A Beaconite was troubled by a quote from opposition member Julian Fraser during a House of Assembly sitting last week. When debating a bill to update supplementary appropriations to the territory’s budget from 2016, he said, “Those are the kind of bills you pass … when we all are here at midnight, asking for the cameras to pan. That’s the time you pass those kind of bills, where you don’t want anyone to know about it. It just happens, just let it go.” The Beaconite presumes Mr. Fraser was joking in order to make a point about transparency. Nevertheless, at times she finds the secrecy surrounding Virgin Islands politics to be untenable. For example, HOA members recently voted to suspend the usual rules in order to expedite a bill that apparently adjusts their own retirement benefits (the bill passed on May 6, according to the HOA’s public relations officer, but it still hasn’t been made public). Worse, they provided no reason for waiving the usual requirement that the bill come for second and third readings at a later sitting, and they offered minimal public debate on it. And when the bill apparently was passed, the audio on the HOA livestreams on YouTube and Facebook wasn’t working. Taken together, this all means that voters know precious little about the bill, and presumably will be left in the dark until the governor assents and it already has become law. The Beaconite hopes that as the Virgin Islands moves toward greater autonomy, it places a greater emphasis on transparency not just in name but in the day-to-day operations of the legislature.
Relaxing the rules?
The United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recommended last week that fully vaccinated Americans can take off their masks in many situations in both indoor and outdoor settings, and most states are following its lead. The United Kingdom still requires masks indoors but not outdoors, and recently announced that schoolchildren would no longer be required to wear masks. The VI has done an admirable job for some time in keeping Covid-19 cases low, and the ranks of the vaccinated are increasing, if perhaps slower than hoped at a time when every resident who wants a vaccine can get one. A Beaconite feels that if VI leaders truly wish to “follow the science” and express confidence in vaccines, they should consider rolling back restrictions similarly, or at least setting a timeline for doing so. It may seem strange at first, but if vaccines truly do offer protection, there should be little to worry about.
This week, a Beaconite attended the trial of four men accused of importing drugs into the territory and possessing drugs with the intent to distribute. The men were arrested in the fall of 2019, when the Beaconite was still getting acquainted to his then new job. At the time, he never would have thought that covering the territory’s drug trade would become such a big part of his life. But after he reported on the largest drug bust in Virgin Islands history last year, which allegedly was conducted on property owned by a police officer, the topic has become an increasingly big part of his reporting. Whether or not the men currently on trial are found guilty, the Beaconite has found the trial interesting in its illumination of aspects of the territory’s policing framework that are rarely addressed publicly, such as the police’s relationship with their United States counterparts. It has also been frustrating at times. On the first day of the trial, two hours were devoted to trying to secure representation for one of the accused after his lawyer stepped aside at the 11th hour. Such issues might explain why some people spend years in prison before even going to trial.