As campaigns heat up for the general election due by May 12, the Progressive Virgin Islands Movement launched a partial line-up, and at least two independent candidates entered the fray over the past week.
Junior Minister for Trade and Economic Development Shereen Flax-Charles swapped out her VI Party green campaign gear for PVIM blue on Feb. 24 as she announced she would be joining Natural Resources and Labour Minister Mitch Turnbull and new PVIM Chairman Ronnie Skelton in running with the party.
Ms. Flax-Charles — an at-large representative elected with the VIP in 2019 — confirmed she will contest the District Nine seat currently held by government backbencher Vincent Wheatley.
The PVIM announced the trio during a press conference at the HireBVI headquarters in Pockwood Pond, also introducing four “vetted candidates:” Stacy “Buddha” Mather, Shaina Smith-Archer, Paul Hewlett and Sylvia Moses.
The party did not disclose which seats the four candidates would contest, but Mr. Turnbull, who is running to keep his District Two seat, said a full candidate list would likely be finalised by March 4.
During the launch, party members emphasised promises of transparency and said one of their priorities would be establishing a better relationship with the United Kingdom focused on mutual respect.
Messrs. Skelton and Turnbull — both former National Democratic Party members — formed the PVIM in December 2018 amid an NDP shakeup set in motion when long-time party leader Dr. Orlando Smith announced his retirement.
Mr. Skelton led the PVIM into the 2019 general elections, but while Mr. Turnbull successfully secured the D-2 seat Mr. Skelton lost his bid to retain his at-large seat. Mr. Turnbull subsequently served as the party leader, but Mr. Skelton has now resumed that role.
At the press conference, reporters questioned Mr. Skelton’s perceived lack of public engagement in political discourse — particularly surrounding the Commission of Inquiry — since losing the election. But Mr. Skelton said he has been privately consulting with government officials.
“I will always be engaged, but I will do it my way,” he said. “I will continue to give my views and my opinions. I have been giving them even to the former premier.”
He also claimed to be one of the private individuals consulted by UK officials after the COI report was released last April and said he pushed for the territory to retain as much autonomy as possible.
“I plan to lend my experience, my wisdom and my guidance to do the things that are right to rebuild the reputation of our beloved British Virgin Islands,” Mr. Skelton said.
Mr. Turnbull, who is now the PVIM deputy chairman, said on Feb. 24 that he hopes voters see that the party “has the country’s interests at heart.”
“We know that there have been — I won’t call them mistakes: There have been some gross errors and gross mismanagement of funds,” he said. “There has been the complete eruption of systems, putting us in a place where we now have to fight again to find our footing.”
However, he said he hopes the party can offer residents hope and a fresh start.
Mr. Skelton highlighted several of the party’s priorities, including its plans to address long-standing infrastructure issues in a timely and transparent manner.
He noted his previous experience as minister of finance and said he would focus on getting value for money on development projects, even if that includes borrowing funds.
When questioned about the party’s legislative agenda, Mr. Skelton said members would focus primarily on stabilising essential systems like education before looking to introduce any new items. However, Ms. Flax-Charles highlighted the need for greater transparency in legislative processes, particularly regarding decisions made in Cabinet.
She also claimed one of her main reasons for recently departing the VIP in favour of the PVIM was an ongoing contention over misogynistic comments. However, she said she and Mr. Turnbull had maintained a respectful relationship while working in the House of Assembly, and she shared her anticipation for working with him and Mr. Skelton.
Though Mr. Skelton serves as a member of the Constitutional Review Committee, he said the party doesn’t currently have a stance on whether the territory should pursue independence.
None of the four other candidates introduced at the Feb. 24 event have served in the legislature, but some of them have previous experience running for office.
Ms. Moses has worked in government for more than 30 years, including in the role of BVI International Affairs Secretariat director, and she ran unsuccessfully against Andrew Fahie as the First District candidate with the PVIM in 2019.
Mr. Hewlett is the chairman of the Physical Activity Subcommittee for the BVI Health and Wellness Council.
Mr. Mather, who confirmed on Facebook that he will run as an at-large candidate, brings a background in youth issues as the executive director of the Youth Empowerment Project.
Also a 2019 PVIM candidate, Ms. Smith-Archer is a managing director with the consultancy firm Smith & Associates, Inc. She has experience working as a project manager with the Ministry of Health and Social Development.
Virgin Islands Party
The VIP, which currently leads the National Unity Government, did not make any major campaign announcements this week, but at-large candidate Carvin Malone said his re-election committee office and secretariat are being finalised.
Mr. Malone, who served as an opposition member but recently reverted to a government backbencher, said he received a unanimous vote from the party congress to run again.
The party has announced 10 candidates so far, but it has not yet disclosed its final roster.
The NDP and Progressives United have yet to formally announce any of their candidates.
A former first lady also declared her candidacy last week. Lorna Smith, the wife of Dr. Smith, announced that she will run at large.
Ms. Smith previously served as permanent secretary in the Chief Minister’s Office and worked as the interim executive director of BVI Finance.
Also among the growing pool of independent candidates is Perline Scatliffe-Leonard, who launched her campaign on Feb. 25 at The Stickett in Long Look.
Ms. Scatliffe-Leonard recently announced that she is contesting the Seventh District seat currently held by Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley.
She recently retired from her position as director of the Water and Sewerage Department.
During her launch, Ms. Scatliffe-Leonard said greater attention needs to be paid to the district, and she described herself as a “visionary thinker” who would boost development projects.
“District Seven, we are about to make further history,” she told attendees. “District Seven does not fit in: We stand out. It is past time to let this territory know that we are resilient. We are not second-class citizens. We have commonsense contributions to make.”