Family and friends, we should celebrate the life of the last election campaign to be fought under the 2007 Constitution. Thanks to the polling staff’s professionalism and the election supervisor for her “warts and all” assessment of how the voters exercised their democratic rights, recalling a candid description of the face of Oliver Cromwell, the republican who ruled England after its Civil Wars. After Mr. Cromwell died, a popular republican general changed sides and supported King Charles II’s enthronement in order to save Britain from chaos. A cynic once asserted that treason can never prosper, because if it prospers nobody dares call it treason.
King Charles III’s coronation is past, but there are several other upcoming events — many of which are much nearer home — which may influence the Virgin Islands’ aspirations for greater self-determination. Those events include the governor’s quarterly report on the Commission of Inquiry reforms; the Election Observer Mission’s final report on the election; the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development supplementary review that VI leaders hope will get the territory off the European Union’s blacklist; and the Constitutional Review Commission report due by year-end.
Meanwhile, the twin pillars of our economy should be strengthened by the success of the planned direct commercial flights to Miami, so the Public Works Department must be given funds and equipment to make the road from Trellis Bay and the airport a welcoming experience for passengers, sailors and residents.
At the top of the list of reasons for the lower-than-usual voter turnout last month might be apathy and distrust of the political system — a belief that nothing will change it. Politicians, then, need to earn voters’ trust, but events since the result have probably deepened their concerns.
The eventual result of last week’s election has been widely called the formation of a coalition government, but I must dispute that description. The glossary of parliamentary terms on the United Kingdom Parliament’s website defines a coalition government as one formed jointly by more than one political party. If a member of the UK Parliament does not have a political party, they are known as an “independent.”
One of the greatest tragedies after the 2019 election was the emergence of a House of Assembly dominated by a very experienced politician leading so many newbies. We should seek the UK’s help in giving newly elected members of the HOA similar training as it provides to election observers. That way, parliamentarians could more quickly learn the skills needed to be effective legislators.
The preliminary statement from the election observers echoed their predecessors’ criticism of the lack of campaign finance regulations in past elections. Without such rules, voters in the VI are unaware of sources of campaign funding.
Considering such issues, the new government should not ignore the continued threat of the UK suspending the Constitution if the governor is not satisfied with the government’s progress on implementing the COI’s recommendations.
It was ironic that the HOA was recalled during the campaign to regularise more than 600 new voters while more than twice as many were having their residency certificates put on hold. This should be the last election on such a limited franchise. The Immigration Department should be given the resources it needs to process certificates of residence promptly.
The 2010 census found that 61 percent of the territory’s population was born outside the VI. Of those, the highest numbers were born in Guyana, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Jamaica. The Central Statistics Office’s plans to conduct the suspended 2020 census should be approved at once. The publication of its results should be followed by the appointment of an electoral district boundaries commission. That commission should draw on its results to recommend any changes necessary.
The effectiveness of the party system depends on the opposition parties contributing to the creation of policy and legislation through constructive criticism, while also opposing government proposals with which they disagree. Therefore, a prediction last week that there will be “multiple” motions of no confidence against the government was unhelpful.
A commentator recently called the party system into question, but events abroad demonstrate the value of our constitutional right to “assemble freely and associate with other persons and, in particular, to form or belong to political parties.”
Now, we must call on the new session of the HOA to display proactivity towards its many challenges.
This process should start with the establishment of a commission to investigate how countries elsewhere in Caribbean Community raise their revenue (e.g. by import duties; income tax; registry, immigration and work permit fees; and land taxes) and cover the cost of essential services like health care; education; and sickness and unemployment benefits. After a review, that commission should recommend the fairest and most productive measures to be adopted here.