One of the territory’s most important guiding documents is the Virgin Islands Constitution Order 2007, and the government is asking residents for input on how it should be amended following a review that is now under way.
“This next Constitution has great implications for what the Virgin Islands will look like in the future,” Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley said during a Nov. 11 press conference where the Constitutional Review Commission announced the launch of public consultations. “Persons who want to have a say in shaping what the Virgin Islands will look like in terms of our laws, in terms of even our norms in society, have to get engaged in the process.”
The Cabinet approved the current roster of Constitutional Review Commission members on July 8, and the team recently began giving residents the opportunity to join public meetings, provide written feedback, or meet directly with commissioners to have their voices heard.
The commission has also launched a website at www.yourconstitution.vg, where it has published information including meeting schedules and documents about the previous constitutional review.
Looking to the future
Opposition Leader Julian Fraser, who was a member of the House of Assembly during the review that led to the 2007 Constitution, said at the Nov. 11 press conference that the new document should aim to guide the VI for many years to come. Though he noted that such reviews are typically conducted approximately every 10 years, he said the current review was delayed by the 2017 hurricanes and other issues.
He also urged community members to take advantage of the opportunity to be heard.
CRC Chairwoman Lisa Penn-Lettsome said on Nov. 11 that the commissioners are seeking input on all possible improvements to the Constitution — not just those identified as priorities by the Commission of Inquiry.
“There is no doubt that constitutional review as a whole is important, but this particular one is historic. It is one of several intersecting roads on the roadmap of the Virgin Islands,” Ms. Penn-Lettsome said.
Residents, she added, must consider how recent changes in leadership and governance reviews have brought important issues to light.
“Like real crossroads, this metaphorical crossroads will lead to somewhere,” she said, adding, “To get to the other side, we will need to make critical, sometimes tough, decisions.”
Two other commissioners — Dr. Charles Wheatley and Dr. Melvin Turnbull — also attended the press conference.
The premier highlighted the importance of hearing from a wide cross-section of the community — especially young people.
To that end, he said, he has reached out to H. Lavity Stoutt Community College President Dr. Richard Georges about scheduling a meeting between students and the CRC within the coming weeks.
“I’ve been encouraging other groups that include young persons to engage with commission,” he added.
Ms. Penn-Lettsome said the CRC will accept feedback from anyone before deciding how to compile that input into its final report. The commission is charged with delivering its report to the House of Assembly within 18 months from last July, although Ms. Penn-Lettsome noted it is a big task to complete in that timeframe.
However, she said she is confident in the 16 members’ ability to put together a high-quality report with the public’s help.
After the HOA approves the report, the government will compose a negotiating team to work with the United Kingdom on the final terms, according to the commissioner.
Ms. Penn-Lettsome said the commission doesn’t yet have a hard deadline for receiving public feedback, but it will likely close the window in mid-December so it has time to compile its report.