Twelve months after the worst natural disaster in Virgin Islands modern history, the territory is still reeling and roaming about in the wilderness!
That Hurricane Irma set the development of the VI back 10 years may have appeared as mantra immediately after the fatal storm struck the territory in September 2017.
However, the symbols of the disaster are the Elmore Stoutt High School, which remains a ruin; Prospect Reef, which resembles a bombed out hotel; and the Central Administration Building, which remains boarded up.
How did a rich territory, with one of the highest incomes per capita in the world, become victim to an economic disaster that any developed society would have been able to recover from after 12 months? That is a good question!
The comforting caveat is that Irma and Maria hit economies such as Puerto Rico, Dominica, and the United States VI that are in much the same state as this territory.
However, using the preceding comparisons and benchmarks in the post-Irma period is no reason not to assess why recovery is taking place at a snail’s pace.
It would appear that the key reason for the stagnant recovery process is the lack of access to financing to stimulate recovery. There is also the reluctance of foreign investors to put hard cash into recovery without a clear and distinct vision of where the territory will sit down the road — say in 10 years. Investors like certainty. Where there is no strategy and vision, there is ambiguity and lack of clarity.
History is a critical component in the slow recovery process. The VI has not practised transparency, accountability and audited governance in the past 20 years. The result is that there is no roadmap out of this disaster. Accurate figures of gross domestic product, government borrowings, annual spending and borrowing, audited accounts of departments and projects, census numbers, accurate damage assessments, and so on are nonexistent or very difficult to obtain.
Investors, bankers, and planners want to know the extent of the capital and resources required to place the territory on pre-Irma footing. Without accurate statistics and metrics, this becomes an impossible task. All the territory has to go by is guesswork. Guesswork, however, is not good economic policy.
Lack of statistics
Knowledge of what the pre-Irma economy measured in the three to five years before the September 2017 season of disaster would have been a platform to fall back on in the upcoming three to five years.
However, if planners cannot assess or measure the pre-Irma period, then how do planners know what must be achieved to get the territory back to normal when no one can state what normal is in concrete and mathematical terms?
Using an analogy, it is like possessing the knowledge of a specific curry dish. However, the amount and mix of ingredients must be juxtaposed and mixed together in the most appropriate and sequential manner in order to get the taste and finished product right. If that knowledge is not recorded, then chefs go by guesswork. How on earth does the chef know what to bring together, and when, and in what amount, if the chef has nothing written to work by?
Well, the preceding assertion is the same thing for a territory after a disaster that requires resources to fix its smashed social and physical infrastructure. The territory must have an accurate record of its economic and social history in order to move forward and rebuild. The past is the platform on which to build the future.
Pre-war Europe, for example, was quite different from post-war Europe. However, knowledge of what Europe was like before Hitler’s panzer divisions began to roll across sovereign territory gave post-war leaders a glimpse of the past and how to steer their societies towards a more prosperous future.
Math, statistics and archives are the narrative that a country uses to develop. It tells a country where it came from, where it is at, and where it should be going.
Without that narrative, there is no logical route to the Promised Land. The country roams about in the wilderness eternally.
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