This article originally appeared in the Beacon’s print edition on Dec. 13.
After weeks of high-profile defections and criticism from former members, the National Democratic Party is working hard to paint itself in a different light.
During a press conference on Monday, NDP Chairman Myron Walwyn, who is also the minister of education and culture, stressed that the party is focusing on the theme “commitment of service.”
That theme, he explained, encompasses principles such as respect for democracy, good governance, patriotism, unity and balanced development.
“We support unity among all the people who call these islands home, because we all share a common interest in the continued success of the Virgin Islands,” according to an NDP mission statement.
“We see uniting our people as the basis of social cohesion for the peaceful and orderly development of our territory through deep respect for human rights, multi-ethnicity, non-discrimination and protection of vulnerable and marginalised groups.”
NDP Deputy Chairman Marlon Penn, the newly appointed health and social development minister, also took part in the press conference on Monday, along with Communications and Works Minister Mark Vanterpool.
Though reporters from several news outlets attended the conference, the Beacon did not receive notice of the event. A person writing through the NDP Facebook page stated that an invitation had been e-mailed but Beacon e-mail accounts do not show any invitation. Mr. Walwyn could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Walwyn also took the time on Monday to speak of his own professional achievements.
“When you ask people to give you more responsibility, it’s important for them to look to see how you handle the responsibility they entrusted you with before,” he said. “And I believe the people were pleased with my performance [in the Ministry of Education and Culture] and I’m asking them now for more responsibility to let me serve them at a higher level.”
Mr. Walwyn also referenced findings from a political survey carried out by the Barbados-based company Caribbean Development Research Service, which reported this year that VI residents thought highly of the Ministry of Education and Culture and Mr. Walwyn himself.
That poll’s findings and research methods, however, have raised questions in the past.
When the first political survey from CADRES was released in the spring, Peter Wickham, a director at the research firm, declined to identify the “client” who paid for the survey to be conducted.
The director — who is not the economist of the same name who resides here part time — said a local team, supervised by “our associate in the BVI,” interviewed residents. But he declined to identify that supervisor.
This week, Mr. Walwyn could not be reached for comment on whether he funded or facilitated the survey.
After Mr. Walwyn gave a prepared speech and outlined the party’s new mission statement, reporters asked tough questions about various NDP controversies over the last few years.
One reporter specifically mentioned the now-defunct BVI Airways — an NDP pet project — and Mr. Walwyn’s Elmore Stoutt High School wall project.
The Office of the Auditor General alleged that Mr. Walwyn’s ministry violated the Public Finance Management Regulations when constructing the incomplete wall around ESHS in 2014 and 2015, overspending and potentially failing to obtain good value for taxpayers’ money.
Mr. Walwyn lambasted Auditor General Sonia Webster’s methods during an October press conference — to which the Beacon wasn’t invited — and provided news outlets with a draft audit report from July and the final version of the document.
During a radio show later in October, Premier Dr. Orlando Smith reportedly criticised Mr. Walwyn for publicising the audit reports and thus breaching Cabinet guidelines, an act he said was “disrespectful to the governor.”
This week, Mr. Walwyn defended his decisions.
“I remember apologising for making the report public, … but what I’ll say is I’m not afraid of the wall matter and I’ll defend it and I know I’m right,” he argued. “Politicians — we have talked about our pledge to the people. The level of politics needs improving and we need to educate people more on what the issues are facing the country, rather than playing the petty politics of blaming one politician all the time or blaming somebody else.”
Mr. Walwyn also took the time to take a shot at Ronnie Skelton, who lost a close election for the party chairmanship to Mr. Walwyn in June. Several months later, Mr. Skelton started a new party: the Progressive Virgin Islands Movement.
“The matter of the breakaway — these things happen in life. I will say to you that I am disappointed in the way in which the matter was handled,” Mr. Walwyn said. “I will say also that if the elections had gone the opposite direction, I would have been there and I know Marlon [Penn] would have been there, working with those persons.”