Make no mistake: The people of the Virgin Islands are fed up.
For decades, they have watched their elected leaders waste taxpayer money, reward cronies, shun transparency, and otherwise break the public trust.
Now they want a change.
Largely for this reason, we strongly believe that a great majority of Virgin Islanders, belongers and other residents fully support the comprehensive governance reforms promised in the National Unity Government’s proposal to carry out 48 recommendations from the Commission of Inquiry. We do too.
But recent signs suggest that a few residents are trying to quietly undermine the reform effort by sowing discord and whipping up conspiracy theories.
These attempts have taken the form of un-bylined (but strangely opinionated) news articles, unsigned online comments, ambiguous hints dropped during interviews and talk shows, and vague claims worked into sermons delivered from church pulpits.
Of course, everyone is entitled to air their opinion, and the territory can only benefit from constructive dialogue.
But amid the recent undercurrent of negative innuendo from a handful of residents, a certain silence is deafening: We have heard no one offer a particularly compelling criticism of the National Unity Government’s proposal or offer a better way forward that will see the territory get the governance reforms it so desperately needs.
We therefore challenge anyone unhappy with the NUG’s roadmap to state clearly which of the 48 COI recommendations they oppose; why exactly they oppose them; and what they would propose instead.
If detractors refuse to take those simple steps, they should keep quiet. Otherwise, the public will have reason to assume that they are among the minority who have been quietly benefitting from the poor governance that has afflicted the territory for decades.
Perhaps the most prominent example of the vague criticisms leveled at the NUG proposal came this month when at-large representative Carvin Malone announced his decision to cross the aisle in the House of Assembly.
Mr. Malone said he didn’t agree with government members about the way forward. But in explaining where his views diverged, he offered only one clear example: that the NUG and the United Kingdom didn’t fully consult with the public before agreeing to the proposal.
This criticism is valid. Like Mr. Malone, we were troubled that the reform proposal was negotiated behind closed doors with the UK. The lack of transparency smacked of the worst of colonialism.
But the fact remains that the proposal that emerged from those closed-door talks is exactly what the territory needs going forward — and what independent auditors and other watchdogs have been recommending for decades.
Therefore, we were left wondering what parts of the NUG proposal Mr. Malone now opposes, if any. But instead of explaining clearly, he mostly dropped hints, suggesting that the UK had been planning to implement direct rule for years.
This narrative looks like a scare tactic. After former Premier Andrew Fahie’s arrest and the release of the COI report, the UK today finds itself stepping gingerly through a political minefield in its interactions with the VI. The idea that UK leaders actively sought to put themselves in that position beggars belief.
In the coming months, the community will certainly need to have many in-depth discussions on the details of the coming reforms. At times, these talks will be contentious. But that is healthy.
Thankfully, the government is already facilitating such dialogue by hosting a series of public meetings around the territory (though we are disappointed that the media is barred from broadcasting those meetings live).
We hope everyone will contribute. Meanwhile, anyone who has a problem with the NUG proposal should clearly explain why and candidly offer a viable alternative. Otherwise, they should get out of the way.
If Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley and his government colleagues manage to accomplish the promised reforms, history may well remember them as national heroes.
If they make good progress in the shorter term, we expect voters will appreciate their efforts enough to put them right back in office in the general election next year so that they can finish the job.