea of run-off elections to promote fairness and consensus. For example, in our current system a candidate can win a seat with less than 50 percent of the votes cast. In a system that uses run-off elections, if no candidate wins a majority the top two candidates must go through a second round of elections; one must obtain 50 percent or more of the votes to be declared the winner. In our system, governments can be elected by a minority of voters and not a majority as some believe.
- There should be a fixed date for elections, and elections should be called early only in extenuating circumstances. Then prospective candidates and the voting public would have a clear expectation of when elections will be held. This also promotes political stability.
- We should also consider other options of voting besides in-person. There was once a proxy voting system years ago, but it was revoked because it was abused. However, people who may have to travel around election time — and the VI diaspora living abroad — are disenfranchised of their right to vote.
My philosophy is that in life you will not be able to keep the mice out the house, so make sure you have good traps to catch them. This is in essence what good governance is about, and when any process is implemented we must put in place measures that create the necessary checks and balances, and they must be well enforced in order to be effective.
Selah, let us pause and calmly think about that.