I write in support of The BVI Beacon’s Oct. 15 editorial titled “Premier should stop bickering with the UK.” I do, however, have certain reservations, particularly your assumption that constitutional reforms will eventually lead to independence and your accusation that the UK used bully tactics to persuade the government to commit to open registers, while the premier may have been chafing under United Kingdom accountability measures.

Twice the editorial refers to the territory’s path to eventual independence, but it concludes more cautiously by referring to its quest for greater autonomy. I speculated on some possible forms that greater autonomy might take in a recent series of commentaries imagining how the Virgin Islands might be viewed in 2030. Imagined possibilities included an association with the UK, with representation in the UK Parliament (see various models employed in the Dutch and French Caribbean territories), or a union with neighbouring overseas territories or independent countries in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States.

 

Beacon poll

In a recent unscientific opinion poll on the Beacon’s website, 95 of 142 respondents said the territory should never go independent. This result — and a growing number of reasoned comments on social media — suggest that a large proportion of thinking people are yet to be convinced that independence is either desirable or achievable in the VI, particularly in view of the questions raised last week in a Beacon article on the lack of transparency regarding the use being made of the government’s economic stimulus package. Some comments posted on social media appear to invite the UK’s intervention to rescue the territory from what might, at the very least, be described as financial incompetence.

The Virgin Islands Party-led government’s record on the implementation of its campaign promises — which include various governance and transparency reforms — so far has been a great disappointment. Additionally, the need to tackle a whole swathe of poorly functioning public services has scarcely been mentioned, raising questions about the use of funds which should have been budgeted for services like the public library and post office district networks. Both of these services are out of action since Hurricane Irma, reflecting badly on both the current VIP administration and its National Democratic Party predecessor. Who is profiting from the need to hire couriers to carry goods and even correspondence in a timely fashion?

Meanwhile, the premier recently acknowledged the importance of preserving government records by announcing that he would take direct charge of the nascent BVI National Archives, presently a unit of the Deputy Governor’s Office. Had he discussed the transfer with the governor before making that announcement?

 

Human rights

Currently, there are still some belongers and work-permit holders unable to return home because they cannot afford the fees that would be charged for being guarded in their own homes. Yet the government is pussyfooting around employers who have illegally withheld the deductions their workers have paid for social security and health insurance.

We need to enshrine in law the provisions for human rights already present in the 2007 Constitution.

 

2030 series

My commentaries on how the territory might look in 2030 sought to show what a great future could lie ahead for the VI once we have overcome the current challenges (e.g. human rights abuses towards resident expatriates; internal corruption; and the VI’s reputation as a tax haven which encourages tax abuse and money laundering).

The commentaries assumed that the widespread adoption of the Fifth Generation of mobile technology would revolutionise the global economy and our daily lives following something that happened in 2020. That event has just materialised, with Apple’s release of its first 5G-enabled iPhones. The new technology will propel the development of revolutionary trends like artificial intelligence, self-driving vehicles, remote medical care, augmented reality, and the “internet of things.”

A government think-tank should be established to construct a pathway towards the adoption of 5G here, perhaps initially funded by seed money from the privatisation of the post office with a certain percentage of shares to be allocated locally and quoted on a secondary market in the Caribbean. The think-tank might recommend implementation by a joint venture with a suitably experienced technology company. However, we should invite the UK to oversee its probity.


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