On the heels of last month’s march against a United Kingdom bill requiring overseas territories to establish public registers of company ownership, a different, loosely organised collection of community activists is marching again on Friday.
This time, their target is the Virgin Islands government.
“The public has many concerns and we feel that the communication with the government has been breaking down for some time,” said businessman and community activist Floyd “Heritage” Burnett.
He expressed disagreement with the way the VI government is handling the UK public registries bill, and said that the earlier march did not address all of the concerns of the people.
“The public is still saying, ‘Brother we have some issues,’” he said.
According to materials being circulated advertising the march — some of which contain multiple spelling errors — its key aim is to ensure “accountability and transparency” from the government.
The many issues aggrieving the marchers include government’s $7.2 million “loan” to BVI Airways, which was never repaid even though the airline has not flown; the planned Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport expansion project; a perceived lack of details about the UK loan guarantee; the Coxheath dumpsite fire; and at least $30 million of overspending for the construction of the Tortola Pier Park.
Organisers are calling for “an immediate commission of inquiry” into these issues within 30 days of the march. Otherwise, they said, they will call for the government’s resignation.
Commissions of inquiry, however, usually focus on a specific issue and typically take several months, if not years.
The petition being circulated calls for “the resignation of the present government of the British Virgin islands and all forces of evil that hinder the growth of this country.”
The march is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. Friday at the Sunday Morning Well.
Deputy Governor David Archer released a memorandum May 31 announcing that, while public offices will remain open during the march, public officers will be permitted to attend the protest if they obtain leave from the head of their department.
He added that department heads “should not withhold” leave unless the request “affects the proper performance of the functions of their organisation.”
Mr. Burnett said he isn’t worried about people suffering from an overload of marches, given that the last one was just two weeks ago. He added that he thinks the timing is “perfect.”
“They like to laugh at us and say we have short memories, so we’d like to keep the thing up and relevant,” he said. “We think no better time than now.”
Concerned Virgin Islanders
Radio host Edmund Maduro is marching as part of a group known as Concerned Virgin Islanders, which he said is headed by a “very diligent lady” who works in the public service but who prefers not to be identified.
Although they are circulating the same petition, Mr. Burnett said he has “no affiliation” with this group.
Mr. Maduro said the primary goal of Concerned Virgin Islanders is “a change in government; to make this government step out.”
However, he acknowledged that it was a delicate time in light of the hurricane recovery.
“The new government would most likely come up with some idea that is not in the best interest in the people,” he said. “We would still be looking for these people to stay until the end of their term.”
Mr. Maduro added that Concerned Virgin Islanders is not affiliated with any political party, but it “may perhaps create a new group of citizens to run for a position, whether or not it becomes a party.”
Mr. Burnett said the petition calling for government’s resignation is “not an official part” of the march programme.
“That [petition] is something independent by the people,” he said. “Our forward movement on that day, it doesn’t involve the petition.”
However, he added that if the petition receives at least 5,000 signatures, he will present it to the government on the day of the march.
“At present our goal is to address the grievances and give them the 30-day time to respond to us civilly and truthfully,” he said.
Mr. Burnett added that his movement is also politically unaffiliated and that he himself is not actively seeking elected office. However, he didn’t rule out that possibility.
“I’m just here to go to work and serve my people; if they see fit to call upon me I would go forward and do that work,” he said, adding, “At the end of the day the government works for us; we don’t work for them. We need to let them know … what standard of clarity, transparency and honesty we expect from them.”