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Did the UK fail the VI?

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

The UK has had control over the Virgin Islands (VI) (British) since 1672, after the Third Anglo-Dutch War. Does the UK have Pilate status or share the responsibility and accountability for any VI governing defects? Former UK-appointed Governor Augustus J. U. Jaspert, mere days before bolting the VI to return to the UK, handpicked Sir Gary R. Hickinbottom to lead a commission of inquiry (CoI) to investigate allegations of corruption in the VI.

Sir Hickinbottom completed the CoI and delivered it to Governor John J. Rankin, CMG; the CoI is now dangling over the VI and its people like the Sword of Damocles. The CoI created domestic, regional, and international interest and concerns, and its findings and any executed recommendations can have effects locally, regionally, and internationally. As such, the CoI will perhaps reveal the facts and truths about the alleged corruption, so I will reserve any further comment about it. Nonetheless, in this commentary, I will take a peek at the UK, the Administering Power, the responsibilities for VI governing, and did it fail the VI?

Political Status History

The UK has had complete uninterrupted control over the VI since 1672 after the outbreak of The Anglo-Dutch War. Over the years, the VI has cycled through being a colony (1960), a Dependent Territory (1981, British Nationality Act), and today, an Overseas Territory (2002, British Overseas Territory Act). Further, in 1872, the VI formally became part of the Leeward Islands Federation as a Presidency under the Governor of the Leeward Islands (located in Antigua). The Leeward Islands Federation disbanded in 1956, and the position of Governor was abolished in 1960, clearing the way for the VI to become a separate colony. Moreover, the VI, one of the few remaining remnants of the fading British Empire (Britain has a renewed push to be a primary world leader---Global Britain), is currently 1 of 17 remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories (NSGT), with the UK as the Administering Power from a United Nations list of 72 in 1946. Consequently, as the Administering Power, the UK has the obligation under the United Nations Charter to bring the people of the VI to a full measure of self-governance, including independence, free association, or integration.

Constitution and Self-governing

The VI Colonial Legislature was suspended in 1901 and reinstated in 1950 after the Great March of November 24, 1949. The VI has had four constitutions in the modern era, i.e., 1950, 1967, 1976, and 2007. The 1967 constitution ushered in the ministerial system of governing and a small measure of self-government. Further, an adage asserts that those who wear the gold make the golden rule. Another saying says that they with power determine the who, what, where, how, and when. Moreover, the 1999 Partnership for Progress and Prosperity first principle is: "Our partnership must be founded on self-determination." However, the focus regarding the UK's former colonies, most of whom are independent (pushed into independence impoverished), and the VI's sister regional countries was on independence, not the other self-determination options.

Moreover, the VI self-governing model is based on a dependency model, not the ideal, preferred self-governing model. It shares governing with the UK with the UK-appointed Governor and de facto head of state having responsibility for a) external affairs, b) defense, c) internal security (including police), d) administering the courts, and e) administering the civil service; the VI, remainder, including finance. And not much power is devolved to the VI. Even the delegated devolved power is easily reversible, i.e., the suspension of the Turks and Caicos' constitution in 2009, assuming direct rule. And though the VI is promoted as having self-government, it is an apparent mirage, for the UK, through its appointed Governor wields almost unilateral power.

Additional Governors & Democratic Deficits

The Governor, under the premise of Order in Council and consistent with the constitution, has final decision-making power in a) retained functions, b) special responsibilities, c) reserved powers, and d) the power to not assent to bills passed by the duly elected House of Assembly. Though permitted in the constitution, the power to use the assent to avoid the rollout of bills is rather interesting. The last time the Monarchy refused to assent to a bill in the UK was way back hundreds of years, during the reign of Queen Anne in 1708, i.e., the Scottish Militia Bill. Moreover, some actions employed by the UK are unilateral, disadvantaging to the VI people and government.

For example, the local government and people must comply with the appointed Governor's actions and has little to no recourse for redressing issues of concern. Pursuit of redress often falls on tone-deaf ears. Further, the VI people have no say in who the UK selects as Governor to ship to VI supposedly to represent them. The VI has no representative in nor has no input to Parliament, yet whatever bills are passed and assented to the VI must comply with the laws and regulations.

Administering Power, Coaching, Politics, and Internal Management Control

The UK is the Administering Power, and the VI constitution dependency model positions it as the Superior and the VI as the Subordinate. Its unilateral power evidence this. The Governor chairs Cabinet meetings and delivers the annual Throne Speech (State of the Territory). Former Governor Augustus J. U. Jaspert delivered a Throne Speech weeks before leaving for the UK. I will take a wild guess and assume that the Guv would not have given a speech that had significant errors and omissions. If he were to, that would be lacking professionalism, integrity, and honesty.

The bottom line is that the Administering Power should have/must fulfill its obligation by providing coaching and internal management control(s) to the VI as needed to keep it within the guardrails and from going off the cliff. Nonetheless, I find the process and timing of the CoI curious and interesting, for it appears as if the former Governor commissioned the CoI as he was exiting the territory. Was it a parting gift to the VI?

Another curiosity is that the VI has had 12 Presidents (1833-1887, Fredrick Augustus Pickering was the last President (1884-1887)), 12 Commissioners (1889-1956), 4 Administrators (1956-1971), and 12 Governors (1971-Present); yet to date, even by accident, none of the officers have been a person of African descent or a woman. Why? Did the CoI allegations appear like a bolt from the blue, or was there knowledge of, if any, by an officer(s) and swept under the rug or just overlooked altogether? Moreover, I'm assuming that as a standard leadership and management practice, the UK-Local Government has had periodic non-adversarial performance reviews and feedback sessions. Additionally, it seems to have been friction between some high-ranking officials and the local government. In late 2020, the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force made a major drug bust of approximately $250M. And supposedly, before any pictures were released to the local media, they interestingly showed up in some selected UK press where the VI was mercilessly and embarrassingly raked over the coal as a corrupt drug haven, perhaps for political mileage and other reasons. As noted in the introduction, the CoI perhaps will unearth the facts and truth, but something seemed rotten in the state of Denmark. Did the UK fail the VI, and did the VI get a fair shake?

Commission of Inquiry

A public sector commission of inquiry (CoI) is a valuable mechanism for investigating matters of the public interest outside of a court setting. A CoI must be for a just cause and must be fair, reasonable, and balanced to achieve confidence and credibility in the outcome regardless of whom commissions it, meeting the spirit and intent. Too often, CoI(s) may reflect or support the purpose of whoever commissioned it. VI CoI(s) may not have always been fair, reasonable, and balanced. One such example of a CoI was the Batehill-VI Government's egregious and overly generous agreement that Administrator Martin S. Stavely probably engineered to give away 85% of Anegada, and Wickham Cay and reclaimed land for a whopping and eyepopping 199 years.

The Wickham Cay Ltd and the Development Corporation of Anegada were companies entailed in the lease to Batehill for 199 years, $30K per year rent, exempted from taxes on profit, income, and capital for 199 years, etc. Protests led by Noel Lloyd and Positive Action Movement led to the UK commissioning a commission of inquiry into the agreements; Sir Derek Jakeway led the CoI. However, despite the deals' egregious, shameful, disrespectful, and one-sided nature, Sir Jakeway's findings were highly favorable to Batehill. The government protested, and the Foreign Office did not concur with Sir Jakeway's conclusions. It is important to note that at the time, the UK was also embroiled with Anguilla seceding from the St Kitts-Anguilla-Nevis alliance. The UK government loaned the VI government $5.8M to buy out Batehill.

Moreover, as a courtesy, the government should have been allowed to respond to the current CoI findings before forwarding it to Governor John Rankin.

Rich History of Protest &Resistance & Exploitation

The VI/Virgin Islanders have had a rich, illustrious, and enviable history of protest, agitation, and resistance for change for the public good of VI and Virgin Islanders. Examples include a) Christopher Fleming Long Look protest (1890), b) Theodolph Faulkner-The Great March of 24 November 1949 (1949), and Noel Lloyd and Positive Action Movement protest against the epic giveaway of the   VI birthright and land--Wickham Cay and 85% of Anegada—to British company Batehill (1968).

Nevertheless, in recent years, the courage to protest publicly and without fear to redress concerns has waned. Something has changed. Instead, VI residents employ Sambo-like behaviour to address their concerns and grievances. This behaviour is reflective of the Slave era. Slavery and VI history are inseparable. Moreover, the VI is a representative democracy, and it must create a culture where residents are free to protest without fear of retribution peacefully.

Slavery Exploitation and Expropriation

The current culture war and anti-wokeness trend are to pretend that slavery didn't happen, or it was not so horrible as if ignoring the facts means that it didn't exist. Well, slavery was real and horrible and applied to the VI present-day situation. Slavery was one of the greatest genocide, terroristic, subjugation, and forced-migration acts of one people against another in history. Colonialists exploited and expropriated land and slave labour to create wealth, resources, power, control, special privileges, and entitlements. The slave trade and slavery created the "sugar islands," the most profitable islands in the British Empire, creating wealth, building the UK’s economy, and earning a preferential monopoly status. Dr Eric Williams, former Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister, in Capitalism and Slavery, noted that the slave trade and slave labour fueled British commercial capitalism, which in turn fueled the industrial revolution. And ironically, industrial capitalism killed commercial capitalism and its monopoly, and slavery. Sustaining the colonialists' action plan entailed dehumanising, brutalising, and treating slaves as an inferior species.

Additionally, slaves were deprived of worldly possessions, freedom, hope, basic education, and healthcare and kept non-competitive, powerless, and in servitude. The legacy of slavery lingers on to this day. Moreover, with sugar prices collapsing, together with competition from beet sugar, hurricanes, revolts from former slaves, etc., the planter class bolted from the territory, leaving the former slaves to fend for themselves.

Moreover, like a sphinx rising from ashes, the VI left as only good as a bird sanctuary, the poor house of the West Indies, and as a little backwater struggled. Nevertheless, the people persevered, and today it (VI) can boast of having one of the highest standards of living, quality of life, and per capita income in the Caribbean/West Indies region. This VI progress and success have changed attitudes toward it; gentrification/regentrification is increasing.

Further, Black advancement has always posed a threat and fear for the dominant group that controls most of the wealth, power, and government support and resources. For their advancement, disprove the lie about their inferiority. This situation may be true in the VI. There may be a tinge of jealousy of the VI people's progress. Some say aloud what many whispers in the secure backrooms that they live in cold flats in the UK and Virgin Islanders live in mansions with breathtaking views on the hills. Here is a news flash for Virgin Islanders. Beware of some people you think are into you; they are not. Your way forward is to cooperate and collaborate with one another, unite, practice group economics, and develop a self-empowerment plan as the way forward.

Constitution Suspension & Direct Rule

With the CoI dangling over the head of the VI like the Sword of Damocles, speculations are running high and wild that the UK will suspend the VI constitution and employ direct rule as it did in 2009 with the Turks and Caicos Islands, the VI sister Caribbean/West Indies Overseas Territory. Instead of suspending the VI constitution and employing direct rule, the UK, as the Administering Power under the UN charter, should be working close-up and supporting the VI in its continued progress towards self-determination, including independence, free association, or integration. The UK should devolve more power and provide more self-governing autonomy to the VI. Did the UK fail the VI?

Edgar Leonard is a native Virgin Islander, an amateur, aspiring, and freelance writer, and a graduate of Florida A&M University.

17 Responses to “Did the UK fail the VI?”

  • The watchman (10/04/2022, 09:35) Like (7) Dislike (1) Reply
    Informative but too long
  • lol (10/04/2022, 10:34) Like (7) Dislike (0) Reply
    Has the VI failed the VI?
    • @LOL (10/04/2022, 13:13) Like (5) Dislike (0) Reply
      @Lol, not sure if you are just asking a rhetorical question or making a declarative statement. If you are making a statement, can you share your thoughts with us. You can’t leave us hanging. In my view, the VI could have been more diligent in executing its responsibilities. On the other hand, as Mr. Leonard noted, the UK is the Administering Power under the VI Charter (I learn something new that I didn’t learn in school) so it seems it also had the responsibility to guide the BVI away from the shoals and safely out to sea. Did corruption occur? As Mr. Leonard also noted, the facts will bring that out. Nevertheless, there may be failure to carry out responsibilities on both sides. My $0.02.
  • Yes (10/04/2022, 11:10) Like (0) Dislike (4) Reply
  • @ mr E (10/04/2022, 16:44) Like (0) Dislike (6) Reply
    • Curiosity (10/04/2022, 22:38) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
      @@mr E, are you commenting on another post you missed commenting on and know catching up. I peruse this commentary and found no mention of reparation or the name Hilary Beckles. How many started……your statement is unclear and confusing. By the way, I too support t reparation as an appropriate mechanism to making slaves whole for their exploitation and dehumanizing treatment.
  • Undercover Observer (10/04/2022, 16:55) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
    This is a mine field. Lots to mine here, reading between lines and choosing from colonialism, self-determination, Governor’s oversight, slavery/post slavery, economy, administering power role and responsibility in shepherding BVI towards self-determination, constitution dependency model, friction between government and crown, unilateral powers, etc. The question on UK Pilate status, ie, clean hands, is a prudent one. The VI too must face and own up to its failings, if any. The BVI is accountable to the UK, so who is the UK accountable to? No one probably for most Britons probably don’t give a rat’s bottom about the BVI. Fair and balance?

  • Disinterested (11/04/2022, 08:21) Like (3) Dislike (0) Reply
    Both the VI (successive governments) and UK failed the VI/BVI. In a superior/subordinate, parent/child, Teacher/student, prime minister/minister, premier/minister or employer/employer, etc, the lead person/agency set some rules and enforce adherence to the rules. When a rule(s) is infringed timely action is taken with commensurate consequences. Lack of swift and timely action for rule breakers, tell them all is well and it okay to push the envelope. In the end, things get out of control and it is hard to put the genie back in the bottle. The society/community is replete with incidents of not taking timely corrective action(Balo is busting at the seams, territory is in crisis ). Corrective action cannot be used as ‘Got You’ tool. The action of controversial gov Gus Jaspert as he was leaving the territory at 11:59 pm crates this impression. Governor’s work eith and for the people he/she represent (except may be in the BVI), not in an adversarial manner. Leonard went into the obligations of the UK as the Administering Power so I will not repeat it here. Let’s not get things twisted BVI; you are not off the hook. You are in the midst. The BVI people and BVI government to put it simply have not done its best. Look at the state of the infrastructure, institutions, etc. Leonard stated that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Well, something is rotten in the state of the BVI. Jaspert and the rest of his cohorts, it is no time to be jumping with joy and glee. You got a hand for what is rotten. Y’all come to the BVI to enjoy a tropical vacation and enjoy being a big fish in a small pond and sitting at government house mostly at BVI taxpayers expense not doing a damn thing worthwhile. Some of you come to the BVI with some nasty attitude and beliefs.
  • Brevity and Clarity (11/04/2022, 09:36) Like (4) Dislike (0) Reply
    No doubt, the BVI is a fast food mentality society. It wants everything fast, cheap and high quality( high quality is not attainable if you want something fast and cheap). Reading is not a priority for many in the BVI, so there is less interest in reading more than a short paragraph if that. Texting is the choice and preference of many, especially the Gen Z or iGen. The fast food mentality is disadvantaging and shortchanging the BVI community. Politics both at the BVI and UK levels have fail the BVI. The BVI with its quick, shortsighted and less than ideal leadership and management approach and the UK with its superior attitude, responsibility failure, and poor assistance and oversight. Your article by its length clearly was not aiming for brevity but for clarity to tell the story. The BVI-UK story is chess game with the BVi being the pawns and the UK with the power, control and position to checkmate. What is known is only the tip of the iceberg with much more beneath the surface. Confident that the Brits being steep in diplomacy and nuance-speak got the gist of the article, pointing out some of its failings as the big dog in the flawed, one-sided, and awkward constitutional arrangement. They are probably pissed off.
    • Truthful and Insulting (11/04/2022, 10:52) Like (4) Dislike (0) Reply

      @Brevity and Clarity, your commenting about the reading habits (lacking) of Virgin Islanders is insulting, though it probably was not intended that way. It stings and hurt. Nonetheless, you telling truths. But doubt if Britons, ie, UK government, is really pissed off, for they with their stiff, pompous, superior feeling a%%es don’t give a rat’s @## about the BVI home to primarily negroes and a little black dot in the Indies that most Brits probably have not heard of give a sh** about. The hand to mouth bloaks as far many are concerns can take a hike off of something.
      and go back to the dark and lost continent where they will feel right at home.

  • class mate (11/04/2022, 15:43) Like (3) Dislike (0) Reply
    Edgar, we were cheated. How come Teacher Mac, Veronica, Hulda, Yvonne, Irma, Vera, Murie, Mr. Harrigan, Linden, etc at Major Bay Primary (now Williard Wheatley Primary) didn’t teach us about most of this. Boi, you use to scud school ah lot but the pond bush teachers seemed to have filled in the blank. Lol. On a more serious note, you laid a good theory of the case as to why the UK is no Pilate in the current BVI situation.
  • Ne Timeas (11/04/2022, 21:59) Like (4) Dislike (0) Reply
    E. Leonard noting that the CoI was dangling over the BVI like the Sword of Damocles is an apt statement. The constitutional agreement between the BVI and the UK is both awkward, one-sided and impractical. The UK as E. Leonard also stated has unilateral power, ie, the power to override actions of the HOA that it may not be to the Governor’s liking. The local government is accountable to the Governor but who is Governor accountable to? The Governor and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) are one and the same; there is no daylight between the Governor and FCO. Everyone reports to someone and everyone in the chain-of-command should expect a fair hearing/listening to and resolution of issues ran up the chain of command flagpole. The BVI does not seem to get a fair and neutral hearing from the good ole boys. The BVI is between a rock and a hard place, for the good ole boys club is alive and well. The BVI is promoted as self-governing since the roll-out of ministerial government in 1967. That is as phony as a $3 dollar bill. The BVI being a self-governing sounds good in theory but its practically is another story. Assuming the BVI still has an active constitution, the next scheduled constitutional review needs to address a myriad of structural weaknesses. The UK, the UN-appointed Administering Power, is supposed to be working closely with the BVI in getting it to a full measure of self-government. No doubt, the current constitutional arrangement falls way short of meeting this obligation. The BVI deserves the beating it is getting for its shortcomings. Nevertheless, the UK too also needs a beating, a flogging, for its shortcomings. The BVI is accountable to the UK for its shortcomings, but who holds the UK accountable for its failures and shortcomings. In the BVI UK arrangement, the UK is a king, a monarchy.
  • CoI Count Down (12/04/2022, 06:52) Like (4) Dislike (0) Reply
    It is day 12 on the CoI count down clock. Everyone is waiting anxiously for the sledge hammer to drop in the Gulliver v. Lilliputian or David v Goliath face off. Gulliver will surely checkmate the Lilliputian. However, was the fix on from the start of the CoI. For an investigation of such magnitude, why a single, not multiple investigators? In the interest of fairness and search for the truth, why was the government not given the opportunity to review the findings and provide rebuttals b4 sending to Governor Rankin? Is Gov Rankin not interested in hearing both sides? Is the COI judge and jury? Is the process fixed and ‘jerryrigged.’ ? Will the report be released in its entirety or the release will be cherry-picked to suit the narrative? Who will exercise and be a fair and reasonable arbiter? Governor or Foreign and Commonwealth Office(FCO)? Will the FCO even conduct a serious review of the CoI or that will delegated to the Governor? Are the CoI, Governor and FCO the same? What role does Parliament play in this or is it too part and parcel of the cabal? Is not former Governor AJU Jaspert and PM Johnson close associates? The clock ticks.
  • Stealth (14/04/2022, 02:54) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
    The BVI on paper is supposedly self-governing. But ultimate executive power is vested in QE II and is exercised locally by an appointed governor. It operates in a framework of parliamentary representative democratic dependency. This does not appear to be promoting dependency, not self-dtermination. France, another colonial power, afforded colonies the opportunity to be integrated into France, eg, Martinique, Guadeloupe, etc. For the larger islands, the UK’s push was independence. It reluctantly keeps the smaller colonies under its thumb. Its attitude is if you falls under its purview, it controls you, especially if you have a majority black population. The UK must share in the responsibility and accountability for the BVI derailing off the track, if any. It cannot be in ultimate control yet don’t want accept and share responsibility for failures. Further, the CoI was conducted publicly so release the CoI to the public.
  • Sambo (16/04/2022, 07:45) Like (1) Dislike (0) Reply
    Bro, Sambo-like behavior behaviour. That is deep and profound. Is a Sambo the same as an Uncle Tom? Well, it has been centuries but the slave conditioning was strong and effective and still evident , for too many of us have internalized the inferiority tag and surbordinate status. Controversial former gov augustus ju jaspert was the the mischievous dog or the cat of the cat and mice in Aesop’s Fables. A snake is a snake and it does matter how much you pet it, it kill smile at you and kill you. A racist pig is a racist pig; it will always find the mud to root in even from up high. If Black people stay in their places, ie, subservient, the snakes will be happy. Advancement of Blacks is their biggest nightmare. No doubt, the snakes are jealous of Virgin Islanders. If they were still living in thrash huts, they would be happy. Heaven forbid they are in better home. They are having coronaries and moving heaven and earth to tar BVI residents. BVI residents fix yourselves.
  • Jealousy, Envy and Control (16/04/2022, 12:41) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
    Controlling slaves/Blacks was/is an inherent part of slavery and colonialism. Slaves /black people are beasts that had to be controlled, ie, Barbados Slave Code. The Barbados Slave Code was adopted by other West Indian colonies and the Americas, especially in the Southern US. With the collapse of the sugar and cotton industry in the BVI, the colonialists skip town, calling the BVI as only good as bird sanctuary, poverty stricken, and a backwater. Through a hard life and struggles, the BVI crawled out of the life of poverty hole. The quality of life and standard of living improved, causing envy and jealousy by the UK. The BVI became to good for the BVI people, Black people. If the people were living in squalor all would be well. Driven by jealous and envy, the UK resorted to its trump card control and employ Machiavellian tactics, ie, any means necessary, to undermined the BVI progress, keeping blacks in their places. Truth be told, BVI people give them ammo to work with.

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