In the weeks after Hurricane Irma, elected leaders promised legislation designed to help the territory recover and prepare for future storms, including a new building code, consumer protection legislation, a landlord-tenant act, an environmental law and others.
More than a year after Irma, most of those promises have not come to fruition. Instead of turning over a new leaf by quickly passing such badly needed laws — many of which have been promised for more than a decade — elected leaders spent much of their time in the House of Assembly over the past year playing politics as usual. As one example, the Recovery and Development Agency Act, which should have passed with ease, became a political football that consumed hours of the HOA’s time with needless bickering before finally receiving the nod.
This behaviour fits with a longstanding pre-Irma pattern. Year after year, the governor delivers a Speech from the Throne on behalf of the government that lays out an ambitious legislative agenda. And year after year, the legislature accomplishes less than 30 percent of the promises made in the agenda.
For the territory to build back stronger, the coming legislative session must be different.
In the past, a big part of the problem seems to be a failure to organise and plan ahead. For example, although the Throne speeches typically list dozens of well-conceived plans, they do not prioritise them in a way that allows specific, measurable goals to be set.
Why, for example, can’t legislators lay out a timetable stating when each law should be passed?
To be fair to legislators, some of the delays likely are the fault of other factors, such as the perennially slow Attorney General’s Chambers. But the sitting government also has responsibility for fixing such issues.
In any case, the HOA can no longer afford to proceed with business as usual. Instead, in the coming months it should prioritise laws that will help the territory build back stronger, including the building code, environmental legislation and the landlord-tenant act.
Also crucial are the raft of long-promised measures designed to increase transparency, accountability and good governance, such as a freedom-of-information law, a public service management bill, public finance and procurement legislation, and others. Such laws are absolutely essential in ensuring that the territory gets good value for money when spending the very limited recovery funds.
The Speech from the Throne on Sept. 13 laid out many laudable goals. If they are met in a timely manner, the recovery effort will benefit tremendously. If they are not, don’t expect to see the Virgin Islands build back stronger anytime soon.