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Is the VI (British) ready for Independence?

Edgar Leonard. Photo: Provided
Edgar Leonard

United Nations (UN) Charter XI defined Non-Self-Governing Territories (NSGT) as territories whose people have yet to attain a full measure of self-government.

On December 14, 1946, UN General Assembly Resolution 66(I) issued a list of 72 territories that Chapter XI applied to. And in 1963, the Special Committee on the Situation with regards to the Declaration in granting of independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (Special Committee on Decolonisation or C-24) approved a preliminary list of countries that the Declaration applied to. Presently, there are 17 NSGTs; both the VI (British) and its close and friendly neighbour USVI are on the NSGT list.

Further, under Charter XI Chapter 73, the VI is entitled to self-determination, including political independence. Independence is a hotly discussed and debated issue among VI residents. What is the definition of independence? Independence has many meanings. Nevertheless, a simple definition maybe it is a measure of self-governance and national sovereignty. Further, independence promotes individual as well as national growth and development. As such, is the VI ready for political independence? However, before attempting to answer this question, it may be helpful to take a peek at the VI journey thus far in its short history?


The following are key dates and timeframes in VI political history. The source is principally from The Virgins: A Descriptive and Historical Profile by Doctors Norwell Harrigan and Pearl Varlack:

  1. 1672-British annexed the VI (British) and has continually maintained control;
  2. 1741-Seat of VI government moved from Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda, to Road Town, Tortola;
  3. 1774-House of Assembly met for first time in Road Town, Tortola;
  4. 1816-VI, along with St. Kitts (Saint Christopher), Nevis and Anguilla formed into one colony;
  5. 1834-Emancipation of slaves occurred; the annual August Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday holidays are to recognize, remember and celebrate the physical freedom of slaves;
  6. 1901-Legislature of the VI suspended and responsibility shifted to the Governor of Leeward Islands;
  7. 1949-The Great March of November 24, 1949 led by Anegadian Theodolph occurred; Some 1,500 Virgin Islanders took to the street and peacefully protested and marched to the Commissioner J.A.C. Cruikshank’s office to air their long-standing grievances. The VI population in 1949 is estimated to have been between 6000-7000 thousand;
  8. 1950-Legislature of the VI reinstated, first modern constitution granted and some direct voting for representatives approved, as a result of the Great March of November 1949;
  9. 1956-Leeward Islands Federation dissolved, and VI Commissioner became Administrator;
  10. 1959-United States currency became legal tender, along with Eastern Caribbean currency.
  11. 1960-Leeward Island Governor position abolished, and VI Administrator assumed gubernatorial duties. Grant-in-aid approximately 71% of government revenue;
  12. 1963-First million-dollar budget presented to the Legislature. Budget for fiscal year 2021 is estimated to be over $400M;
  13. 1967-VI granted second modern constitution with ministerial government. The late iconic Hamilton Lavity Stoutt emerged as the first Chief Minister after the first election under the new constitution;
  14. 1968-four-fifth (4/5) of Anegada and Wickhams Cay leased to a British company Kenneth Bates-Hill for 199 years;
  15. 1969-Commission of enquiry appointed to investigate Anegada Development Company (ADC) and Wickhams Cay (WC) lease, as a result of strong agitation against the lease by Positive Action Movement that was ably led by national hero Noel Lloyd;
  16. 1971-Title of Administrator changed to Governor;
  17. 1977-VI granted third modern constitution; June 1977 UK devolve finance to local government, i.e., Chief Minister;
  18. 1978-VI government wean itself off of grant-in-aid;
  19. 1981-VI status changed from Colony to Dependent Territory under the British Nationality Act;
  20. 2002-VI status change from Dependent Territory to Overseas Territory with Overseas Territory Act;
  21. 2007-VI granted its fourth modern constitution; and,
  22. 2017-Hurricanes Irma and Maria, two monsters, category 5 storms, slammed into and devasted the VI in September 2017, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

Small Islands Developing States (SIDS)

Moreover, along with being 1 of 17 NSGTs, the VI, as well as the USVI, is also 1 of 57 SIDS. SIDS have some common, inherent disadvantages and vulnerabilities. For the VI, these include a) small size (59 square miles spread over 36 islands, islets, cays and rocks; approximately 31,000 population; $400M operations and maintenance budget; approximately $1B GDP), b) remoteness and insularity, c) disaster-prone, d) environmental fragility, e) resource-poor, f) heavy dependence on external finance and g) demographic changes. These factors render the VI vulnerable to forces outside its control.

Resources and Economy

The VI is a resource-poor territory that lacks the resources to develop either a primary economy (farming, agriculture, fishing, mining, energy) or a secondary economy (textiles, tools, machinery and equipment; steel, glass, transportation, agro). It has a fragile service-based economy based on the twin pillars of tourism and financial services. Financial services generates 60% of government revenue and tourism provides more direct, indirect, and induced employment for the approximate 13,000 workforce; a majority of workforce is imported.

Further, though in some countries the service or tertiary economy is large and growing, in the VI, the service-based economy is small and fragile. Covid-19 has exposed the weakness, fragility, and the heavy dependence of foreign exchange earnings from tourism and financial services. True, Covid-19 has adversely impacted the global economy. However, the economy needs to be strengthened, deepened, and diversified. With a dearth of natural resources, the service economy provides the best opportunity for economic growth, development, and diversification. Moreover, the transition from subsistence farming and agriculture to services improved the standard of living, quality of life, propelled the VI into having one of highest capita income in the region and grew the GDP to approximately $1B. Nonetheless, the VI cannot let the GDP cloud the reality on the ground, i.e., the inherent disadvantages, vulnerabilities, and dearth of resources.

Political vs. Economic Independence.

The VI people under UN Charter is entitled to pursue self-determination, including political independence. Self-determination entitlement ensured, some economic strengthening, growth, diversification, and independence should be pursued before wading into the deep ocean of political independence. The VI can simultaneously work on acquiring more autonomy while developing some economic independence on the road towards political independence. Currently, the VI shares governing responsibility with the Crown who is represented on the ground by a Governor who is also the de facto head of state. The Governor is responsible for external affairs, defence, internal security, Royal Virgin Islands Police Force (RVIPF), Courts, and Civil Service; local government, other responsibilities, including finance. At the next constitutional review, there are opportunities for more autonomy and changes, i.e., reduce governor’s reserve powers, restructure bills assenting process, eliminate Governor’s direct involvement in Cabinet,  shift control of civil service to local government………etc., restructure/expand  House of Assembly, share the division of labour among more ministers,  establish unity of command during declared emergencies, establish date certain for national election, review/establish process for creating statutory bodies, create more daylight between executive and legislative branches, expedite judicial process (justice delayed is justice denied), look at opportunity to permit voters to vote directly for the leader of government…………..etc.

Independence Preparatory Steps

Before pursuing political independence, the VI should conduct a)cost-benefit analysis, b)strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis, c) specific, measurable, attainable, relevancy, and timely (SMART) analysis;  d)roll out a territory-wide public education and outreach effort on the pros and cons of political independence and e)conduct a territorial referendum on political independence. The referendum should require more than a plurality of the vote for a FOR approval. For instance, it should be a 60% or greater majority for FOR independence. Additionally, the VI should benchmark its larger, sister, Anglophone regional countries that have had independence since 1962. For example, Jamaica gained independence on August 06, 1962; St Kitts the last, September 19, 1983.

Forms of Self-determination

Self-determination is more than political independence. In addition to independence, it can include a) federation, b) associated statehood, c) free association, d) mergers……etc. Perhaps the referendum vote can include more than the independence option. The VI will not be first OT of the UK to hold a referendum on independence. For example, Bermuda, the oldest OT with perhaps the third oldest parliament and self-governing experience since around 1620, held an independence referendum on August 16, 1995;  approximately 74% of the approximately 60% of the registered voters that turned out to vote voted against independence.

Finally, an independent country must have the governing structure in place to support the rule of law, protect the health, safety, security and well-being of citizens; provide a strong,  stable and diversified economy for citizens to enjoy a relatively high quality of life and standard of living; provide accessible, available and high-quality health care, provide high-quality education and training, build, operate and maintain high quality, world class physical infrastructure, protect and preserve environmental resources, maintain and enhance food security,  provide social safety nets for the truly needy, build institutions on which social order and justice depend, minimise political patronage and dependency, build resiliency in the economy to expedite recovery after emergencies, build mutual aid agreements with neighbours and so on.

A clear majority of voters/residents should determine if the VI is ready for independence and if it is in the best interest of the territory? There must be a full civic engagement on the critical issue of political engagement.

10 Responses to “Is the VI (British) ready for Independence?”

  • Black Lives Matter (02/12/2020, 15:48) Like (0) Dislike (11) Reply
    We are ready for freedom boss slavery over long time
    • @Black Lives Matter (02/12/2020, 16:45) Like (8) Dislike (0) Reply
      @Black Lives Matter, true, slavery is over but not too about a long time. The BVI has made some progress but is the BVI prepared and ready for independence? Look like Leonard is not saying that the BVI should not go independent but it needs to answer some questions and take some preparatory steps before going independent. Additionally, independence should be put before the people in the form of a referendum to decide the way forward.
  • Servant of the Most High God in Christ Jesus (03/12/2020, 00:12) Like (0) Dislike (1) Reply
    Pleaae Mr. Edgar Leanard, at a time when the world nations Peoples are fighting a deadly decease ( Covid-10. Economies also have taken a great hits. Crime on the rise in the B.V.I Most youths don't can hardly distinguish the head from their foot etc, etc, etc. Why did you at this time asked "if the B.V. is ready for independence?" I respect you knowledge on this matter, but you full well know that we are far from ready, and probably we may never will. If you don't mind me asking you this question, Sir: are you ready for independence? As much knowledge the you have, you need to know this truth. God is the only only that is independant (self sufficient). Independence of countries is a political word, not a realitic one, a saying, not a truth. God alone is absolute truth.
    Oh! Let me drop this in. You posible may do well as a polition. But if the majority of voting public chose you, be an honest one. level with the people, not a hypocrite, as some are are conscience smared now. Let the independence issue rest until the time comes, if it does. Let's deal with the more pressing issues that will benefit us most in the shot and medeum term.
  • Abraham Maslow Pretender (03/12/2020, 07:20) Like (7) Dislike (1) Reply
    Leonard, you are looking at this independence thing from the 30,000 foot level. Bring it down to the ground level where the “Lil Man” lives. The Lil Man are the many and is focus in the midst of this pandemic on surviving. Only a few are waxing about independence. They are at the self actualization level while the few are struggling at the physiological level (food, shelter, clothing, transportation). The BVI must progress one level at a time, ie, basic, security, emotional and belonging, self esteem and self-actualization. You asked the question, “Is the VI(British) ready for independence?” No. It is not ready at this time, for it is still operating at the basic level. It still needs to mature more politically and enhance its economic situation. You outlined the disadvantages and vulnerabilities the BVI faced. They are real and the BVI needs to address them before taking the serious step towards independence. Though national sovereignty would be a sense of national pride and political and economic growth attainment, the BVI must effectively prepare for that status change.
  • Eagle and Buffalo (03/12/2020, 11:31) Like (2) Dislike (1) Reply
    Ed leonard, thanks for the information and taking us on a granular your and look at the important issue of independence. Abraham Maslow Pretender thanks also for keeping it real at the ground level. Though the territory is yearning for its sovereignty, independence is much more than a few big houses on the hill with a scenic view or a few people with high incomes. Yes, the per capita income is around $34,000. But what is the average income( throwing out the outliers) in the BVI? Covid-19 should have cause the territory to take a pause on independence issue. Covid-19 exposed the structural economic weaknesses. Just a building needs to be built on a structurally sound foundation so too should independence be based on structurally sound economic based. Independence should be based on economic strength, not feel good emotions. The territory needs to address the independence head on. Put the issue to a referendum. Then get on working with the deep bucket list issues.

    [Let’s lead live eagles, not careen off the cliff like buffaloes]
  • Other types of drainage? (03/12/2020, 12:40) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
    We haven't spoke about the intellectual drain on our society that independence would create, as well as new financial responsibility for for those people...
    Meaning that with independence a nation has to affect the images of independence too: Embassies in Ottawa, Washington, New York, London, Brussels, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, etc. Those offices needs staffing with competent individuals, ambassadors and high commissioners, and they need the exorbitant salaries and budgets those expensive cities and positions demand.
    That's a brain drain and a financial drain. Can we afford the price tag of independence?
    • E. Leonard (03/12/2020, 14:59) Like (4) Dislike (1) Reply
      Indeed, if the VI were to attained independence, joining the other 193 nations that currently makes up the UN, it would incur additional costs, ie, defence, diplomat........etc. Thus, a cost-analysis should be conducted and be part of the deliberate process on deciding on independence. Some locales, especially small, multiple islands locales, due to their small size, small population and limited opportunities experience acute skill and brain drain. It is a Herculean task for these locales to prevent and minimize skill and brain drain. In regards to staffing embassies across the globe if the VI were to pursue independence, the VI may not need to appoint ambassadors to every country. It can have roving ambassadors, regional ambassadors......etc. For example, though the US maintains diplomatic relations with Caribbean countries, it only has embassies in Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago.......etc.
  • u (03/12/2020, 16:32) Like (1) Dislike (1) Reply
    @ B L M he isn't taking about freedom he talking about independent two different words although u for get that tola I am importing country
  • facts (03/12/2020, 19:09) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
    The word independence scares many B V Islanders. The question that I always ponder is why can we support so many countries that are so much larger than ours but we have so many reservations when it comes to doing for self.
    Do you people really have any clue about how many persons regionally and internationally the BVI has empowered and nurtured to success? We have no reservations about uplifting foreigners and helping them and their country achieve their aims and aspirations but when it comes to our country and our people there is always an excuse why it is not possible. This is the biggest obstacle that we have to overcome. It is impossible for us to advance as a nation with the mentality that we presently exhibit. Let us take Noel Lloyd as an example; he was labeled as crazy and victimized at every thing that he tried to do in this country. So why is there a park and statue in his honour now after he is dead. Would it not have been better if we had accepted his contribution while he was alive. I am of the opinion that if we had we would be a lot closer to the independence that we now talk so much about. We need to get our house in order. Too many foul spirits have set up shop and are hindering the progress of this country for their own personal benefit. Too many of us sincerely believe the lies that are being peddled about us as a people. A serious educational process has to be undertaken in order to heal our people and set them free from the mental bondage that is so evident in our society. Are we willing to take that stand or will we continue to live in DENIAL mired in corruption and greed. We are at a cross road and the clock is ticking. Will we rise to the occasion or will we allow time to run out.
    • Diaspora 3D/360 (03/12/2020, 23:22) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
      The BVI must keep it real and be realistic about the prospect of independence. A bird leaves the nest when it thinks its chicks are ready to fend for themselves. A parent gets a warm confident feeling when a child prepares to leave the nest and can take care of him or herself. So too must a country be prepared, capable and ready to take the independence plunge. IMO it is not that Virgin Islanders are afraid of independence but that they want to make sure that the territory is prepared and ready before launching into independence. That is a reasoned expectation and approach. E. Leonard talked about developing a measure of economic independence before pursuing political independence. This too is a reasoned approach. I’m confident that the VI people as prideful people want self-governance, national sovereignty. The VI people have proven to be a hardy and independent people, left to fend for themselves after the collapse of the plantation economy. However, political independence is a much more complex form of independence. It depends on substance, not emotion. Independence must be planned and programmed. It must also get by in from a majority of Virgin Islanders.

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