The National Democratic Party and Progressive Virgin Islands Movement both added election candidates over the past week, pulling largely from the pool of political veterans but also giving a platform to a few newcomers.
As of Beacon press time, however, Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley still hadn’t announced the date of the general election even though the House of Assembly must be dissolved by March 12 and polling day must follow within two months.
Faced with a need to carry forward governance reforms agreed after the Commission of Inquiry regardless of who wins the election, party leaders pledged to unite the people of the territory and to lead with integrity.
The NDP held a launch on March 3 at The Moorings, promising to reform systems members say have failed under the current VIP-led administration.
Health and Social Development Minister Marlon Penn confirmed he is again running to represent District Eight as party chairman — and therefore presumptive premier if the NDP should win a majority.
He shared his belief that the NDP can both generate ideas for future development and execute them.
“We believe with the seniority, the youthfulness and the knowledge base that we have within our organisation, we are best equipped to move the country forward at this time,” he said.
Mr. Penn also announced the candidacy of Myron Walwyn for District Six and Dr. Kedrick Pickering at large.
Touching on the fracturing of the party after former leader Dr. Orlando Smith retired and the NDP lost the majority to the VIP in 2019, Mr. Penn and his colleagues said they believe it is more important to focus on the future development of the territory than on past conflicts.
“We firmly believe that unity is key to our progress as a people, as a party, and as a country,” Mr. Penn said. “We need unity amongst all the people who call these Virgin Islands home as we navigate these uncharted and turbulent waters. … For this reason, we have made considerable efforts to unite with the other former members of the party.”
However, the fallout from the party split remains, with two former NDP members — Ronnie Skelton and Mitch Turnbull — now heading the PVIM.
Mr. Walwyn was a founding member of the NDP and former chairman. An attorney and businessman, he served as the education and culture minister from 2011-2019, but he is now facing a criminal charge over one of the areas investigated by the Commission of Inquiry. On Nov. 1, Mr. Walwyn — who has maintained his innocence — was accused of breach of trust by a public officer in connection with his role in the controversial Elmore Stoutt High School perimetre wall project, which was strongly criticised in the COI’s report and in a 2018 auditor general report.
During the launch on March 3, Mr. Walwyn responded to questions about the charge, declaring that he wouldn’t be running if he believed he had done anything criminal.
“I can squarely look the people of the Virgin Islands in the eye and say to them, without any fear, that during my eight years as a minister, a representative, I conducted myself with honesty and integrity,” he said.
Mr. Walwyn previously was elected at-large, but this time he is campaigning for the District Six seat. He attributed the change largely to his hopes to give greater attention to addressing crime and infrastructure issues while promoting the growth of the community, particularly in the budding area of entrepreneurship.
Dr. Pickering also offers political experience as a long-serving former legislator. He served as the District Seven representative for 20 years starting in 1999, when he was elected under the fledgling NDP.
During that time, he held ministerial roles for three terms under NDP-led governments, including as deputy premier from 2011 to 2019.
He left the party to run independently for District Seven in 2019 but lost to current Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley.
Though Dr. Pickering previously announced his intention to retire from politics, he said on March 3 that he felt compelled to return after the events of April 28, the day then-Premier Andrew Fahie was arrested in Florida on drug and money-laundering conspiracy charges.
“The whole political atmosphere of the BVI changed,” Dr. Pickering said. “Persons were saying to me, ‘Dr. Pickering, [we want] somebody like yourself who has the kind of experience and knowledge that you have, especially with respect to regional and international affairs, to consider running at large so that you could better explain for the general public some of the bigger issues that we have to contend with.’”
He denied that he was running at large based on any doubts about his ability to win in District Seven, stating that he believes the change will put him in a better position to speak to territory-wide issues.
Mr. Penn touted the NDP’s record during its three terms leading the government, particularly in the areas of tourism growth and financial sector regulation.
Moving forward, he said, the party would aim to diversify the economy and give the territory more control over its own affairs.
“Our vision for our country must include a strong three-pillar economy, alternative sources of energy, a healthy population, a well-educated and skilled workforce, resilient infrastructure, and social cohesion,” he said. “Our institutions must foster transparency, accountability, creativity, and confidence in our self-governance.”
Hand in hand is the territory’s economic independence, and Mr. Penn said the party would aim to reduce the cost of living, invest in food sustainability, and explore new markets while bolstering tourism and financial services.
The party has yet to announce its remaining district and three at-large candidates, but Mr. Penn anticipated the list would soon be finalised. No deputy chairperson has been named.
The PVIM also made announcements over the past week, following up on its recent launch headed by Mr. Skelton, its new chairman. During a virtual event on March 6, the PVIM announced more information about its candidates’ plans and pitched itself as the party focused on “integrity,” with host Kareem-Nelson Hull painting the 2019 election winners as gaining their seats through “charisma.”
“That charisma later revealed some criminal activity, and that popularity has resulted in people policing us,” he said in apparent reference to the Florida arrest of Mr. Fahie.
The four members first featured during the event were the party’s district candidates: incumbents Mitch Turnbull (RD2) and Shereen Flax-Charles (R-at large), along with Paul Hewlett and Sylvia Moses.
Mr. Hewlett was confirmed to run for District Four, and Ms. Moses for District One. District Four is currently held by Mark Vanterpool, and Mr. Fahie held the District One seat before resigning in November. So far, only the VIP has also put forward candidates for those seats, nominating Dr. Karl Dawson for the First and Luce Hodge-Smith for the Fourth.
Acknowledging he was the only successful PVIM candidate in 2019, Mr. Turnbull said, “I am happy to be joined by a team of strong, dedicated, and integral persons in the district candidates we have with us today.”
Ms. Flax-Charles, who recently departed the VIP to join the PVIM, added that she would use a second term to focus on supporting young people in the territory.
Speaking for the first time on the PVIM stage, Mr. Hewlett said he decided to run to offer a fresh face for voters, and he was inspired to do so when musing upon ways to give back to the community while spending time at home during the early days of the pandemic.
He also noted his background in teaching English language and literature and in promoting sports.
Though unsuccessful in running for office in 2019 against Mr. Fahie, Ms. Moses said friends in District One and beyond urged her to return to the political playing field. She worked in government for more than 30 years before retirement, including in the role of BVI International Affairs Secretariat director.
Ms. Moses said she hopes to offer her knowledge, particularly on global finance issues.
The party also formally introduced its at-large slate: Mr. Skelton, Ingrid Moses-Scatliffe, Stacy “Buddha” Mather, and Shaina Smith-Archer.
Ms. Moses-Scatliffe served as the speaker of the House of Assembly from 2011 to 2019, and she previously was the chief registrar of lands. She highlighted her family’s ties to the tourism industry and her background in law.
“There has never been a more critical time in the life of this territory than now,” she said. “It is imperative for all of us to understand where we are as a people, and where we need to go to overcome the challenges that present themselves before us.”
Mr. Mather, who is entering the fray for the first time, said that as an educator and executive director of the Youth Empowerment Project, he has witnessed too much apathy from the youth when it comes to the leadership of the territory.
He also agreed with Ms. Moses-Scatliffe that “the territory needs healing” — a belief he said prompted him to run.
Ms. Smith-Archer is stepping into the election arena for the fourth time, and she said she has felt concerned about the future of the territory’s youth ever since she worked in the Ministry of Finance in the early 2000s.
She added that her background in engineering should prove useful in problem-solving for issues that have plagued the territory for decades.
“What are we leaving as our legacy?” she asked. “Can we do better? Yes, we can.”
The party has yet to announce candidates for District Three (a seat currently held by Progressives United leader Julian Fraser); District Five (held by Kye Rymer); District Six (held by Alvera Maduro-Caines); District Seven (held by Dr. Wheatley); and District Eight (held by Mr. Penn).
The VIP did not make any further candidate announcements this week, but it has yet to fill positions for districts Two and Three and one at-large seat.
The party’s three current at-large nominees are incumbents: Education, Youth Affairs and Sports Minister Sharie de Castro, Deputy Speaker Neville Smith, and backbencher Carvin Malone.
Progressives United, led by Mr. Fraser, had not launched any candidates as of Beacon press time on March 8.