About 300 residents gathered under and around a “big tent” at the Band Stand in Road Town for the National Democratic Party’s first in a planned series of community meetings last Thursday night.
Officials announced the candidacies of two women: District Five contender Delores Christopher, who lost to Elvis Harrigan by 28 votes in the 2007 election, and Alvera Maduro-Caines, former assistant postmaster, who will run for the District Six seat currently held by Natural Resources and Labour Minister Omar Hodge.
Ms. Christopher, who represented District Five from 2003-2007, encouraged attendees to participate in the upcoming election even if they generally “don’t want to have anything to do with politics.”
“Every decision made affects all of us,” Ms. Christopher said.
Ms. Maduro-Caines will officially launch her campaign soon, according to Archibald Christian, who chaired the event. Ms. Maduro-Caines is an example of the “new energy” of the NDP, Mr. Christian said.
Topics at issue
After greeting the crowd and making remarks for about an hour, NDP candidates listened to questions and comments from the crowd about infrastructure, tourism, education and the Biwater contract. They promised to continue to listen to the community up to and beyond the election, and invited residents to approach them with ideas and suggestions when they see them around town.
“We want your input,” said Opposition Leader Dr. Orlando Smith. “We also want you to tell us what else is necessary to get this country back on track.”
One questioner was particularly concerned about trash in the territory. Mr. Christian, at-large candidate and deputy chairman of the NDP, responded that he would give the Solid Waste Department better resources and improve the drainage in Road Town.
Another attendee asked the panel to break down the concept of “contingent liability,” a phrase commonly used in various media recently because of the Biwater contract, which some believe presents such a liability for the territory.
Myron Walwyn, an at-large candidate, made the analogy that having Biwater as a contingent liability is similar to being the cosigners on a bank loan: If the company defaults, the territory pays.
Mr. Christian added that this, in turn, means that the government has less freedom to borrow for itself. Dr. Kedrick Pickering, District Seven representative, said that in the event that the territory did wind up responsible for Biwater and was unable to pay, the British government would then become responsible. That, he said, could lead to the territory losing the autonomy it currently enjoys.
“That would give them the opportunity to move in and take over our country overnight,” Dr. Pickering said.
The current government has insisted that the Biwater contract is the best solution to the territory’s water and sewerage woes, but has not addressed the issue of contingent liability.
NDP candidates said the territory can, and should, be better.
“Are you better off than you were four years ago?” several NDP leaders asked, quoting a line used often by Ronald Reagan during his successful 1980 campaign for United States president. They listed roads, sewage and employment as areas where the territory is not doing as well as it should be.
“This country is in a mess,” said Mark Vanterpool, candidate for District Four. Eventually, he got the crowd chanting “mess” with him.
“Here in Road Town, we are swimming in a cesspool every day,” Mr. Vanterpool said. “Our people have to be scared and frightened that they will end up in another flood whenever it rains.”
The territory has not been so troubled since the 1960s, Mr. Walwyn said.
“The call for change, as I hear it, is greater now than it has ever been,” he said, advising the crowd that as with previous election years, “there will be some white envelopes coming around.”
“Now, I can’t tell you whether to take the white envelope or not: That’s up to you. But if you take the white envelope, spend the money and vote against them,” Mr. Walwyn said, adding, “No $300 in no white envelope should make you sell out your future.”
The ruling Virgin Islands Party has not yet announced similar meetings, but former VIP President Carvin Malone said last week that the party is planning a series of activities to mark its 40th anniversary.