The National Unity Government’s performance to date gives its well-wishers scant assurance that its members understand the challenges the Virgin Islands is confronting, let alone have a strong enough vision to implement all the Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations in a timely fashion. Instead, Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley appears to have been emulating his predecessor’s controversial policies.
For example, Cabinet has confirmed continuation of the policy of the premier having special ministerial advisers, and it has waived the tender process to achieve this for two such advisors, with two contracts retroactive from May 6 each valued at $120,000 per year in line with a policy decision taken on July 8, 2021 under the previous administration.
United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has warned that the UK government will implement COI Commissioner Gary Hickinbottom’s recommendation to impose direct rule if it becomes clear that the NUG is not delivering its side of the partnership for reform that “the people of the BVI want and deserve.”
The government has hiked business fees (disproportionately for non-belongers) when residents are angrily complaining about the state of the roads, poorly housed schools, inadequate healthcare and social services, lawbreaking and the rocketing price of food, fuel and other essentials. Despite the premier’s carefully sculpted image of belongers fighting against partial suspension of the Constitution, VI social media displays widespread support for prospective UK rule.
Under the 2007 Constitution, a general election is due next year. However, a by-election should be held in the First District, as the House of Assembly’s Standing Orders rule that “a member of the House shall vacate his seat if the member in any one session is absent from the House for more than three consecutive sittings without the written leave of the speaker.”
To avoid the suspension of the Constitution, the HOA will have to overcome its reputation for becoming a mere talking shop. Its chances of success might be improved if Dr. Wheatley concentrated on his roles as premier and finance minister, with his portfolio for tourism being devolved to a junior minister and agriculture and fisheries transferred to another minister.
Enhancing the VI’s internet services is critically important. The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission is currently investigating the renewal of the licences of the three telecoms providers permitted to operate in the territory. One has been accused of unfair competition by cultivating an uncomfortably close relationship with government departments for years. The TRC should be prepared to seek its replacement if necessary.
No new long-term space for a government rental contract should be signed before the auditor general has approved its terms. The VI Public Library in Road Town closed on May 17, 2016 after its rented accommodation was condemned as a health hazard, and the site in Pasea being prepared for its replacement has been occupied by the Elmore Stoutt High School since hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.
The East End/Long Look Community Library at Long Swamp is still acting as the library headquarters, despite the Cabinet deciding at a fully attended meeting on March 24, 2021 to facilitate its relocation by leasing accommodation at Major Bay, East End. The designated new site occupies the ground floor of a building with more parking space, improving its accessibility.
The truth will out!