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[British] Virgin Islands People: Betrayal, Disloyalty & Treachery

Ed Leonard is a native Virgin Islander (British), an amateur freelance writer, and a graduate of Florida A&M University. Photo: Provided
Edgar Leonard

Some elected officials and non-elected officials have disappointedly betrayed the VI people's trust, faith, and confidence in them, inflicting painful shame and embarrassment. The VI has been under the UK's control since 1672, after the Anglo-Dutch War.

The UK abolished physical slavery on August 1, 1834. Slaves emerged from slavery in a poor, dire, property-less, and dispossessed state. Emancipation did little to lessen slaves and their descendants' dependence on plantation owners and colonial control of their lives and livelihoods. And even after the planter class bolted from the territory due to a myriad of factors, including a drop in sugar prices from competition from beet sugar,  hurricanes, a series of revolts, a decline in profit, etc., leaving the territory as poverty-stricken and only useful as a bird sanctuary, the poor house of the West Indies, and a little sleepy hollow, it remained under the control of the UK. The territory enjoyed little to no autonomy, cycling through as a presidency of the Leeward Federation, colony (1960), dependent territory (1981, British Nationality Act), and currently an overseas territory (2002, Overseas Territory Act).

National Heroes and Pioneers and Power Sharing

Many bold, patriotic, and unselfish warrior Virgin Islanders endured many personal sacrifices to move the VI towards a measure of self-governing: Christopher Fleming (1890 protest), Theodolph Faulkner (The Great March of November 24, 1949), Noel Lloyd and Positive Action Movement (1968 Protest against the lose-lose Bate-Hill Wickham Cay agreement and 4/5 of Anegada agreement), Hamilton Lavity Stoutt (first Chief Minister, ministerial system 1967), Dr Willard Wheatley (weaned the VI off of grant-in-aid 1979), Ralph T. O'Neal OBE (first Premier 2007), among many others.

Currently, VI is classified as self-governing. It shares governing responsibilities with the UK-appointed Governor under whose purview defense, external affairs, internal security (including Royal Virgin Islands Police Force), civil service, and judiciary falls; remaining functions, local VI government, including finance. Nevertheless, it is not a true, balanced partnership.

Constitution and Democratic Deficits

The structure of the current constitution is weak in minimising decolonisation to the maximum extent practical. Instead, it is focused on maintaining the current political status; it is akin to moving the chairs around on the deck of the Titanic. Further, it is a dependency model that aligns with the UK's preferences and has many democratic deficits. The UK has the final decision-making or unilateral authority under the UK-appointed Governor's delegated power through functions, special responsibilities, reserved powers, and the power assent on legislation passed by the duly elected people's House of Assembly.

Additionally, though the Governor, in some instances, may be encouraged to consult with Cabinet, which he/she chairs, he/she can ignore any advice given. Moreover, the VI has no representation in the UK Parliament, yet generally, it has to abide by laws passed by it. This is not a model of democracy. Further, the issue of reparations for VI slave descendants to make them whole for slaves' brutality, exploitation, dehumanisation, etc., is an issue that the UK is avoiding and evading; it refuses to offer even a simple apology for slavery. Nevertheless, all the VI challenges are not attributable to UK's colonial structure. The VI also shares in its problem.

Commission of Inquiry

A Sir Gary R. Hickinbottom-led Commission of Inquiry into VI Government structure unsurprisingly documented many governing deficiencies. One of the significant recommendations for fixing the weaknesses is suspending the constitution and employing UK direct rule. The VI made some progress transitioning from colonialism, an extractive institution, to self-determination, i.e., independence, free association, and integration. Interestingly, none of the UK's former colonies that contributed to and enriched the British Empire have attained a political status other than independence; for example, Guadeloupe and Martinique, former French colonies, are an integral part of France.

Nevertheless, suspending the constitution will pitch the VI back into the colonial era, which would be inconsistent with the UN's charter on decolonisation. Colonialism, an extractive institution, and control by one power over a dependent area or people, has had a  sordid, oppressive, and harmful history of violence, subordination, exploitation, violence, brutality, social ordering, and subjugation. In the 21st Century, the VI people, as people everywhere, are entitled to the right and freedom of choice regarding their political status. Thus, they should not involuntarily be subjected to another nation's will, recolonising it and resorting to a relic of the past. Moreover, administrative actions other than the severe recolonising action of suspending the constitution are available that would achieve the same effective desired good governing outcomes.

Administering Power

The UK is the Administering Power for the Virgin Islands, 1 of 17 remaining on the UN's list of Non-Self-governing Territories (NSGT). As the Administering Power, the UK is responsible for preparing and guiding the VI towards a full measure of self-governing. In place of suspending the constitution and employing direct rule, I suggest the following strategic and tactical action plan. It is a snapshot of a larger a larger administrative project that can be used to bring out the desired outcomes:

  1. Dispatch an administrative tiger team from the UK to the VI to assist with developing and revising internal management controls, standard operating procedures, policies, etc., for all government and statutory bodies functions, especially financial receipt and expenditures. The team can be jointly funded by the UK and VI, though some may view the VI funding as crusading. The wheel would not have to be reinvented, for effective policies employed in other jurisdictions can be adopted and adapted to the VI situation;
  2. Require progress reports be sent to the Governor quarterly for 18 months;
  3. Conduct a comprehensive external audit of the Finance Department annually and no later than 60 days after the close of the  past fiscal year;
  4. Every other department, division, section, etc., should be audited at least once in a 3-year cycle;
  5. Centralize some related functions, including statutory bodies, which are now decentralised to improve effectiveness and efficacy;
  6. Split the current  budget process into a) Operations, and Maintenance, and b) Capital budgets;
  7. Expedite the constitutional review process; etc.

This is just a shortlist of administrative actions that can be taken with UK personnel assisting local personnel to avoid suspending the constitution but can attain the desired outcome. Every plan needs a plan leader, so an Operations Plan (OpLan) leader should be appointed.

Blighted Focus

The old (wise)  VI people had a common saying, "you bring yu pig to a fine market(irony). Another popular VI saying: A ship that's not ruled by the rudder, the rocks will pick up (Andrea D. Flax, The Way We Were (2010). The VI is on the verge of being ensnarled back in the tentacles of colonialism. Some sectors of the VI appear to be a cesspool of not conforming to laws and norms. And it seems as if there were few, if any, guardrails in place to keep the VI from derailing. And if policies existed, they were ignored or bulldozed over. Policies are not self-executing.

Moreover, the VI emerged from being a bird sanctuary, a little sleepy hollow, and the poor house of the West Indies to having the highest standard of living, quality of life, and per capita income in the region. However, it got drunk on its success, the hangover lingers, and the people lost focus. The people, the masses, and the Lil man ignored the warning signs and failed to hold the government responsible and accountable. And representatives also from the Administering  Power, the UK, also failed to provide the oversight, responding to extinguish the fire when it was fully ablaze. The VI and the  VI people are responsible for its current demise, but did the UK fail it? VI government officials should be held accountable for any wrongdoings, but will any UK-appointed officials on the ground be held accountable for administrative failures of poor oversight, if any.

Most politicians are scoundrels full of betrayal, disloyalty, and treachery and have been scoundrels for a long time. One can look back to ancient times, i.e., Rome 64 BC, and farther back for evidentiary support. President Ronald W. Reagan, the 40th President of the US, noted that politics is the second oldest profession, but it bears a close resemblance to the first, i.e., pr…..n.

Betrayal, Disloyalty & Treachery

The results of the last few days, i.e., the release of the Commission of Inquiry Report and the arrest of elected and appointed officials have carpet-bombed the VI, a small 59 square mile, 36 island chain in the Caribbean Sea. In VI dialect, it was cocobay pun tap ah yaws situation (making a bad situation order of magnitude worse). A bedrock of the VI judicial system is the rule of law, so the accused are entitled to due process. Nevertheless, if the allegations are true, the accused tarnished the VI and its people's image, wiped out the progress fought so hard to attain, and betrayed and disappointed a whole race, people, territory, region, etc. The alleged accusations are a devasting and damaging gut punch, a dagger through the heart of 30,000 plus people, and a gaping and profusely bleeding chest wound of the VI people, its image and psyche, etc. So many heroes and warriors worked so hard and sacrificed so much to advance the VI from the subjugation of slavery and colonialism. It is painful and would be an enormous betrayal of people's trust, faith, and confidence were selfishly slaughtered on the altar of greed. If guilty, the elected officials violated the voters' trust, faith, and confidence. And history will be unkind to them.

Moreover, It is a Black Letter period. Regardless of the outcome, tremendous damage has already been done to the VI's image. There is a valuable lesson, and a teachable moment for the next generations of Virgin Islanders, i.e., you have a responsibility not also to yourselves but also to the people who put their trust, faith, and confidence in you.

Voters/Residents Civic Engagement

The VI is a representative democracy and elects people to represent their interests in the House of Assembly. Voting to send members to the House of Representatives(HOA) does not mean that voters give the power to the politicians; the true power still rests with voters. Civic engagement/participation means more than registering and voting in a general election every four years. It means staying current on events, maintaining an active dialogue with elected members on current legislation, engaging members on district and national issues, following up on the status of promises made during the election campaign, demanding periodic briefings from members, serving on boards and committees, attending HoA meetings, town halls, press conferences; demanding straight talk from politicians on issues, holding politicians responsible and accountable, and demanding financial fiduciary responsibility and value for money. Voters and residents must be political animals.

Moreover, it is understandable if many voters throw their hands up in disgust and give up on politics. However, they should not and cannot. Many scholars (Aristotle included) noted that behaving politically is inseparable from being human. Aristotle defines humans as zoa politica, i.e., political animals. Life void of politics is impossible. The VI is in a grave hour, but citizens' direct civic participation and engagement are needed to help it rise like a phoenix from the ashes, the dung heap. The people, not self-serving politicians or image-protecting colonialists in Europe, must cooperate and collaborate to bring it out of the ashes. It is time for a rebirth, and the people must be the energy that drives the rebirth engine.

The recent bombshells indicate that voters got burned. They put too much trust without verifications in politicians, and the politicians violated their trust, faith, and confidence. They took their eyes off the destination, letting the ship of state sway way off course, and it ran hard aground. From now on, voters must learn from past costly mistakes and collectively and collaboratively come together demanding the destination, means, and mode of getting to the goal and frequent briefings and updates on the status of the journey. The bottom line is that voters must get proactively engaged in governing., educating themselves, and asking the right and pertinent questions. Above all, they must apply the Reagan principle of "Trust but Verify." The VI people must have the choice, the right, the liberty, and freedom to pursue their political destiny.

Edgar Leonard is a native Virgin Islander, military veteran, aspiring amateur writer, and a Florida A&M University Rattler.

2 Responses to “[British] Virgin Islands People: Betrayal, Disloyalty & Treachery”

  • asura (02/05/2022, 09:18) Like (4) Dislike (2) Reply
    it is a sad day in the BVI smh
  • BuzzBvi (02/05/2022, 10:41) Like (220) Dislike (1) Reply
    It is hard to see how any of the members of the current or past Governments can have a positive contribution to changing the direction of the VI. Their vested interests are to ensure that they can continue to benefit from the dysfunctional system that has completely disregarded the constitution that they now supposedly want to uphold. Better that the current VI and its crooked way of working, through bad minded politicians and their, also not be so trusted, cronies and appointees and media spokespeople and bigoted charlatan religious leaders, be put on hold and corrective action taken before it is handed back to a fresh minded, fresh peopled, political and less racist group of VI leaders. This must also protect us from going continually back to re-employing the old bad apples time and time again. It is hard to see a new future for the BVI using the well worn path of recycled, politicians and the crooked influential people that currently surround them. How do you expect all the crooked folk to make any useful changes? How does that work?

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