An entitled minority must never again be allowed to control Virgin Islands governance, politics and society without full citizen and resident participation.

Had full citizen participation been the governing culture for decades in the Virgin Islands, the territory may have escaped being where it is today: sitting in the telescopic sights of its enemies and detractors, including a global media never “in love” with offshore finance centres.

One reason the debate on greater autonomy and independence is going nowhere is that discussion is not being fully introduced into the public square apart from repeated assertions by talk show hosts and politicians calling for both.

Independence can only happen when VI citizens vote for it in a referendum. The VI is “light years” away from that day. No minority of citizens will decide independence.

No politician has yet offered a clear vision of an independent VI; proposed how the independence process might be managed; or explained the when and how of a referendum. The rest of the overseas territories are in a similar boat.

 

Being ‘in the know’

It is always a good thing when the mass of a population is involved in the great issues and policy debates of the day.

Citizens must be in the know on what happens behind the closed doors of power at every point in time. That way, before specific matters become troublesome, tricky and dire, the ones who pull the levers of power are warned in time through effective public feedback before they enter the place of no return.

The informed, aware and proactive citizen is the best friend of good governance. His or her support and input are never to be taken lightly. And when government fears and discourages the views of opinionated citizens, it is set up for failure.

At least in the United Kingdom, Brexit was debated before the Brexit referendum. Hence there is no one to blame for that decision, as the people voted for Brexit, albeit by a slim margin.

Brexit should never have been decided on a simple majority of those voting in the referendum, but by a two-thirds majority vote as is the norm for referendums. However, the powers that be pushed for the slim-majority option. Today, Brexit is viewed as a disaster by most intelligent people.

Clearly, citizen participation offers a route out of the cul-de-sac when a government gets into trouble of its own making.

 

In the VI

The problem in the VI is that there is citizen participation at the level of party politics at election time. Then when a party is elected, a clique takes over the territory’s affairs while the rest of the citizens who placed that party in power through their votes and activism get locked out of decision making.

A handful of elected and nonelected people are at the centre of power. These are the characters who are in the know on matters of a sensitive nature, with no scrutiny. There is the temptation to keep matters hidden from Joe Public. The preceding is never good for governance no matter how secret the issues and affairs of the territory need to be.

Transparency is always a plus in governance for the simple reason that it fosters trust in government. When public trust disappears in a democracy, governing becomes difficult, if not impossible.

 

Inquiry

Now the recent intervention in VI matters of state by UK high officials showed the efficacy of checks and balances and public oversight.

An unchecked executive — the Cabinet in the case of the VI — easily falls into abuse of power. Human beings by nature crave power, and power that is left unchecked corrupts.

The commission of inquiry shows that executive oversight is working in the case of the VI. Checks and balances are good for residents and taxpayers.

Imagine if the inquiry was not introduced at this time. Then matters may have gotten out of hand, perhaps leading to worse mismanagement of financial affairs down the road.

In the US, former President Donald Trump was stopped in his tracks from overthrowing the constitutional, legal and institutional powers of Congress, law enforcement and the Supreme Court, through a constitution that is airtight and very difficult even for a rogue president to bypass and ignore.

 

COI report

The report of the commission of inquiry after the body ends its investigations will be quasi-constitutional. It will be a resilient and powerful document that will lead to better governance by pointing out areas in VI governance that require better management, greater probity and scrutiny, and greater oversight.

The report will provide a path to the future. It will place in concrete the guidelines and parameters in the management of public resources.

It is unfortunate that matters reached a stage where the intervention of a commission of inquiry became necessary.

However, residents of the VI must look at this investigation as a positive. It is an opportunity to get things right in a world that is growing more complex and dangerous, especially for small isolated countries.

The good news is that the VI continues to sit at the top globally for being a safe, idyllic and pristine travel destination.

It will indeed be a pity if we allowed alleged corruption and criminality to spoil what is an excellent travel and tourism brand.

Consequently, the commission of inquiry is a very good thing at this time.

 

 

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