Following the struggles of the past year, we know we’re not alone in wishing for a much brighter 2021. The following is our list of a few ways to help make that happen in the Virgin Islands.
• First, the community must remain vigilant and continue working together to come through the pandemic safely as a new Covid-19 variant brings new concerns across the globe.
• Leaders should continue to play it safe by making conservative decisions designed to prevent a major outbreak here, but they also must greatly improve their planning, communication and economic response.
• A Covid-19 vaccine programme should launch as soon as possible, and leaders should be the first to roll up their sleeves in order to demonstrate the importance of participating.
• Everyone in the territory should follow the various pandemic rules and protocols and make safe decisions at all times.
• Since the economy is in shambles because of Covid-19, the government should work with stakeholders to draft and publicise short- and long-term recovery plans, with contingencies for different pandemic outcomes.
• A new longer-term stimulus programme should be considered, but first government should explain exactly how it used the $62.9 million allocated for the one launched in May.
• Meanwhile, the entire community should continue working together to help the many residents who are still struggling from the economic effects of the pandemic and the 2017 hurricanes.
• Leaders also must find a way to greatly accelerate the public sector’s dramatically underfunded hurricane recovery process. To that end, Premier Andrew Fahie should access the United Kingdom’s £300 loan guarantee offer straightaway — or he should explain an alternative that will allow the Recovery and Development Agency to ramp up operations and expedite egregiously delayed projects like schools, libraries, the Ralph T. O’Neal Administration Complex, the National Emergency Operations Centre, the West End ferry terminal, fire stations, derelict boat removal, and others.
• The government should launch the promised constitutional review as soon as possible, and community members should educate themselves and participate while giving serious thought to long-term considerations including the question of independence.
• In the wake of Brexit and other factors beyond the territory’s control, leaders should continue to forge international alliances in the region and further abroad as they work to secure the VI’s future place on an ever-shifting world stage.
• Mr. Fahie’s government should keep the campaign promise he made in 2019 to implement measures designed to ensure transparency and improve governance in the territory, including a freedom-of-information act; the Integrity in Public Life bill; whistleblower legislation; a law providing for unexplained wealth orders; and a public register of legislators’ interests, among others.
• Steps to diversify the economy beyond financial services and tourism should continue in earnest, with explorations of aquaculture, fintech, legal gambling and other areas.
• Also key is the tourism plan Mr. Fahie promised last week. It should clearly outline a strategic vision for the continued development of tourism, with specific plans for each of the major subsectors: the land-based sector, the yachting and marine sector, and the cruise sector. It should also address the industry’s human resources needs; air access; the management structure for tourism at the national level; specific incentives for Virgin Islanders investing in tourism; and the long-term requirements for a globally competitive industry post Covid-19.
• Meanwhile, all leaders and community members should work together in an effort to put a stop to the crime that has plagued the territory sporadically in recent months. To that end, the police and other authorities should leave no stone unturned in their investigation of the record November cocaine bust. They should act quickly and be as transparent as possible, keeping the public abreast of their progress at every step.
• The government should get serious about tackling climate change, reinstating the Climate Change Trust Fund Board that Cabinet disbanded shortly after coming to office in 2019, and ensuring that the body is properly funded as required by the law that established it. As a related effort, leaders should also revisit the Climate Change Adaptation Policy, which was adopted in 2012 and then largely ignored — and which was due for a review in 2017 that never happened.
• The VI should also start making the switch to renewable energy in an effort to meet the laudable goals the territory set in 2013, some of which may yet be attainable.
• The new governor, who is scheduled to arrive early this year, should hit the ground running, working to ensure close communication between the VI and UK on the Brexit process, the constitutional negotiations, border security and other ongoing issues. He should also follow in his predecessor’s footsteps by publicly urging the government to enact governance and transparency reforms.
• When the new governor arrives, the premier should use the opportunity to stop sniping at the UK and try to smooth the relationship he has damaged with unreasonable attacks in recent months.
• Leaders and telecommunications companies should put their heads together and draft a comprehensive plan for outfitting the territory with world-class internet service, which will be key to the VI’s future economic development. They should also ramp up efforts to implement e-government services, including automating the labour and immigration processes as soon as possible.
These are just a few of our wishes for the coming year. We will float more ideas on this page in the coming months, and we hope readers will contribute their own by sending letters to the editor and commenting on social media and other public forums.
Everyone has a part to play in making 2021 a truly happy New Year.