I have been hearing the phrase “young democracy” in conversations lately when referring to the Virgin Islands’ development. I am not sure when the “birth” of the territory is being tracked from, but let us use 1950, when our constitution was reinstated by the United Kingdom government. Up until that point, we were governed for 49 years by the governor of the Leeward Islands Federation through a local commissioner. Before that, we had a locally elected legislature from 1774-1901.
In 2015 while doing research for my VI history course paper, I was amazed at the accomplishments made in the first 30 years by the policymakers of that era: hotel aid to encourage tourism, social security scheme, labour code, a secondary school, Beef Island airfield, Main Street administration building, a development bank, and graduating from UK grant assistance, to name a few.
After almost every election year up to the 1960s, more responsibilities were given by England to the locally elected officials. In 1967, the ministerial system was put in place and the first chief minister was appointed. This is proof to me that we are a resourceful and ingenious people who worked hard to develop this territory from little means.
Last year was the 70th anniversary of the restoration of the elected legislature, and in the Bible that is referred to as a lifetime. When we reflect on the fact that we have accomplished a $1 billion economy by the turn of the 21st Century, I think we have done very well for ourselves coming from humble beginnings. I admit we have not done everything perfectly, but if we learn from our past and focus on doing what is right by the people, this generation will leave the territory better than we met it.
In my opinion, we are more than capable of managing our affairs with excellence, fairness and justice, but we have been operating below our potential in recent years and we must step up our governance game.
To get back on the right track, we must take care of two things: 1) the public service and 2) the budget. The Commission of Inquiry is making plain what needs to be addressed for a more accountable, efficient and effective organisation. So that will be a matter of leadership having the backbone to make the tough decisions that will be necessary when the dust settles.
There is a cliché that says if you want to see a person’s priorities, watch where they spend their money, and our budget says our priorities are in the wrong place.
If people are our national asset, then we need to put our money where our mouth is. Funding should be spent on empowering our youth to be employable and the future business owners.
I propose that the education, health, social services and environment sectors be allocated at 50 percent of the annual national budget to build our people and not just physical infrastructure.
The goal has and should always be improving the quality of life of Virgin Islanders. For example: Do our people make a “living wage” to easily pay their bills, educate their children, have access to quality medical care, and own their own home? If not, why not? And what should to be done to make this a reality?
Our ancestors had a mindset of legacy: They made decisions with our success in mind. We must do the same for those coming after us. How will we be remembered 50 or even just 25 years from now when H. Lavity Stoutt Community College students in the VI history course learns about our decisions? Will they be better off? I do not want to disappoint them. Do you?