There is much to do in 2024.
This year is an opportunity for a fresh start following six difficult years that started with Hurricane Irma in 2017 and continued with the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2022 arrest of then-premier Andrew Fahie, and the Commission of Inquiry report and subsequent reform process.
With a prodigious to-do list in mind, we present New Year’s resolutions for policymakers and the public alike.
• Starting with one of the most visible issues facing the territory, we hope to see dramatic progress to upgrade infrastructure — much of which has not been adequately repaired since it was damaged in Irma. This includes roads and drainage, water and sewerage, power generation, solid waste facilities, ferry terminals, and other projects long identified as needed. To get it done, the government must borrow millions of dollars as cheaply as possible, ideally with financial support from the United Kingdom. To avoid the usual political bungling, it must then hand major projects to the independent Recovery and Development Agency and otherwise work to ensure that the efforts are executed in a transparent, responsible and prudent manner.
• On a related note, the VI’s educational facilities must be improved as a matter of urgency. For instance, the Althea Scatliffe Primary School should be rebuilt this year, and several other schools should get long-needed repairs as well as ongoing maintenance.
• Plans for new projects, such as the long-promised expansion of the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport, should be conducted in a deliberative way that reflects true engagement with the community as well as local and international experts.
• A comprehensive tourism strategy should be completed as a matter of urgency following deep conversations about the way forward for the industry. The strategy must effectively balance the interests of the cruise, resort and yachting sectors in a way that protects the territory’s environment, infrastructure and social fabric.
• The territory should also take a hard look at how to protect and expand its other economic pillar: the financial services industry. This sector, which brings in more than half of government revenue, has taken a beating in recent years as incorporations have steadily declined. The territory must have a plan for the way forward.
• To that end, economic diversification should be a watchword in 2024, which is why we were particularly glad that efforts to expand the “blue economy” are continuing apace. We hope to hear more very soon.
• Following a year of record heat and a major coral die-off, dramatic steps must be taken this year to protect the environment. At the top of the list is the comprehensive environmental law promised by successive governments for more than 20 years. But other measures are also key: adding new protected areas, implementing stricter marine protections, ramping up efforts to reduce runoff, and so on.
• On a related note, the VI Climate Change Trust Fund, which was a wise idea when it was established in 2015, must finally be funded as intended so that it can start executing important mitigation and adaptation projects. The Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, which was adopted in 2012 and then effectively ignored, should also be resurrected and used as a guide for the way forward.
• Meanwhile, the government and the governor must work together to fully implement the Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations by the new November deadline. Much work has been done, but many important reforms remain. Some of the delays are understandable, but others have clearly stalled because elected leaders can’t muster the political will to get them done. This is not acceptable, and the governor said last week that the foot-dragging caused him to request additional powers from the UK. To preempt the governor from wielding any such powers, elected leaders must efficiently complete the reforms that they themselves have promised.
• This work would be a good step toward patching up fraying VI-UK relations, another important goal for 2024 as elected leaders prepare for negotiations for a new Constitution. Moving ahead, everyone should read the review committee’s report — which is soon to be made public — and weigh in on the way forward.
• Also this year, the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force owes the public an explanation on the status of charges laid against public officers following the COI’s report last year. Additionally, it should provide an update on local investigations into the alleged VI criminals who were mentioned in the US complaint against Mr. Fahie. This list is fairly long, but no related arrests have been announced to our knowledge. The VI police should explain why not.
• Of course, the burden of improving the VI’s governance and democratic systems does not fall on government and public officials alone. All VI residents should do more to participate in their democracy and hold their officials accountable.
Here’s hoping for a safe, fruitful and fulfilling 2024.