An optimistic look back on 2022 might conjure a year-end image of the Virgin Islands as a phoenix preparing to rise from the ashes of its former self.
And after such a tough year, we emphatically choose optimism.
The past 12 months have been extraordinarily painful, but they nevertheless have laid the groundwork for a dramatic transformation and a better future.
Like much of the world, the VI started 2022 struggling to emerge from the pandemic as a series of Covid-19 variants brought new threats. Amid that stress, the community waited nervously for the results of the Commission of Inquiry.
On April 28, the bottom fell out: Then-Premier Andrew Fahie was arrested in Florida and accused of conspiring to smuggle cocaine through Virgin Islands waters. The next day, the COI report was released, calling for the suspension of the territory’s Constitution and the temporary implementation of United Kingdom direct rule to facilitate reforms designed to rectify longstanding governance failings.
Coming during the pandemic — and less than five years after Hurricane Irma — the moment felt like rock-bottom. And in many ways, it was.
But fast forward to the end of the year. Today, the outlook is much brighter even though painful revelations seem likely to continue trickling out for the foreseeable future.
Consider politics, for instance. In that arena, events happened rapidly after Mr. Fahie’s arrest. The new National Unity Government formed in May after closed-door talks with the UK. Then in June the NUG managed to head off direct rule by agreeing to a two-year series of well-conceived reforms, which quickly got under way along with audits and other investigations that have led to the arrest of several public officials.
This reckoning has been painful in many ways, but it was clearly needed. The COI showed why: It shone a glaring spotlight on longstanding governance issues that auditors, the media and other watchdogs have decried for decades without triggering substantive action.
In other words, a culture of impunity had developed among the territory’s leadership that must be eradicated. The ongoing reforms and investigations have started that process, which we believe could very well mark a turning point in the territory’s history.
At the same time, the ongoing constitutional review has fuelled long-needed discussions about the territory’s political future.
In other areas, too, there is reason for optimism. With the pandemic easing and travel restrictions lifted, the tourism industry is reporting a season where arrivals in some sectors could rival pre-Irma numbers for the first time since the storm.
These successes were topped off by good news for the territory’s other economic pillar: A recent ruling from the European Union Court of Justice could boost the financial services industry by giving the VI new grounds to oppose the UK mandate to implement a public company registry next year.
Of course, the territory is by no means free and clear of obstacles. Covid threats linger; inflation continues as the war in Ukraine drags on; a global recession is likely soon; and rising interest rates will hinder the government from borrowing the hundreds of millions of dollars needed for the long-delayed Irma recovery.
But here at the end of 2022, there is also plenty of room for hope. With the right nurturing and guidance, the phoenix could rise.
Keeping this optimistic perspective in mind, we wish everyone a wonderful holiday and a joyous New Year. We pray that the spirit of the season will carry over into 2023 and help guide the reform and healing that the territory so desperately needs.