This small territory of about 30,000 people, less than half of whom are Virgin Islanders (some would say “indigenous”), is rife with nepotism, favouritism, tribalism and victimisation, not to mention xenophobia and favoured last names. It is thus very difficult to govern with any degree of neutrality.

The civil service is way overstaffed, often with favoured names or relatives with no experience, which results in some of the poor governance mentioned below. I have heard of very few public officers being sacked for poor performance, crime or fraud. They are usually just moved to another department.


‘Rambling’ in HOA

The House of Assembly has been discussing the terms of reference for a review of the 2007 Constitution, which was actually due in 2017. However, from the long, rambling speeches by the premier and the member for the Third District, it seems that independence is more on their minds. The premier says we are able to manage our own finances and govern the people, and others have complained about the role of the governor, the Queen’s representative, and feel that the post should be held by an “indigenous” Virgin Islander. Such a person would be under huge pressure for favours, so the job would be impossible, just as it was for the two Virgin Islander police chiefs were not really successful in their time. Speeches by other HOA members seem to be trying to pre-empt the constitutional commission by forcefully stating what they want as a result of the consultations. Surely that is putting the cart before the horse?


Governing finances

At this time, I respectfully disagree that we are able to govern and manage our public finances satisfactorily. We pass laws, and are then almost completely unable, or unwilling, to enforce them, particularly when they involve taxes from the populace.

I’m afraid the biggest barrier to independence and self-government is the people themselves. Too many have the attitude that because they are from here they can do what they want, and too many simply decide to ignore laws at whim. The xenophobia against outsiders, who are necessary to maintain the economy, is downright disgusting.


Laws broken

Examples of frequently broken laws are many.

  1. Land taxes are often unpaid for years, despite being ridiculously low, and government does not chase up defaulters or penalise them. The premier said the taxes are low because many

Virgin Islanders living abroad own great tracts of land but could not afford any increase in taxes.

  1. For National Health Insurance, employers deduct contributions from workers and are supposed to pass them on to government. Some, said to be influential, are way behind in payments, and do not appear to be chased for payment. At the same time, they are actually stealing from their employees and depriving them of the benefits. The scheme appears to be woefully underfunded and may need increased contributions or reduced benefits. Government’s inability or neglect in not reining in the private medical providers at the

introduction of the scheme in order to prevent their huge fee increases contributes greatly to this underfunding.

  1. While the Social Security Board appears to be the best run government department, it struggles with the same issue as NHI: recalcitrant employers not passing on contributions, and not being chased or penalised.
  2. The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission was formed and permitted to tax the telecommunications companies, but it has not collected the money to the tune of some $24 million. This was in addition to the company taxes they pay.
  3. Government spends far too much on August Emancipation Festival and yet does not pay its suppliers what they are owed for years. Similarly, it shelled out excessive amounts for the music festivals.
  4. Government does not pay its contractors in a timely manner, resulting in some refusing to accept further government contracts.
  5. Then there are the well-known huge overspends, project delays and lack of value for money for the pier park, the hospital, the greenhouses, the Beef Island bridge, the famous airline, Prospect Reef, and the college auditorium. And look how the clash of two personalities cost the government millions over the Delta Petroleum customs fiasco.
  6. As for motorcycles, so many are coming in and being driven on the roads illegally that the government has to plead with riders to come and get them properly licensed and insured. How ridiculous! Those illegal bikes presumably have also not had any customs duty paid?

What a state of affairs. Bikes should be imported and sold through accredited agents and not allowed on the roads until properly licensed and insured, just as cars are, and owners and riders should have to show proof of having a crash helmet and a driving license or learner permit.

  1. If safety of the people is paramount, what about all the murders that remain unsolved? The lack of evidence is due to the recalcitrance of the people to tell the police what they know, and in such a small place somebody knows something.


And in HOA…

All these practical governance failings are a far cry from the voices in the House of Assembly, who either don’t know or don’t care what goes on down the line.

With independence and the recent legalising of marijuana and gambling, and the possible collapse of our tourist industry, what will our currency be, and who will provide our defence?

By all means let us have a constitutional review. But I don’t think we are ready for independence yet.