There was a mix of nostalgia for the Virgin Islands’ idyllic past and a desire to see the territory’s politics move into the 21st Century at the launch of the People’s Patriotic Alliance, a long-rumoured and now officially launched political party.
The three candidates for the party are former civil servant Shaina Smith, newspaper publisher Elton Callwood and college lecturer Natalio “Sowande Uhuru” Wheatley. Each plans to run at large in the upcoming general elections.
Many members of the media as well as a handful of family members, supporters and curious residents turned up for the launch, at which each candidate spoke after an endorsement and a biographical introduction.
The trio encouraged participation in the new party, saying they would welcome additional running mates who share their ideals: good governance, a healthy economy and environment, and top-notch social services.
“If the PPA is going to succeed, it will be because of you,” Mr. Wheatley said in his address at the launch.
Mr. Wheatley said that neither of the two parties currently holding seats in the House of Assembly represents his views, and that each in its own way is continuing with partisan business as usual while problems seem to escalate.
The candidates said the solutions to these problems must be based on “common sense.”
As an example, Ms. Smith cited some young men’s “chronic absenteeism” from their homes. She explained that one way to ease that problem is to offer incentives to first-time homeowners.
Turning to the economy, Ms. Smith advocated more support for small businesses to help diversify the VI’s sources of revenue, rather than having “all our eggs in one basket.”
Mr. Callwood added that steps are necessary to prevent VIslanders from becoming a minority here: To that end, he said, employers should be encouraged to offer the same pay and benefits to VIslanders living abroad as they would to foreign nationals, to encourage them to come back.
Mr. Callwood also argued that taxi drivers should be able to sell or will their taxi-driving privileges so that their licences would have real value.
Perhaps at the top of this “common sense” list, said Mr. Callwood, is that the next government must follow its own laws. He said the PPA “is audacious enough” to introduce political reform legislation, reminding the audience that opposition members are allowed to introduce legislation, too.
According to a flier distributed at the launch, the party wants to reform immigration and labour laws and the public school curriculum and improve the territory’s yacht harbours, among a long list of “key areas.”
More specific plans and proposals will be announced soon, Mr. Callwood said.
However, the group said the most important quality for the next government is unity. The PPA’s motto is “One Country, One Direction,” and the candidates said they are willing to make personal sacrifices in order to promote the greater good of the territory.
“This split community needs to become one again,” Mr. Callwood said.
“Everyone should get a fair share,” Ms. Smith said, asking, “What happened to the BVI, where we weren’t so quick to sabotage each others’ success?”
To achieve this unity, the PPA plans to focus on putting the well-being of the VI first, members said.
“If we look closely at our leaders, we can see which ones are looking out for themselves first,” Mr. Wheatley said, adding, “We have a lot of problems to solve.”
Mr. Callwood is the publisher of the VI Standpoint, a publication he started as the BVI Pennysaver in 1997. Besides serving as music director at his Seventh-day Adventist Church, he is a board member of the BVI Cadet Corps and a public relations officer for the Carrot Bay Festival Committee.
Ms. Smith is a coordinator of the New Life Baptist Church Young Adults Life Net group and led the BVI Civil Service Association until she left her position at the Ministry of Finance this year to start a management consulting business.
Mr. Wheatley began his leadership service as head boy of the then-BVI High School, and has gone on to lead church choirs, political marches and classrooms, according to his biography. He also founded the faculty association at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, where he is a lecturer.