Social sector analysis a good move

The Ministry of Health and Social Development was right to commission an analysis of the territory’s social sector. Now, we hope the government will take the resulting report seriously.

Most of the recommendations included in the document, which was discussed last Thursday at a public meeting, seem well worth considering:

• drafting a national economic development plan;

• establishing a policy for early childhood education;

• hiring more special-education teachers;

• revamping the legal aid programme;

• developing a policy for the recognition, treatment and care of the elderly;

• exploring the feasibility of offering unemployment insurance benefits to workers;

• revamping the current system of disbursing public assistance;

• introducing new legislation for disability and social services;

• establishing a housing authority to help provide affordable accommodations;

• enacting programmes to encourage land ownership by Virgin Islanders;

• emphasising preventive health care;

• developing a policy to protect the territory’s reefs; and

• enacting consumer protection legislation, among many others.

However, not all of the report’s ideas seem sound: The document also recommends instituting a temporary moratorium on development while drafting the economic plan, and trying to establish agriculture as a “third pillar” of the economy — two ideas that we find to be way off the mark, especially during this time of economic recession.

Thus, we caution against accepting all of the report’s recommendations across the board. Still, the analysis is an important first step, and it merits serious consideration.

Unfortunately, the Virgin Islands’ social development has long lagged behind its economic development. As a result, many needed social services have been missing here even as the territory has seen unprecedented prosperity during the last three decades.

The social sector report represents progress in the right direction. Far too often, the VI government has acted without planning ahead, launching a hodgepodge of reactive initiatives that sometimes conflict with one another and waste taxpayer money. It is no coincidence, then, that many of the report’s recommendations involve planning ahead.

The report has the potential to greatly improve the territory’s social sector. But it will be meaningless unless its most sensible recommendations are carefully considered and implemented with the public’s input.

We hope this year’s election candidates will read the report closely, with an eye toward making the social sector a key campaign issue in the coming months.

It is past time to bring the Virgin Islands’ social services in line with the territory’s position as a modern player in a global economy.