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COMMENTARY: History reveals the need for strong oversight

COMMENTARY: History reveals the need for strong oversight

The man or woman who wants to understand the present Virgin Islands moment, and look with clarity into the future, must read and assess objectively recent history.

At the very least, he and she should read narratives of the Virgin Islands print press, over the past 30 years. But to begin with a caveat is appropriate.

This old boy doubts residents want a UK takeover in the manner of Turks and Caicos. What residents hope for is the placing of mechanisms that check impunity and ensure the prosecution of officials who cross the line between legitimate governance and criminal misconduct.

Then there is a national warning. The rule of law cannot be optional. Residents must adopt honesty, integrity, and morality, as core to a fully functional society.

It takes all residents to plough the moral ground that leads to a secure and safe country. OK. That history lesson will reveal that 25 years of visionless politics, and poor governance and mismanagement, has left the Virgin Islands in a stagnant time bubble. The country remains where it was 20 years ago.

Yes, there has been a vast increase in personal wealth, as any look on the hills with scores of new mansions, and construction of large buildings in Road Town will reveal. But this reflects deep wealth inequalities, not a wave of social prosperity.

The social and physical infrastructure remains poor for a country that has seen tens of billions of dollars pass through its borders The country is going nowhere, and fast. If anything, the country has gone backwards.

Rolling in their graves

The early nationalists — men of true honour and integrity who helped usher in self-autonomy — must be rolling in their graves today, as they see from eternity, what their progeny have sowed and reaped.

The future for the young depends upon a financial services and tourism economy, owned by expatriates. Jobs in government, statutory boards, and the public service are no longer guaranteed to young natives, as in years past, owing to a non-diversified mono economy, making secure employment increasingly unsustainable.

Leaders today are only now realising the need for a food sufficient, diversified, economic culture, with local manufacturing at the core, and producing supermarket ready, homegrown produce and livestock, creating hundreds of sustainable jobs.

Expensive scholarships for natives mostly go to kids who migrate to the USA and Canada, using Virgin Islands’ taxpayers’ cash, for the benefit of employers and businesses in the USA and elsewhere.

National infrastructure unsuited for a ‘rich country’

The national infrastructure, both physical and social, remains unsuited for a ‘rich country’, and is more appropriate for a far poorer country. History explains how the country got to this place. The Virgin Islands got here owing to two decades of mismanagement and poor governance, a lack of proper oversight of the executive branch, and a visionless politics that has no long term plan for taking the country to the proverbial promised land: El Dorado. All is not lost.

The country will get back to where it should be, but only with the effective interventions and corrections of a powerful governance watchdog, that as soon as the Rubicon has been crossed from legitimate governance into criminal misconduct, shows the red card, and stalls illegitimate activity, before it becomes a financial albatross.

Furthermore, a mechanism must be in place where a governance watchdog can circumscribe a government that recklessly and irresponsibly walks away from a nationally accepted national development plan, especially where resources for projects in a development plan are willfully misappropriated for some other scheme or alternative spending binge, that has no bearing on what the national development plan or stated national vision projects and dictates.

History shows that countries that condone executive impunity, with no plan nor vision, and populations that are apathetic to a governance type that has no respect for the Rule of law, end up on the scrapheap of history, reaping poverty and national misery. Simple observation of postcolonial Africa is an excellent example of how malevolent and dangerous is executive impunity.

Postcolonial Africa is a horror story of poor governance. In Africa, a failure to check and circumscribe the executive branch has led to tyranny, dictatorship, the looting of treasuries by strongmen, poverty, war, disease and death.

The Virgin Islands may not be following that exact script, but there are similarities, such as attempts to centralise power in one office; nepotism and cronyism; entitlement and discrimination; victimisation of those who fail to accept illegitimate directives; lack of financial accountability; and a culture of silence and fear.

The Virgin IslandsCommission of Inquiry is the last chance before the Virgin Islands suffers the disastrous fate of becoming a true banana republic, and decades of social misery.


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