In my recent commentaries, I have been imagining the Virgin Islands of 2030 through the eyes of a 10-year-old Guyanese girl named Maria, her older brother Zak, and their father Troy. This week, the VI family’s chronicle continues.
Zak told his father he had done a full-text search of the Virgin Islands National Bibliography for the first proposal that the United Kingdom overseas territories of Anguilla, Montserrat and the Virgin Islands unite to form the Eastern Caribbean Union (ECU). The database included everything published in the VI that had been presented to the VI Public Library and the National Archives under the legal deposit regulations and all the automated literature searches routinely conducted by their staff, but Zak had not qualified his search terms by date or geographical location.
The earliest hit was an aside at the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation, meeting on Feb. 21, 2020. While discussing the cash-strapped nature of its four-member visiting mission to Montserrat on Dec. 17-19, 2019, and the VI premier’s suggestion that they visit his territory, a representative had reportedly joked that it would have been cheaper in the long run to have made a single, concurrent mission to Anguilla, Montserrat and the VI, seeing their proximity. However, Zak couldn’t verify which country the speaker had represented.
His search had also led to his retrieval of Investigating the Shadows Beneath the Sunlight: Memoirs of a Private Detective in the VI. Published after the referendum which approved the Union, it was dedicated to “The people of these beautiful islands who have chosen a better future for their children.” In the introduction, the author describes a near-death experience which led him to dedicate the rest of his life to exposing the corruption and criminality hidden beneath VI society.
The detective linked the allegation of suspected Russian hackers during the VI’s 2019 General Election — which was made by the writer of a March 2019 letter to The BVI Beacon — with a statement by a British Parliamentary Committee warning that London’s reputation as the leading centre of international finance was being put at risk by it becoming so awash with illicit Russian funds that it was known to criminals as the “The Laundromat.”
It seemed that the hackers were more intent on blackmailing outspoken members of the community than influencing the election outcome. However, rumours of impropriety by various politicians had circulated at different times, and the detective suspected that some may have succumbed to threats to expose them during the campaign.
The detective also quoted messages he received from the telecoms company Flow at the outset of the campaign favouring the outgoing government party. Then after the election, the company appeared to partner with the new government’s official information outlets.
In its final report on the same election, The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s Election Observers Mission criticised the non-regulation of election expenses, but that showed there were non-monetary ways in which businesses could promote themselves in the political arena during a campaign.
The VI’s modern prosperity was derived from its successful tourist and financial services industries, but while its inhabitants’ proud exploitation of the territory’s beautiful environment was celebrated globally, the use of VI-based companies to help wealthy clients escape their domestic tax responsibilities by concealing their ultimate ownership earned it an international reputation as a dirty tax haven.
However, an investigation into an attempt to supply helicopter gunships to a renegade Libyan general for an assault on Tripoli uncovered the VI’s vicarious involvement in a tangled web of offshore companies. The detective points out that if the plot had succeeded, it would have cost innocent civilian lives.
He notes that the UK government pressured the VI premier into committing the VI to publicly accessible registers of company beneficial ownership by 2023, but almost concurrently the VI’s reputation plunged again after the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released the “FinCEN Files,” exposing yet more cases of the rich and powerful hiding their company ownerships to commit tax abuses, money laundering and corruption.
In the book, the detective also described the communal criminal behaviour that Governor Gus Jaspert had to face, from looting after Hurricane Irma to people-smuggling during the Covid-19 pandemic. Some politicians claimed he delayed release of the auditor general’s critical report on the previous administration’s payment for an airline that never flew commercially, but he said he had not wanted to compromise prematurely the police investigation into the matter.
Mr. Jaspert was due to leave office by August 2020, but he had his term extended until December in order to give continuity to the VI’s responses to Covid-19. While some politicians saw his request for a British naval ship to help secure the borders as neo-colonialism (their predecessors in power reportedly had rejected extended military aid after Irma on similar grounds), many observers wondered if they were actually fearful of having too close a light shone on their own activities.
Zak discovered that an increasing number of belongers viewed the proposed creation of the ECU as an opportunity to redeem their beloved islands from their dirty international image, giving rise to the new Redemption Party. It accused its opponents of hypocrisy in accusing the UK of grossly neglecting Virgin Islanders since emancipation but helping the rich of the world deprive their poor compatriots.
Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” exultantly accompanied the new party during a subsequent general election campaign, at which it won all the territorial seats and enough district ones to secure an overall majority.