This democracy dodged a bullet on June 8.
Kudos to Virgin Islands and United Kingdom leaders for mapping a route to comprehensive governance reform without resorting immediately to a partial constitutional suspension and direct UK rule as advised by the recent Commission of Inquiry.
Now they must continue working together in the same spirit, efficiently carrying out the reforms recommended by the COI as the public has been promised.
This task will not be easy, but failure is not an option. A series of milestones rightly has been put in place, and the UK is reserving the right to implement direct rule after all if VI leaders fall short.
The new National Unity Government must ensure that doesn’t happen. To that end, its members got off to an impressive start by drafting an initial proposal within days of learning about the former premier’s arrest and the direct-rule recommendation.
Though that proposal unfortunately wasn’t made public at the time, it must have offered a good starting point, as it stayed the UK’s hand long enough for discussions to continue to the present agreement. This quick early action speaks volumes about Virgin Islanders’ ability to govern themselves.
The new government’s work, however, has only just begun. Moving forward, members will need to set aside their differences and work together to fast-track the promised reforms instead of bickering and playing politics as usual.
They also must be prepared to face political backlash and stand up to people who have long benefited personally from the culture of poor governance that has afflicted the territory for decades.
If they get it right, they will go down in history. Currently, they have a clear mandate to carry out widely popular reforms by providing the enlightened leadership the territory badly needs. After all, few, if any, residents are publicly disputing the need to carry out the COI recommendations.
But given that self-interested detractors will doubtlessly work behind the scenes to scuttle the reform process, it is also important to keep in mind that the COI’s recommendations do not represent a foreign-imposed agenda. Most, in fact, echo decades of sound advice from local government watchdogs and the media alike. Such advice has been mostly ignored by successive administrations, but the current government must set a very different example.
Though we are generally pleased with the UK-VI agreement, we are not without concerns. For instance, the lack of transparency in recent weeks was troubling as UK and VI leaders held closed-door discussions about the NUG proposal, which had not been made public. This lack of transparency — which smacks of the worst of colonialism — must end now. To that end, we are glad that the government finally agreed on June 8 to publish the final proposal okayed by the VI and UK.
Dr. Wheatley also rightly promised to hold public meetings around the territory to discuss the way forward. Everyone should participate and weigh in, putting aside personal interests and pushing for measures that will benefit the entire VI.
In the coming weeks, many more questions will need to be answered as well. How, for instance, will the reforms be funded? Given that the cost will likely be in the tens of millions of dollars, how will government afford to simultaneously accelerate the hurricane recovery and other urgently needed projects? What roles will the UK government play? And so on.
Nevertheless, the decision announced on June 8 was a major step in the right direction. Now Dr. Wheatley and his HOA colleagues must step up to the plate and make full use of the opportunity they have been granted.