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Politics and the Virgin Islands Public service

The Virgin Islands Public Service must remain under the direction of the Crown as a platform for aiding effective governance, especially under the Westminster model of government
Dickson Igwe. Photo: provided
By Dickson Igwe

Should the Virgin Islands public service be placed under the direction of the political establishment? Or should the Public Service remain under the Crown with the Governor as Head of the Public Service? That is a matter worthy of assessment by the reader, considering various assertions made by past and present politicians on the subject over the years, mostly in support of bringing the public service under political control.

In Britain, the Civil Service comprises officials, officers, staff, and workers of every type. The civil service includes defense, intelligence and security personnel, scientists and educators, medical professionals, engineers, and more. These are individuals and teams who man the Cabinet, Treasury, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Great Departments of State, and various state institutions, agencies, and organizations.

The British Civil Service serves the Prime Minister, Cabinet Secretaries, Secretaries of State, Ministers of State, and Junior Ministers: men and women of politics who are voted into the House of Commons by the British people or appointed by the Prime Minister from the House of Lords.

However, at a British General Election, when a new government is voted into power, the civil service does not change. The British Civil Service and the Civil Servant remains in place when political masters leave entirely, or change position. The Service simply adapts to working within the parameters of the political, social, and economic agenda of the newly elected government.

In that respect, the British Civil Service is also Her Majesty’s Service. The British Civil Service, just like the British Royal Family, is a permanent institution. The civil servant serves at her Majesty’s pleasure. Of course it does not exactly work this way. And like the Virgin Islands model, most probably derived from the Whitehall prototype, there is a choreography that is danced in matters of appointment, promotion, discipline, and retirement. This is a frequently mystifying rendition that is a feature of centuries of tradition and custom, and written into the various rules and regulations that govern the service.

And that is the beauty of a non political public service. It offers continuity and consistency when the political climate is uncertain and there is change of government. The public service keeps the wheels of governance in rotation, when the political machinery stalls before and at election time. The civil servant or public officer is the critical cog in the wheel of government that during a transition to a new regime, keeps the country alive, while the New Boys get to understand the frequently mysterious machinations of government, if they haven’t already tasted power previously. And this steely, stoic, and unchanging aspect of the civil service is a virtue that is crucial to effective governance and national security. The Public Service is the backbone of government.


Now, from the perspective of the Virgin Islands public officer, there appears to have been a lot of deep unhappiness with the high degree political involvement in the public service, in recent times. Politics has created clear career uncertainty, poisoned succession planning, and put morale in the service at the edge of the precipice.
Arguably, political involvement in the Virgin Islands Public Service has created a less effective and less efficient beast.

One argument for political involvement in the public service was proffered by an anonymous blogger on Saturday October 12, 2013. This was in response to an online political commentary penned by this Political Watchman.

The blogger, using the pseudonym ‘’Politics’’ asserted the following: ‘’ When in a relationship changing man/woman every minute doesn’t make you happier but people do it. The same principle applies here. The real issues in this country is its people, especially the ones in the civil service.’’ Now, this was a paradoxical statement. If changing governments is so bad then why should changing bureaucrats be any better?

Yes, that was a very interesting assertion indeed. But then the blogger became even more self contradictory stating, ‘’ I would like a Candidate for the next Elections to tell me how they would be able to get things done when they have no power to change civil servants even when they’re working against their agendas.’’

‘’ I would love to hear it. People talk out here but they don’t know how they system works. Nothing will change until the service changes. The politicians are individuals who depend on the workers to carry out things in a proper manner. If they fail, then the politician look bad but what can they do? NOTHING!!!! If they fire them, we will get upset, when they do shit, we still get upset. We need new voters not new parties.’’

I n response, this political and social commentator will state that the world is clearly not a perfect place. And this remark on the blog stream was a very strong assertion that simply did not add up to this Layman. It was probably penned by an individual who felt very strongly about this issue of the whether or not the Public Service should be controlled by the political directorate. But in this Layman’s view, this was a bright mind that put no thought into the matter.

The assertion did not point to a thorough assessment of the checks and balances, and various nuances and complexities in the overseas territories model of governance and limited autonomy, having been made.

In response to that diatribe, this Layman will assert that the only way political control of the Virgin Islands Public Service can come into effect is by Britain and Whitehall relinquishing its control of this facet of government. And it is noteworthy that the current arrangement enables Britain manage her OTs from a distance, while granting them a high degree of autonomy.

This Observer sees no way that this relinquishing of control is going to happen, save the Virgin Islands becomes independent.

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