Big promises will require big action

Last Thursday’s Speech from the Throne laid out an ambitious legislative agenda

that will be difficult to achieve. Nevertheless, the new government should stay focused on its goals and make every effort to keep its word, avoiding the previous administration’s pattern of overpromising and then failing to deliver.

Overall, the address included many sound proposals. Some of them echoed unfulfilled promises made by the former government, while many new plans recalled the National Democratic Party’s election manifesto.

First and foremost, the government rightly stressed measures to improve the economy.

To that end, many of its proposals are designed to shore up the business sector: cutting red tape by streamlining trade licensing and other processes; introducing a fair competition bill; re-establishing the Small Business Bureau; and eliminating duty on some basic items, to name a few.

Other economic stimulus plans include reviewing the customs tariff regime; developing a “rescue-and-recovery strategy” for tourism; and introducing a bill to register and monitor non-governmental organisations in keeping with international regulations.

These proposals all stand to benefit the Virgin Islands economy, but they should be carried out conscientiously in keeping with public input.

As a media outlet, we are also pleased with the government’s plans to increase transparency: introducing a freedom of information act; expanding the register of interests to include senior public servants; and opening the register to the public.

Other well considered goals laid out in the Speech from the Throne touched on broad areas:

• revising the Public Finance Management Act to “strengthen fiscal discipline in the public service;”

• introducing a new mental health act, a disability act, and amendments to the BVI Health Services Authority Act;

• introducing an environmental management bill, as well as legislation to encourage the use of alternative energy;

• finalising education regulations envisioned in the 2004 Education Act, instituting more technical and vocational training, and introducing national youth and sports policies;

• reforming the criminal justice system by updating the Prison Act and Prison Rules, and by amending various laws governing the court system; and

• introducing a consumer protection law, a landlord tenancy act and a draft policy for street naming and addressing, among others.

Accomplishing these goals would do much to get the territory back on the right track. However, the going will not be easy. Unfortunately, sound promises made in recent speeches from the Throne often have fallen by the wayside, seemingly overshadowed by pet projects apparently designed to curry favour with the electorate. This style of leadership needs to change.

The new government has a prime opportunity to distinguish itself by using last Thursday’s address as a roadmap for the way forward.

In the coming months, then, leaders should regularly update the public on their progress toward these goals. And if they fail to do so, community members should insist.

Strong and focussed leadership will be necessary in the coming legislative session if the territory is to recover fully from its recent economic struggles.