Focus on the system
“If it’s about individuals, and if it’s about the failures in sort of limited areas of the Constitution or the political process, [the result of the Commission of Inquiry] might not be a suspension of the Constitution,” Dr. Peter Clegg, an expert on the overseas territories at the University of the West of England, told the Beacon a few months ago. “But if it is more widespread, or if it’s more systematic — if it goes beyond just a few individuals — then I think the suspension of the Constitution is really sort of the quickest and easiest way of making the changes.” Given this analysis, a Beaconite feels that in a way, the arrest of former premier Andrew Fahie — said to be unrelated to the COI — is a distraction from the actual issue at hand. At heart, the COI was not about the current people in office and whatever they allegedly did or didn’t do. It was about the system, and going forward, the focus needs to be on that system, and how it can better serve the people of the VI. The Beaconite believes that’s why simply installing a new government isn’t enough. Comprehensive systemic reforms are needed as well. Good governance isn’t about preserving the same system only with “better guys” this time. Every disastrous leader in history has believed he or she was “better” than the ones who went before, and was trusted on some level by the people who put them in office. But if the system enables or even encourages that person to fail, then they will fail. Keep the focus on changing the system, not the people who run it.
Above and beyond
Everyone knows navigating government processes can be a somewhat maddening rabbit hole at times. But through it all, a Beaconite has always been grateful for publice officers who provide a little extra assistance when needed. For instance, she appreciates the assistant at the Department of Labour and Workforce Development who recently helped make sure she was able to promptly reschedule an important appointment; the government security officer who helped her find an office that had moved since construction advanced at the Central Administration Building; the Department of Motor Vehicles officer who even helped fix her hair before taking a photo for a new driver’s licence, and many more. The current systems can be frustrating, but the reporter is optimistic that things will improve with the light shed by the Commission of Inquiry. In the meantime, she hopes community members also share their appreciation where deserved, and she hopes public officers continue to raise the bar.
A Beaconite believes that the “Assistance Grants” chapter of the Commission of Inquiry report highlights what his colleagues have described as one of the most important lessons of the recent upheaval. Many of the failings of the previous Virgin Islands Party administration were caused by systemic problems that have long afflicted VI governance. The previous government’s botched disbursal of Covid-19 assistance grants is a perfect example. The many problems that Commissioner of Inquiry Sir Gary Hickinbottom described in his report mirror those identified by audits stretching back more than a decade. The deficiencies highlighted by those audits, and their subsequent recommendations, were all but ignored. Considering this history, the Beaconite doesn’t think anyone should be surprised by Sir Gary’s conclusion that serious dishonesty may have occurred in the disbursal of Covid assistance grants. If the new “national unity government” is to hold on to power, its members must implement the COI’s recommendations for reform. As history has shown, the consequences if they don’t could continue decades down the line.