It is great news that a resident has agreed to donate $4 million to help with the construction of badly needed new buildings on the Elmore Stoutt High School campus.
However, it is not great news that the donor has chosen to remain anonymous.
Indeed, the lack of transparency surrounding the contribution is troubling.
Of course, there are many good reasons why a donor may wish to remain unidentified, including humility. But because there are also many less admirable reasons, any anonymous donation raises questions.
Is the government, for instance, providing anything in return, either through an explicit agreement or through good favour that might in the future turn into preferential treatment?
Is the donor in a position to benefit from government in any way? Are they applying for any sort of permit or authorisation? Do they ever bid for government contracts? Might they in the future? And where did the money come from in the first place?
To be clear, there may be nothing inherently wrong with government offering certain perks to a generous donor, but any such deal must be fully transparent and handled in a manner that is fair to everyone.
Otherwise, the public may wonder if the donor is secretly purchasing influence over elected leaders or other public officials.
Such concerns are magnified now as an election looms. A successful build at ESHS is sure to be a feather in the current government’s cap — and to increase the chances for a Virgin Islands Party victory at the polls next year.
Moving forward, then, we hope the mystery ESHS donor will come forward and identify themselves for the good of the territory. If they are reluctant, leaders should urge them on.
And to avoid more uncomfortable questions in the future, the government should adopt, publish and follow a policy for accepting donations for public projects that ensures full transparency and fairness. The policy should prohibit anonymous contributions, and it should lay out clear guidelines for any donations that are permitted.
Such a policy is particularly important given that Premier Andrew Fahie is also now calling for 70 businesses to donate $60,000 each for the ESHS project. Will companies that comply get preferential treatment? And what about those that opt not to come on board?
Contributions to projects like the ESHS rebuild are a generous gesture, and they can help the community tremendously. But they must be handled properly.