Got TIPS or BREAKING NEWS? Please call 1-284-442-8000 direct/can also WhatsApp same number or Email ALL news;                               ads call 1-284-440-6666

Virgin Islands [British] Skunkworks Project?

Edgar Leonard is a native Virgin Islander [British] and an amateur freelance writer. Photo: Provided
Edgar Leonard

The Virgin Islands (VI)[British] is a small 36-island and 59-square mile, resource-poor, water-challenged, once neglected and forgotten, a little sleepy hollow, left by colonialists as only useful as a bird sanctuary, etc., chain of developing islands with a diverse estimated 30,000 population and a small undiversified service-based economy.

Its people worked diligently and cohesively for it to emerge with one of the highest standards of living, quality of life, and per capita income in the Anglo-Caribbean region. It stumbled with some missteps and setbacks in its governance planning and execution process and is at a crossroads and a critical juncture in its history. As it resets its compass and charts a new course, it needs a ‘Skunkworks’ project. Skunkworks is a unique, small, cross-functional, multi-discipline team formed to research and provide transformative solutions for challenging and complex problems.

Colonial History and Constitutional Improvements

Amidst the Age of Discovery and Exploration, there were skirmishes among the British, French, Dutch, and Spanish for control of the VI. Because of its small size relative to other regional countries, hilly terrain, dearth of natural resources, etc., there were few robust or fierce battles among the combatants to control the VI. Nevertheless, the UK grabbed control of the VI in 1672 and has been under UK control ever since. After World War II(1945), the UN placed it on its list of 72 Non-Self-Governing Territories (NSGT), with the UK as the ‘Administering Power’ responsible for assisting, helping, and guiding it towards a full measure of self-governing. That effort is a work in progress. Moreover, even with the UK in full control, the VI was still neglected, receiving little attention and service. Some commentators noted that services were almost at a vanishing point.

Further, the  VI Legislative Council was suspended in 1901 and restored in 1950 after the Great March of November 1949 led by Theodolph Faulkner, an Anegadian Fisherman and former legislator. The VI has had four codified but dependency-modeled constitutions in the modern era, i.e., 1950, 1967, 1976, and 2007. Many viewed the 1950 constitution resulting from the Great March of 1949 as a holding measure. For instance, the late McWelling Todman, QC, noted it as “an instrument minimal in its intent and its effect.”

In 1954, the Constitution and Election Act changed and ushered in universal suffrage for the first time. It is important to note that the 1950 general election was conducted based on the votes of landowners and passing a literacy test. The 2007 Constitution ushered in several changes, i.e., the leader of government business was changed from Chief Minister to Premier, the Legislative Council changed to the House of Assembly, and the Executive Council changed to the Cabinet, which the Governor chairs. The dependency-modeled Constitution is a power-sharing agreement between the UK and VI, with the UK having responsibility for a)external affairs, b)defense, c)internal security (including Royal Virgin Islands Police Force), d)civil service, and e)judiciary; local government, other functions, including finance. However, despite the power-sharing agreement, the UK, under the colonial power structure and the dependency-modeled governing Constitution, still has unilateral power over the VI, i.e., the retention of functions and special responsibilities, reserved power, and assent power delegated to the UK-appointed governor. Moreover, the 1967 Constitution, which rolled out ministerial government, was a turning point in VI history.

Ministerial Government

The 1967 Constitution ushered in ministerial government in the VI. After the 1967 general election, Hamilton Lavity Stoutt was appointed as VI’s first Chief Minister. Benefits and changes resulting from ministerial government included a)local Virgin Islanders having enhanced participation and engagement in government operations, b)facilitating the transition from a subsistence agricultural economy to a service-based economy (tourism and financial services), c)creating new jobs and skills, and lacking labor surge capacity and capability labour needed to be imported; c) creating one of the highest standard of living, quality of life, and per capita income in the region, d)improving political maturity, and e)weaning the VI off grant-in-aid and becoming financially self-sufficient in the late 1970s under the Dr Willard Wheatley administration.

Failures, Setbacks, and Change

The transition from a subsistence agricultural economy to a service-based economy enabled the VI to enhance its socioeconomic status. As a result, the VI developed a relatively high human development index, i.e., health, education, and quality of life, among other improvements. Nevertheless, along the way on the growth and development path, the VI and its people lost focus. They took their eyes off and dropped the ball on following and executing policies and procedures, instituting and executing vital internal management controls, underperforming in national planning, providing poor and ineffective oversight, etc. Consequently, it endured some failures and setbacks. Two recent events highlight the failures and setbacks, i.e., the recently completed Sir Gary R. Hickinbottom Commission of Inquiry (CoI), a lone commissioner, and the arrest of some high-level government officials.

Though the failures are regrettable, failures are inevitable (not condoning any wrongdoings, for the rule of law is paramount). However, in a twisted way, failures can produce positive outcomes. As such, the VI must lean and fail forward, learn from, and capitalise on its failures. Change is a constant that is constantly occurring at an accelerating rate, and the VI needs change. As such, I propose a “Skunkworks” project to investigate the root cause(s) of VI’s failures and provide/recommend solutions to prevent or minimise future failures/setbacks. The purpose and aim of the non-partisan,  non-adversarial, and cross-functional Skunkworks project team will differ from the CoI and the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC), taking a holistic look at the VI and its needs well into the 21st Century.

Edgar Leonard is a native Virgin Islander [British] and an amateur freelance writer.

11 Responses to “Virgin Islands [British] Skunkworks Project?”

  • optimistic (19/10/2022, 15:12) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
    Mr. Leonard, bro, you are a hopeful optimist. The BVI has demonstrated that it has difficulty setting up a project to manage the roads from falling into a deteriorated and deplorable condition, riddled with potholes, so why do you expect it can develop a higher scale project like a skunkworks project. Admittedly, I had to goggle what a skunkworks project is. You have faith like Job. I’m not holding my breath waiting for the BVI to exceed expectations. I will be happy if it were to meet expectations. Too much depression, disgust, and disappointment hoping for the BVI to even surprise me and meet expectations.
    • Disinterested (19/10/2022, 16:56) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
      The BVI must focus on doing the basic things well before leaping into more advance projects. It should have been but it is not at that level as yet, squandering time, resources, and opportunities. It needs to set priorities, plan the work effort, etc, graduating towards a higher level. First things first. To me a skunkworks project is for a mature organizations.
  • @ mister E (19/10/2022, 19:15) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
  • Undercover Observer (19/10/2022, 22:31) Like (1) Dislike (0) Reply
    E. Leonard, good college try. But the suggestion may be a dystopian fantasy, for the BVI government line of think is not at that level. It is focusing on implementing the CoI. It is amazing that a single commissioner wielded such power to make such major sweeping changes which should have been based on a more in-depth study by a group. This could one only happen in a unilateral, omnipotent, unaccountable colonial structure. What is even more galling is that a government agree perhaps under duress to implement major changes in a two year period absent adequate administrative and technical support. It is as if the UK were setting the table for the BVI to fail so it can pursue its intent of suspending the constitution and imposing direct rule. It seems as if the UK as the Administering power which sat for decades and watch the BVI stumble without taking coaching action didn’t offer admin and tech support upfront to help. The OECS and other regional organizations had to step in and fill the void. Instead, the UK raced to use an order in council to suspend the BVI constitution and holding in abeyance as a mighty sledge hammer over the BVI unprotected and vulnerable head. The UK is behaving like a chameleon, ie, saying the right things in public but plotting destruction at the White House or is it Mount Olympus. It is using a carrot and big stick approach, ie, pretending to walk softly but carrying a huge stick. A skunkworks project, though it sounds like a viable may be DOA for lack of interest. Everyone now is about self-interest.
  • Ne Timeas (20/10/2022, 06:43) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
    @E. Leonard, a different and interesting read. A skunkworks project seems like a different norm busting project title. Nonetheless, the BVI current situation may require a project with the scale and intent of skunkwork project. The question is the BVI and NBI people ready for a ‘moonshot’ project. In my view, the BVI is not ready yet for a project of this scope and scale. It is still at the base level struggling to deal with basic functions. The leaders of the initial ministerial government provided a great start but somewhere along the way succeeding generations drop the ball. One fault I have with the commentary is that it mention change and that change is needed but you didn’t show what change would look like. It would be instructive if there were some examples of change.
    • E. Leonard (20/10/2022, 18:03) Like (1) Dislike (0) Reply
      @Ne Timeas, thanks for the feedback, The intention of the commentary was to suggest establishing a skunkworks project to conduct a holistic study of the VI challenges and make recommendations for righting the ship. Skunkworks is a concept (it is not a company) develop by Lockheed Martin, an aerospace, arms, defense, information security, and technology corporation. Moreover, skunkworks projects are commissioned by government, business, engineering, tech, etc. I deliberately avoided making any prescriptive recommendations or changes. If a skunkworks or similar project were commissioned, the researched, solutions, etc would be the province of the project team.
  • Really? (20/10/2022, 13:19) Like (0) Dislike (1) Reply
    Hilarious that you have chosen a white-owned, ultra-capitalist, racist-government-enabling, warfighting organisation as the inspiration for the shape of the BVI's future.... depressing beyond words
  • Can't Mimic Everything (20/10/2022, 19:49) Like (1) Dislike (0) Reply
    These islands are suffering from the effects of a fantasy reality that has paralyzed the critical thinking ability of the vast majority of the population. This is the first problem that must be addressed. Because persons in strategic positions are heavily invested in the status quo there is a deadly fight against anyone who tries to rock the boat. The UK has recognized and uncovered the dirty game that is being played and has demanded and put stipulations for it to be abolished forthwith. For those of you with trouble comprehending what is happening please remove the hypocritical religious psychosis and acquaint yourself with the naked truth. This is the major factor in the paralysis of analysis that renders our administrators clueless and self seeking. As you work to meet your deadlines please be cognizant of the fact that there must be a new outlook on life in order to sustain the new approach and pace of doing things. The old people say you can lead a horse to the water but you can't make him drink. Good luck.
    • @Cannot Mimic Everything (21/10/2022, 04:56) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
      @Canot Mic Everything, after the first sentence, everything else an avalanche of ranting gobbledygook. Break it down and keep simple so that the lil man can get it. You know we are not up on critical thinking.
  • Quiet Storm (22/10/2022, 02:48) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
    Cuz, are you making suggestion on a skunkworks project for researching what ails the BVI, the cause of the ailment(s), and the fixes for the failures to provoke a debate, for you know the leader of the BVI——the Governor——is not going to take such an action. It is not on his and the UK’s agenda. They are trying to make, support and reinforce their fallacious beliefs about people, especially people of African descent, in the colonies. The Unity Government was installed as a puppet government, a Trojan horse for the UK’s agenda. It is just a powerless and hapless conduit to do the UK’s dirty work or else the constitution suspension sledge hammer will drop.
  • @ E , LEN (22/10/2022, 16:38) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply

Create a comment

Create a comment

Disclaimer: Virgin Islands News Online (VINO) welcomes your thoughts, feedback, views, bloggs and opinions. However, by posting a blogg you are agreeing to post comments or bloggs that are relevant to the topic, and that are not defamatory, liable, obscene, racist, abusive, sexist, anti-Semitic, threatening, hateful or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be excluded permanently from making contributions. Please view our declaimer above this article. We thank you in advance for complying with VINO's policy.

Follow Us On

Disclaimer: All comments posted on Virgin Islands News Online (VINO) are the sole views and opinions of the commentators and or bloggers and do not in anyway represent the views and opinions of the Board of Directors, Management and Staff of Virgin Islands News Online and its parent company.