Fellow Virgin Islanders, we are all currently living through a terrifying experience, one that not only affects us, but all of humanity. This pandemic knows no age, race, social status, or religion. We are faced with many uncertainties not only about the future of our country but also our children’s future.
COVID has taken a toll on us all emotionally, mentally, physically, and financially. I cannot stress enough the importance of our leaders making sound decisions, having long term strategic and financial plans, and having empathy for our fellow men. If not now, when? When do we realize that as leaders our decisions, our words, our actions have the ability to make the lives of our people and our country better or significantly more difficult?
We are in the midst of a pandemic which has taken the lives of 25 of our loved ones, brought us to 1,109 active cases as of July 23rd, has weighed heavily on our medical team, and significantly depleted our resources, especially our country’s revenue; and at a time like this the attention of our “leaders” should be laser-focused on managing these areas and ensuring that we have a long term economic and health plan to sustain us.
The Premier and his Administration have yet to tell us their plans for rebuilding the territory’s schools and improving our educational system so that our children who have not set foot in a physical classroom in several months can receive the education needed for their own personal development and ultimately the development of our country.
The wastage of $40 million from our hard-earned Social Security Board’s funds and over $12 million in unaccounted COVID-19 spending, with nothing tangible to show, can be equated to nothing less than poor financial management, inconsideration of the present and future wellbeing of this territory and its citizens, and a lack of sound leadership. The recent approval for the hiring of Ministerial Political Advisers to the tune of over $1, 080,000.00 annually in consultancy fees only adds salt to the wound.
How much more can our people take? How much more of this blatant disrespect for our country’s limited resources and disregard for our future can we face?
What is glaringly apparent is that this Government seems to be oblivious to the fact that these type of ill-conceived decisions are why our territory is now faced with a Commission of Inquiry.
It is clear that the Premier and his team do not realize the impact these insensitive decisions are having on the citizens of this territory. Or do they just simply not care? You would have seen by now that the Hon. Premier and members of Cabinet on July 8 approved the decision to allow the Premier to hire up to three (3) political advisors for himself, along with the Ministers and Junior Ministers, one political advisor each annually.
This is not only wrong! This is Outrageous! And we MUST NOT accept it! We must stand united against this unconscionable decision being levied upon us. As the voice for the people of this Territory, Hon. Premier and Members of Cabinet, we demand that you unequivocally and immediately rescind this callous and reckless decision!
Since 2019, several Cabinet Decisions have lacked clarity, good reasoning, empathy for
our current circumstances and do not consider their implications nor the consequences. Even if we are to be objective for just a moment, it is evident that this and many other decisions that have been made by this Government are not in the long-term best interest of the Territory nor aligns with the will and wishes of our people.
Need I remind each of our Ministers sitting in Cabinet, you were sent to govern yes, but you were not sent to squander the scarce resources of our country, as you have time and time again. Since it seems we are experiencing VIP Déjà vu, I will repeat, you were not sent to squander the scarce resources of our country – nor were you sent to line the pockets of your handpicked supporters, many of whom add little to no value to the management of our Territory.
Fellow Virgin Islanders, let me explain why this decision is simply wrong on so many levels: Firstly, the appointment of these Political Advisers is unclear and inconsistent with what persons in an advisory capacity would do. In addition, the task of research and analysis is completely outside the skillset of an adviser and is best suited for technical persons.
Fellow Virgin Islanders, we can all recount political hirees who were paid exorbitant fees with undefined Terms of Reference which have yet to be made known. To this day those political hirees have produced absolutely NOTHING for your money!
I challenge the government, in the interest of transparency – to make the Terms of Reference and relevant Job Descriptions of these Political Advisers public. I would like to remind the Premier and Members of Cabinet, that lack of transparency, published terms of reference, job descriptions, and the continued heavy-handed decisions made under the cloak of secrecy does not instill confidence and trust.
Secondly, it is dumbfounding to me that the tenure of the political advisers would be tied to the duration of the Ministers term. What then happens in the likely event that the political adviser is underperforming, not delivering or simply lacks the competencies or skill set in certain ministerial portfolio disciplines?
Tying these tenures together is a clear indication that we are further crossing a very dangerous redline of politicizing the Governing institutions of our Territory and undermining our Public Service.
Thirdly, the governance mechanisms are seemingly deliberate, meaningless and impractical words on paper. The Cabinet extract subjects the advisers to public service laws, rules and policies. This begs the question do they report to the Permanent Secretaries who are the heads of Ministries? If so, this raises an inherent and unavoidable conflict between Permanent Secretaries and Advisers. For there to even be
a remote possibility for this to work, there must be clear protocols for how these two positions will coexists, as well as defined rules and responsibilities between both posts.
Over time we have seen that there is no transparency and very little is accounted for in circumstances where there are no clear reporting mechanisms, especially where there is direct engagement between consultants and Ministers.
We must then ask ourselves the question: are the Premier and Ministers writing $120k cheques in exchange for talk?
The Cabinet extract also suggests that there will be an Integrity Committee made up of Permanent Secretaries who will manage conflicts and adherence to rules as well as there will be a Code of Conduct for political advisers.
The irony in all this is the Premier in his New Year’s day message to the territory mentioned the Integrity in Public Life Bill which would not only introduce the Code of Conduct but also set a framework to hold all public officials accountable and guard against corruption in public affairs.
A Ministerial Code of Conduct has not been put in place to date, yet we as a people are to believe that one will be implemented for political advisers?
Fellow Virgin Islanders, every elected government has a political agenda which it pushes during its governing term, but delivering on that political agenda does not necessitate this ill-thought and incomprehensible measure of hiring political advisers.
The mere appearance of this decision has led me and the wider public to believe, the establishment of a nine (9) member team of political consultants, paid for by taxpayers, is meant to run this Administration’s campaign for the next general elections.
We already know that the Commission of Inquiry has already solidified that we have some fundamental systemic issues that hinder the proper management of our resources and execution of our operations and therefore restrict the development and advancement of our country. Is our Executive Body this tone deaf!?
Hon. Premier, Members of Cabinet, to sit before the Commissioner and acknowledge that we have fundamental issues that need to be address is not enough. There is where our focus should be — fixing those fundamental issues! Not paying lip service.
No number of Political Advisers can do this for us. Certainly, paying speech writers will not do it either. If it is the current administration’s view that public officers are unable to provide the services and advice needed, it is then their responsibility to ensure that they are trained and receive the necessary resources to carry out their duties.
Fellow Virgin Islanders, I am afraid that this latest debacle amounts to, and particularly at those salary levels, an admission of this Government’s own incompetence’s and inadequacies which they are attempting to mask by hiring persons that we the people neither know, trust, elected or consented to hire.
It is also an affront to the dedication, competence, and hard work of our very competent and experienced Permanent Secretaries and our public officers. It is disappointing to think about public officers, our Permanent Secretaries, some of whom after 20 and 30 years of dedicated service, up to 10 – 12-hour days and weekends cannot make 100 thousand per annum, but a potential crony can make $120k for advising on the next election and speech writing — all on the backs of the hard-working people of this country!
I am devastated that our doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, other frontline workers, teachers, and other dedicated public servants have to stand on the sidelines and watch this debacle unfold while questioning their own worth and value.
I am shocked that our priorities for spending are NOT to strengthen and support the resources of the public service by developing its capacities, recalibrating our processes, implementing new ones, adopting technology, improving our governance, paying increments and raises, providing school furniture and fully rebuilding schools, providing state of the art healthcare equipment and tools, rebuilding key infrastructure as an incentive to economic growth, supporting the vulnerable and unemployed, sourcing funding, and raising revenue to do all these things.
In truth, I should not be surprised because the VIP administration has a known track record. The gross mismanagement of public funds from the inception of this administration has not changed. The squandering of the Social Security grant is a testament to this.
We should be drawing up and executing plans that will secure our livelihoods and the future of this territory. Actually, I am no longer shocked; I am disgusted that we have a government that is so incomprehensibly clueless.
My fellow Virgin Islanders, I urge you to hold all our elected members accountable for their words. Let us stand united; and with loud and clear voices let the government of the day know that enough is enough. We will no longer tolerate the squandering of our resources and the constant hemorrhaging of our territory’s future and we will no longer stand by and let them continue to fail us anymore.