Questions and answers
A Beaconite was glad to see in last week’s House of Assembly session, coming on the heels of the eighth and ninth sittings the week prior, opposition members once again had the opportunity to pose their questions to government. The questions section was notably absent during recent meetings, perhaps because they were emergency sessions to address legislative business related to the Covid-19 pandemic. The move was understandable given the urgency with which some matters needed to be addressed. But it’s still important to ask tough questions about how government spends money, the process for belongers to re-enter the territory, what is being done to prepare ghuts for hurricane season, and more. The reporter also considers it a mark of good governance that the Speaker of the House allowed members to ask follow-up questions as needed during the emergency sessions. This flexibility in adjusting protocol, if in the interest of more transparent and efficient decision-making, seems useful in these odd circumstances. But the return of the formal Q&A is a win for everyone in the territory. In the same breath, this reporter has to express disappointment with inconsistency in making certain information public. Cameras weren’t rolling when the premier delivered his concluding remarks about the gambling legislation that the house recently passed, nor for the majority of the morning and afternoon on June 16 during what she was later told was an “informal” meeting. The reporter recognises that closed-door proceedings are part of governance, but leaders should at least disclose what is being discussed when quorum is met. She hopes government will lean into the more transparent practices, inspiring confidence in leadership, while taking steps to address communication issues.
This week, officials revealed that some returning nationals have broken home quarantine, resulting in a government decision to eliminate that option. This will create additional expense for the government to pay for hotel rooms for returnees, not to mention the expense for non-belongers to pay for their own quarantine, a heavy burden for those who may be jobless and/or struggling. Meanwhile, stimulus packages and “staycations” will not recoup the millions of dollars potentially lost by some businesses as they wait for tourists to come back. A Beaconite wonders if any of this necessary. Other Caribbean countries, many with health care systems similar to the Virgin Islands’, have managed to find a way to open for everyone — nationals, expatriates and tourists — without quarantine. For instance, Antigua is performing rapid nasal-swab testing upon arrival at the airport, with results within 24 hours. This system, of course, has room for error, as all systems do — including the one the VI is currently using, which is now clear. With so much to gain, she believes there is no reason not to look beyond medieval-style quarantines and explore other options that benefit the economy beyond a few select security companies.
On Sunday, while going for a relaxing swim at Long Bay, a Beaconite was perplexed by the hazy skies. There were no visible clouds in the sky, only a murky haze that seemed to blot out the sun. The Beaconite had never seen anything like it during his time in the Virgin Islands. For a moment he thought it might be fog that had rolled off the ocean — a common occurrence in his native Southern California, but one that doesn’t seem all that possible in a tropical climate. That night, while scrolling through social media, he found his answer. The cloud cover wasn’t fog at all, but a dense layer of dust that had been blown across the Atlantic Ocean from the Sahara Desert. Apparently, such a dust cloud forms every few days during this time of year, but it dissipates the farther west it moves, and its thickness this past week has little precedent. Living on such a small island, especially during a pandemic that forces the territory to seal itself off from the rest of the world, it’s easy to feel like the VI operates as its own little bubble, but a swarm of dust that in a span of a week floated over from Africa and is now threatening the respiratory systems of VI residents, is a perfect reminder of how connected the world truly is.