In the Virgin Islands, 2019 was a tumultuous year. The territory saw political upheaval, external pressures, dire new revelations about climate change, threats to financial services, and more delays in the public-sector hurricane recovery, among other challenges.
But 2019 also saw plenty of progress: The private-sector picked up much of the slack in the recovery; tourism properties and other businesses steadily reopened; the financial industry weathered various hits; and the government finally cleared a longstanding backlog of belongership applications, to name a few.
The New Year represents a clean slate, and the territory should take full advantage. As we wish everyone a wonderful 2020, we have some ideas to help bring it about.
Above all, we would like to see greater unity this year, healing the division that often has wracked the territory since last year’s election campaigns. Residents should continue to discuss civic matters in detail, of course, but they should do it respectfully, and they should offer solutions whenever they complain.
In 2020, we also hope the new government will stop making excuses and greatly accelerate the public-sector hurricane recovery. This means accessing substantial funding through the United Kingdom loan guarantee or other sources so that the Recovery and Development Agency can do its job.
As one fruit of that effort this year, we would like to see the completion of urgently needed infrastructure like fire and police stations, schools, clinics, the National Emergency Operations Centre, emergency shelters, roadwork, and others.
Another fruit of that effort should be sustainable solutions for everyone who is still struggling from Hurricane Irma. It is inexcusable that some people still lack a comfortable place to live more than two years after the storm.
As a complementary measure in 2020, the new government should keep its promise to dramatically improve governance standards, both by making wise day-to-day decisions and by passing freedom-of-information, whistleblower and ethics laws along with other related legislation. So far, the administration has fallen far short of its campaign pledges in this regard.
Meanwhile, we hope the territory as a whole will do everything it can to prepare for international events beyond its control. Many loom this year, including Brexit, ever-changing financial services rules, tensions in the Middle East, and a United States presidential election.
Given that any of these events could dramatically affect the territory’s economy virtually overnight, we also wish for significant progress toward economic diversification designed to ease the VI’s reliance on financial services and tourism.
In the House of Assembly, we hope for less grandstanding and more time spent reviewing and passing urgently needed laws regulating the environment, health, human rights, social justice, archives and records, and other areas.
The government should pay particular attention to preparing for climate change, immediately reinstating the Climate Change Trust Fund Board and funding it with money being raised daily from the environmental and tourism levy.
By the start of the next school year, we also hope that no students will be housed in temporary facilities.
In the private sector, businesses should keep up the good work after having led the way in the recovery under difficult circumstances.
Finally, as a promised constitutional review gets under way at a time of increasing tensions with the UK, the community should work together to make bold decisions about the way forward toward the territory’s eventual independence.
These are just a few ideas for a successful 2020. We will express others throughout the year on this page, and we invite readers to do the same by submitting letters to the editor.
Happy New Year to all!