Next up: Contracts
In the upcoming week, the Commission of Inquiry plans to probe how government enters contracts “both in general and in relation to specific contracts.” A Beaconite is curious what these specific examples will include, as plenty of questionable past agreements come to mind. She sees this particular subject of inquiry as an example of what the territory might expect after the conclusion of the investigation. She fully expects the COI’s recommendations to include advising government to implement a completely transparent process in how it advertises and awards contracts, with plenty of opportunity given to community members to offer their recommendations and concerns about who ultimately receives one. She also hopes to see clearer requirements for ensuring that the terms of each contract are met. Such rules, after all, help ensure that public funds are spent in a way that has a definitive benefit for the community. In recent years, the Recovery and Development Agency has helped lead the way in this regard, providing a positive example for other public entities to follow.
A Beaconite was disappointed that last week an entire school was closed and forced back into virtual learning just four days after it restarted, all because of one student testing positive for Covid-19. The Beaconite is admittedly not an expert on just what protocols and policies would be better. However, it’s not realistic to think that no more students will ever test positive, so she does believe there can be common-sense alternatives to shuttering an entire school building just for one case, such as quarantining only the infected student’s closest contacts. Many jurisdictions in Europe have adopted such policies. Education experts agree that children tend to learn better in person, and Virgin Islands students have already endured enough disruption to their education in recent years, starting with Hurricane Irma and continuing into the pandemic. They cannot continue like this.
Last week, a Beaconite followed a marine biologist as she returned a sea turtle that had been infected with a viral disease back to its original habitat. Along the way, he was glad to see how much support she received from the community. Staff at a major resort allowed her to house the turtle on their property for weeks, and friends assisted in all stages of the rehoming process. In his reporting, the Beaconite has frequently witnessed similar eagerness among residents to protect the environment, from the crowds who assemble to learn about dangerous coral diseases to non-profit organisations that recycle plastic waste to teams of divers who jump into action upon hearing that a whale has become tangled in a net. But last Thursday, the Beaconite also couldn’t help but think about that the government often doesn’t use its power to take similar action. Just that day, his colleague published an article about how the current administration, shortly after coming into power, dismantled the Climate Change Trust Fund board, which could have been a potent tool to finance environmental projects in the territory — like the one that enabled the turtle’s safe return home. In the absence of local government funding, the biologist has relied on a $300,000 grant from the United Kingdom. The Beaconite himself has also reported at length about how successive governments have failed to achieve several renewable energy goals set in 2013. A goal scheduled for this year — that Anegada reduce fossil fuel inputs to electricity by 80 percent by 2021 — seems still out of reach, as a planned solar project on the sister island is apparently stalled. Residents clearly yearn to take better care of the VI’s natural splendor, but without policies, legislation and funding to harness their yearning, they are largely left to fix what has already been broken.