There are only two weeks until Polling Day, and campaigns are heating up to a frantic pace.
With Progressives United Chairman Julian Fraser officially entering the race on April 1, voters in the April 24 general election will now have a choice of candidates from at least four parties as well as nine independents.
Over the past week, the parties focused mainly on launching several district candidates, while independents held their own rallies for their District Two and at-large bids for office.
When Mr. Fraser launched his campaign to keep his District Three seat on on April 1, he extolled his record over the past 24 years in office.
The launch was emceed by JoAnn “Roxie” Romney and attended by Progressive Virgin Islands Movement candidates, who endorsed Mr. Fraser ahead of District Four candidate Ian Smith’s launch later that evening.
The PVIM does not have a District Three candidate, and party Chairman Ronnie Skelton said on April 1 that members were giving their full support to Mr. Fraser, who likewise shared his interest in working with the party in a coalition government.
“When you go to the polls this April, we have a lot to decide,” Mr. Skelton said. “We won’t be just deciding on red, blue, green or white. We have to decide who you want in positions to shape our children’s future for the next four years.”
Those considerations, he added, include which candidates can best restore confidence in the VI’s economy, work with the United Kingdom, be accountable with the public purse, and push forward necessary infrastructure projects, all while serving with honesty, accountability and strength.
“We have to decide if integrity matters,” he said.
Mr. Fraser, the incumbent, faces challenges from National Democratic Party candidate Aaron Parillon and Virgin Islands Party candidate Kevin “OJ” Smith.
On April 1, he listed several areas where he said he has endeavoured to improve the district, noting that he took particular pride in the government’s efforts to provide land for homeowners and businesses at low rates early in his political career.
Mr. Fraser also said he has worked hard to push for the betterment of the district even when he wasn’t part of the majority. As examples, he listed specific roadworks that have been completed, and he celebrated the commissioning of the Sea Cows Bay water plant, though he lamented its closure under an NDP administration. He also acknowledged many ongoing issues residents face, particularly with hazardous derelict vessels clogging the waters, and he expressed his hope that a change in leadership would mean removal work could progress.
“There’s one enemy out there, and that’s the Virgin Islands Party,” he said. “We’ve got to cut the head off that snake.”
Mr. Fraser also took credit for preventing the United Kingdom from suspending the VI Constitution following the Commission of Inquiry last year.
“The decision to abandon the concept of a one-party government in favour of an all-party government was my idea,” he said. “That idea, even though understandably rejected by the government, was without question the one thing that made the deal acceptable to the United Kingdom.”
While he expressed a preference for working with the PVIM, Mr. Fraser said he would be willing to work with an NDP majority as well. He also shared his vision for ultimately shifting the VI’s current legislative model to a bicameral system similar to the United States’ House of Representatives and Senate.
Also over the past week, the Virgin Islands Party launched four district candidates, including Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley on April 4.
District Three candidate Mr. Smith held his launch on March 29 in Sea Cows Bay.
His mother, Beverly HodgeSmith, introduced him as the candidate capable of bringing people together in a respectful manner after having worked in senior-level positions in the public and private sectors. He has served as the director of the Trade and Consumer Affairs Department, as CEO of Digicel BVI, and as the postmaster general, among other roles.
At the podium, Mr. Smith noted how life has changed for VI residents since his childhood, presenting new challenges for them to face, especially with the rising cost of living.
“I believe that the people are looking for legitimate and respectful representation, the kind that serves honestly and with humility,” he said. “Too often, we are using the pain of others and the service we render as a billboard of our achievements. Yet real, underlying issues remain unchanged.”
Ongoing water supply issues have presented hardship for too many community members, he added, criticising arrangements with the United Kingdom-based company Biwater to establish a distribution system.
“It was, and still is, a costly mistake,” he said. “Nonetheless, we have committed to bring adequate distribution of water back to this district.”
He also pledged to address issues with derelict vessels and crumbling roadways, and to better support entrepreneurship in the district.
“We cannot build a strong local economy if unsightly vehicles and trash continue to decrease our property values,” he added.
He also bemoaned the financial and health hazards he said are presented by the Pockwood Pond landfill and incinerator.
Such concerns were also expressed by at-large VIP candidate Carvin Malone, who was the first party member to speak at the launch.
“Solid waste collection, treatment and disposal have reached epic proportions in the Virgin Islands,” he said, noting the “ongoing” landfill fires on Tortola and Virgin Gorda.
He also cited a statistic from Agency Red, the Swiss consultancy firm that drafted a comprehensive waste management strategy, that more than 135,000 tonnes of garbage are collected daily in the territory.
If re-elected, the VIP administration would oversee the implementation of the waste management strategy that was promised in 2014 and redrafted last year, among other measures, he said.
District Two launch
District Two VIP candidate Marieta Flax-Headley launched her campaign on March 30 overlooking Cane Garden Bay from Rudy’s Lookout.
Her supporters extolled the former Althea Scatliffe Primary School principal’s 24-year record in education. Her launch also featured testimonials and musical performances by some of her former students.
Also during her launch, many VIP members claimed ties to the district either through residency, family, business assets, or summer vacations.
VIP at-large candidate Zoe Walcott recalled working as the Parent Teacher Association president for Leonora Delville Primary School while Ms. Flax-Headley served as principal there, and she commended the educator for her efforts to ensure students struggling with food insecurity were sponsored by other families who were in a position to help.
Ms. Flax-Headley’s peers also lauded her work promoting youth sports — particularly basketball — in the territory.
She was one of the final additions to the VIP roster, but she explained that she refused to seek office without the blessing of her son, who she said offered it at the 11th hour despite his concerns about how ugly politics can get.
Topping her agenda, she said, is the need to address District Two’s water distribution woes. She also hopes to complete repairs on community centres, better manage trash, and bolster the business community with “cultural villages,” she added.
Additionally, she said, she plans to invest more resources in the youth, particularly by expanding green spaces.
Ms. Flax-Headley also said she continues to support former Premier Andrew Fahie, who awaits trial in Florida on charges of conspiracy to import a controlled substance, conspiracy to engage in money laundering, and attempted money laundering.
“Honourable Andrew Fahie was, and still is, my friend,” she said. “If you are my friend, you can rest assured you have a friend for you in good times and in bad times. You won’t have to worry about me kicking you to the kerb when you’re down. Rest assured, I will lend a hand to help you up if you fall. As he prepares to go before the courts, I will continue to pray for him and his family.”
District Four VIP candidate Luce Hodge-Smith held her launch on March 31 at the Market Square in Road Town.
Ms. Hodge-Smith made a narrowly unsuccessful bid for office in 2019 against NDP candidate Mark Vanterpool, who said he is not seeking re-election this year. Also running in the district are Sandy Harrigan-Underhill with NDP, Ian Smith with PVIM, and Rosita Scatliffe-Thompson running independently.
A former culture director, Ms. Hodge-Smith has served in recent years as deputy managing director of the BVI Airports Authority. During the launch, her VIP colleagues including Vincent Wheatley celebrated the current VIP-led administration’s work in the capital, including the construction of the market where the rally was held.
Ms. Hodge-Smith said she would work to address violent crime in the territory while providing greater support for families and education systems to assist at-risk populations.
“Targeted education, training, and supportive redirection can build a sound foundation for change,” she said.
She listed a dozen priority areas for community development: health and safety; environment; infrastructure; youth development; seniors’ care; economic development; VI history and culture; quality of life; community building; Salt Island; representation of District Four residents; and good governance.
She also touched on various needs in Road Town, including better sewerage systems, dredging, derelict vessel removal, mapping of underground wiring, improved lighting, fully furnished sports fields, and more.
Dr. Wheatley wrapped up the party’s launches on April 4 with his own rally at The Stickett in Long Look. During the event, he reflected on the rollercoaster of the past four years that culminated in a new focus on government reforms.
“We were able to withstand the pressure and deliver some measure of progress, despite the challenges,” he said.
Looking specifically at his district, Dr. Wheatley highlighted his work to support young people and seniors. He also spoke of his efforts in helping establish and finance the Youth Empowerment Project currently headed by PVIM at-large candidate Stacy “Buddha” Mather.
Additionally, he touched on providing scholarships, building new facilities for homeless people, maintaining roadsides through the RATED programme, establishing a district office, supporting small businesses, reopening the Rosalind Penn Health Centre, joining cultural events, and other initiatives.
“Yes, we got some things done and we made some progress,” he said. “But there are so many more challenges which need to be addressed.”
Glaring issues that remain include potholes in the district and the need to repair water systems, remove derelict vehicles and other “eyesores,” reduce unemployment, address the high cost of living, offer better access to health care, and curb violent crime, he said.
Dr. Wheatley added that he hopes to follow in his grandfather Willard Wheatley’s footsteps in being elected by East End to lead the territory as premier. Ms. Flax-Headley, the premier’s former teacher, said she was particularly proud to see him in this position and was eager to now learn from him in the political arena.
The PVIM launched two incumbent representatives and two new candidates over the past week.
During their rallies, they focused largely on their infrastructure ambitions in a variety of areas including youth development, historical site preservation, and sewerage system repairs.
On March 30, Sylvia Moses announced her candidacy in Cappoons Bay.
She referred to herself as “the best in the west” as she threw her hat in the ring for First District representative — a position that has been vacant since Mr. Fahie resigned last November following his arrest last April in Florida.
“[I am] here to present myself in service to my district, my country, my [VI],” Ms. Moses said at the beginning of her speech. “I am here to officially announce my candidacy.”
Ms. Moses — a previous PVIM candidate who unsuccessfully contested the same seat in the 2019 election — said she has been listening to the concerns of the people in the district.
Born and raised in the West End, she added that she is the eldest of six children and that she learned early on about the importance of being responsible.
She also recounted childhood experiences that have shaped her character, especially those centred around West End landmarks like Frenchmans Cay.
Additionally, Ms. Moses touched on initiatives that she said are PVIM priorities, including improvements to roads, environmental protection and waste management, health and wellness, economic growth, tourism and cultural initiatives, and youth engagement and empowerment.
“These plans are developed based on my engagements and discussions with you and we will work these plans together,” she promised.
The next day, PVIM incumbent Mitch Turnbull touted his bid for Second District representative — a title he’s held for the past four years — during a rally in Cane Garden Bay.
Mr. Turnbull referred to himself as the “son” of the Cane Garden Bay and Jost Van Dyke communities.
“Stick with me,” he urged the crowd that attended the rally the evening of March 31. “You will see why we come from good cloth and good stock.”
A husband and father, Mr. Turnbull stressed the importance of his roots in the territory.
“Everything in this district made me who I am, and I am standing firm and I am standing proud to continue to represent you in the Second District and be your voice,” he said.
Like Ms. Moses, he recounted his childhood experiences and the values that he grew up with, such as good manners, a sense of community, and respect. He promised to continue to “earn the respect” of the district.
During his three-year-plus tenure as an opposition member (before he was appointed natural resources and labour minister last year in the cross-party National Unity Government), Mr. Turnbull said, he was able to facilitate the construction of the Jost Van Dyke Primary School, the construction of the Ivan Dawson Primary School basketball court, and the rehabilitation of the Brewers Bay restroom facilities, among other improvements in the district.
He went on to say that he plans to help complete the rebuilding of athletic facilities in the district, facilitate after-school programmes, offer business development training, and more.
District Four launch
On April 1, the PVIM kicked off its weekend events with a rally for Ian Smith at the Band Stand in Lower Estate.
Mr. Smith is contesting the seat for the Fourth District, where he said he was born, went to school, and now works.
“I have a vested interest in the Fourth District to prosper and be restored to its former glory. In fact, all of the residents in this territory should have an interest in seeing the Fourth District — which comprises Tortola’s hub and capital city — thrive,” he said.
He added that he seeks to address key areas that include rejuvenating the district by promoting historical sites, working on the tourism product in the territory, diversifying the economy, reopening the public library, improving the sewerage system, and more.
“The results of my proposal will be restored pride and confidence in the town,” he said.
Mr. Smith — a former chairman of the Social Security Board — has also touted his experience as a senior banker and board member of the Financial Services Commission, which he has said would prove useful in developing the territory’s financial services sector.
On Virgin Gorda
On April 2 night, Shereen Flax-Charles hosted a rally in Virgin Gorda for her PVIM candidacy as the Ninth District representative.
Ms. Flax-Charles — a former junior minister who left the VIP in February — was previously elected at large.
“I know my voice will ring clear from Virgin Gorda to Anegada as I share with you, the people of this district, a real plan of action,” she said.
In the past four years, she added, she’s learned how to channel her energy in the “right direction.”
“Shereen the warrior has met Shereen the diplomat, and now there is no force that can stop this people’s champion,” she stated.
‘Five-point action plan’
Her “five-point action plan” includes prioritising youth empowerment, distributing crown lands fairly, heightening health care services, creating a business-friendly environment, and reforming public service and governance.
She also detailed several specific initiatives in each category during her hour-long speech that night, but didn’t say where the public can access or read the plan.
District Five candidate Marvin Blyden’s campaign launch in Huntums Ghut was scheduled for the evening of April 5, after the Beacon’s deadline.
The NDP has also been busy in recent days.
During a candidate launch and an at-large rally over the past week, the party’s candidates claimed credit for past infrastructure work like roads, and they promised to establish two district offices in District Six.
Myron Walwyn, the party’s District Six candidate, said the VI is “coping with some of its most challenging times in recent memory” during the launch of his campaign at the One Mart Parking Lot at Purcell on March 31.
Since the release of the COI report last year, the “whole ballgame has changed and you need your best player on the field to make things happen for you,” he said.
Mr. Walwyn — who served as at-large representative and education and culture minister from 2011 to 2019 — is currently facing a charge of breach of trust by a public officer in connection with his role in the Elmore Stoutt High School perimetre wall project, which was harshly criticised by the COI, but he has maintained his innocence and denied wrongdoing.
On March 31, he proposed a plan for District Six to address social, economic, education and infrastructure issues. The plan, he said, will be posted online, shared in hard copy, and updated each quarter during the party’s district meetings.
He added that he would ensure that District Six “gets its fair share” of tourism while working to strengthen relations between the government and businesses.
Mr. Walwyn also promised a district foundation to be used for community improvement projects, scholarships and grants for youths, and health and wellness programmes.
Additionally, he said he plans to work with the businesses to re-establish the Youth Employment Services programme in the district.
“It is one of the ways we can get our young people gainfully employed,” he added.
Mr. Walwyn also proposed setting up two district offices: one in Belle Vue and the other between Purcell and Baughers Bay.
“The offices will act as an agency to help persons navigate the channels with anything that involves the government,” Mr. Walwyn said.
On April 3, the NDP held an at-large rally in Cane Garden Bay.
Candidates’ speeches covered wide-ranging topics, and NDP Chairman Marlon Penn used the opportunity to address the condition of the roads in the territory.
“The roads have been played like a political football for too long,” Mr. Penn said.
When the NDP was in office, he added, it had the “foresight” to establish the Recovery and Development Agency to help rebuild infrastructure after Hurricane Irma.
Mr. Penn also said the NDP team contesting this year’s elections has over 60 years of combined experience. One of its veterans, at-large candidate Dr. Kedrick Pickering, touted the party’s progress when it was last in power between 2011 and 2019. Had the NDP continued to lead the government after that period, he claimed, there would not have been a COI.
“The country was doing well under the NDP,” Dr. Pickering said, apparently attempting to downplay the fact that the COI’s investigations harshly criticised several projects carried out by NDP-led administrations as well as other governments.
Lorna Smith, another atlarge contender for the party, also spoke.
“It is time for a new administration to take the wheel and steer the ship of state out of adversity,” she said.
Renard Estridge and Allen O’Neal, the other at-large NDP candidates, also took the podium during the rally.
Over the past week, several independents also continued their efforts to gain voters’ support in the countdown to April 24. Independent District Two candidate Troy Christopher held his official campaign launch on April 1 in Cane Garden Bay.
Mr. Christopher was welcomed to the stage by his brother, Art Christopher.
“He has new ideas, a fresh vision, and is committed to the community and committed to our people,” Art Christopher said of the candidate.
The launch featured videos with the voices of residents, including those who lamented the loss of senior programmes and community centres since 2017.
Troy Christopher said he was compelled to run because he believes the territory is at a critical juncture in needing to fix serious problems with water, sewerage and road infrastructure.
“I can’t stay on the sidelines knowing that I could help,” he said.
He described how his parents raised him to care about his neighbours growing up in Brewers Bay, and he explained how his inquisitiveness and early interest in technology opened doors to working with Cyril B. Romney and learning more about the shipping and tourism industries.
He eventually became chairman of the Taxi and Livery Commission, and he created his own information technology business at age 26, he said.
“Some of the best learning comes from experience,” he said. “Today, I am able to see the potential in the BVI and would like the opportunity to encourage young people to find their place in the economy in the territory, encourage them to be good citizens, and encourage them to share with us all.”
Parham town launch
Attorney Daniel Fligelstone-Davies launched his independent at-large campaign on April 2 in Parham Town.
Though he contended with power outages, he took the opportunity to address what he sees as some of the most pressing issues in the territory.
He first addressed the sister islands, labelling them as being in a “miserable” state.
Transportation among the islands remains an issue, he added, also noting ongoing challenges with banking and the cost of living for residents there. Additionally, he described the difficulty of getting emergency medical aid on sister islands, alleging that medical supplies were taken from Virgin Gorda for use elsewhere.
Meanwhile, he said, hospital facilities are struggling from ongoing mould issues.
Mr. Fligelstone-Davies also shared Mr. Christopher’s view that more needs to be done to support senior citizens, as well those who are differently abled.
Additionally, he highlighted the need for adequate access to justice and greater legislative transparency.
He also invited to the stage Karen Vanterpool, a fellow independent at-large candidate who recently declared her intention to run in the coming election.
“We do not deserve what we are getting,” she said. “Change must come.”
Ms. Vanterpool said she offers her experience as a building contractor, community member, and devoted church member.
Her agenda included seeking a raise in minimum wage, among other economic priorities.
“I have developed a righteous indignation umbrage for the callous behaviour of some of our leaders, the corruption, the blatant misuse of the public purse, the cronyism, the nepotism, the victimisation, the bullying, the disrespect to God, our father, and his people,” she said.
Ms. Vanterpool said she will hold a launch at 6 p.m. on April 8 in the parking lot next to Speedy’s in The Valley, Virgin Gorda.
Another speaker at the rally was Ishmael Brathwaite, who said he is running with the “Patriotic Citizens Movement.” He clarified that the group is not a “party,” per se, but a “movement” that he anticipates will include a coalition of any successful independent candidates and their endorsed party candidates.
“When I analyse what is happening on the campaign trail, I could not bring myself to think that this territory would dare to re-elect the past leaders that we have experienced,” he said.
He lent his support to Mr. Fligelstone-Davies.
Mitsy Ellis-Simpson, another independent at-large candidate, has scheduled her launch for the evening of April 5 after the Beacon’s deadline.
ZARRIN TASNIM AHMED and ALVA SOLOMON contributed to this report.