Though most of his fellow candidates are political newcomers, Virgin Islands Party Chairman Andrew Fahie believes his own 20 years as First District representative and the VIP’s storied history set the party apart from the competition.
“I come armed with one of the greatest weapons, which is experience,” he said at an energetic VIP meet-and-greet on Wednesday evening of last week at Maria’s by the Sea, adding that experience “happens to be a key asset in the transforming of any society or business.”
He again emphasised, as he frequently has, that the VIP has a full slate of 13 “quality” candidates to stand in the 2019 general elections — although Mr. Fahie, the former opposition leader, is the only who has held elective office in the legislature. He has represented his district since 1999.
However, the event seemed designed to underscore the accomplishments of those party leaders who paved the way for the current crop. Naomi Turnbull,the last surviving founding member of the VIP, along with Edris O’Neal, wife of former Premier Ralph O’Neal, symbolically passed the torch on Mr. Fahie. Accepting it, he claimed that the VIP, the oldest functioning party in the territory, has been at the vanguard of every major change in VI society “since adult suffrage.”
He rattled off accomplishments that included the building of H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, the cruise ship pier, the Central Administration Building, the James Walter Francis Drive, and the territory’s scholarship programme.
“Every time this territory has been taken to the depth of despair,” he said, “it is a Virgin Islands Party administration that has rescued it and nudged it forward.”
Change and renewal
Mr. Fahie has begun rolling out his party’s platform, under the tagline “change and renewal,” in stages over the past weeks. He has proposed a plan for economic growth based on the “three D’s:” “digitalisation, diversification and decentralisation.”
At candidate Kye Rymer’s Fifth District launch on Saturday, Mr. Fahie introduced a plan to boost entrepreneurship by cutting excessive port fees, instead of, as he put it, government “helping them to go bankrupt before they start.”
He also proposed keeping ports open 24/7 to “get more stuff into this place,” adding “with quantity we can lower the price.”
He touted his plan for whistleblowing legislation in order to curb graft and corruption, so that public officers who are aware of mismanagement can report it without fear of repercussions.
“People should not be afraid of revenge and reprisal if they report wrongdoing,” he said.
In addition, each elected VIP representative will be required to develop district councils to meet on a regular basis to keep apprised of their constituents’ needs, he added.
Mr. Fahie went into further detail about why the VIP has increasingly been holding events and posting messages in Spanish. He alleged that other parties try to use Spanish speakers and others just for a vote while not listening to the concerns of foreign-born residents. He criticised the government ratcheting up the residency and citizenship requirements, as well as raising work permit fees. “They want love but they don’t show love,” he said, adding, “To have someone in your country for 20 years without giving them status is criminal. You cannot do that to somebody. They’re contributing.”
He criticised the government’s plan for “citizenship by investment,” in which wealthy individuals can buy citizenship. Instead, he called for “citizenship through skills.”
“Once you help us build the Virgin Islands, you can fast track your [citizenship],” he said.
Mr. Fahie also took aim at his opponents in the National
Democratic Party, saying, “What we have experienced under this sitting NDP government is willfully reckless” and suggesting that the territory soon would know whether the incumbents are “downright criminal.”
Mr. Fahie accused the NDP of “consistently” blaming “our over 3,000 hardworking public servants for the government’s blatant mismanagement and breach of the public trust.”
For anyone who doubted Mr. Fahie’s experience on an international stage, he reminded them of his journey to the United Kingdom last year for talks about the new public register of beneficial ownership requirements.
“The premier did not call on leaders of any of the other parties,” he said, adding, “He called on Andrew A. Fahie.”
He went on to take credit for the accomplishments of that trip. “While there were those that were lamenting that the trip was a waste of time and money, … the UK foreign office has now communicated to the overseas territories that they need not introduce compulsory 2020 public registers until 2023.”
Hurricane Irma, he said, also helped prove his leadership ability, he said, alleging that the government “went into hiding sitting in a room wondering what to do” and crediting himself with delivering food and water and mobilising residents to help clear roads.
“It is not my leadership that should be in question,” he said. “It is theirs.”