If the government is looking for easy win, a golden opportunity has arisen.
Last week, the Public Holidays Review Committee published a list of recommendations that it now plans to submit to Cabinet for consideration.
This exercise was long overdue. In fact, the committee’s work consisted largely of reviewing a 2001 report compiled under then-Deputy Governor Elton Georges, which made several well-conceived recommendations that were mostly ignored by successive administrations.
The new committee agreed with nearly all of the 2001 ideas, advising various steps that mainly involve changing existing holidays into observances that better reflect the history of this territory’s people.
For example, the committee suggested replacing St. Ursula’s Day with Maritime Heritage Day and Territory Day with Virgin Islands Day, while scrapping Commonwealth Day (which was formerly known as Empire Day) and adding a Heroes Day in celebration of Virgin Islanders. Festival Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the committee added, should be changed to Emancipation Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and perhaps further recalibrated to shine greater light on history.
We agree with these recommendations, all of which represent badly needed steps toward reclaiming the territory’s past from hundreds of years of colonialism.
Given that a people’s public holidays reflect who they are, it is a shame that such straightforward reform has been delayed for so long. Other British overseas territories, after all, are way ahead: All 13 of them already celebrate a national heroes day, and many have reformed their public holidays in other ways as well.
Though the new recommendations seem unlikely to face much opposition, we were disappointed that the committee gave the public only a week to weigh in. Members should extend the deadline by at least a month and host a public meeting on Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke before submitting their final report to Cabinet.
After that, leaders should move quickly to push through the reforms. If they do, they may well find themselves lauded as heroes.