British Virgin Islands

Tuesday, Aug 11, 2020

Can local politicians capably lead an autonomous BVI?

Culture Minister Dr Natalio Wheatley has said immature leadership is what some residents believe to be a major stumbling block that the territory faces in its quest towards greater autonomy.

He, however, said that belief is a false perception.

Addressing the highly topical subject during the Honestly Speaking radio programme on Thursday, the minister said: “We must advance, we must take a step forward, we cannot stay in place.”

“The United Kingdom has basically taken the position: ‘well, you either go independent now or you stay British’. And the status that we currently have is not one that the United Nations supports — at least it doesn’t support staying in this position. This is a temporary status on our way towards something else,” Dr Wheatley said.

In a subsequent statement to BVI News, the minister explained that based on the United Nations, the BVI’s political status as a territory of the United Kingdom (UK) is not intended to last forever. The territory is supposed to move on to one of three options — Integration, Independence, or Free Association.

Integration is a form of self-determination in which an overseas territory like the BVI integrates/merges with the sovereign state. For example, Puerto Rico could decide to become a state of the USA.

Integration is said to be the opposite of Independence, which would be a full break-away from the sovereignty to become free from outside control.

On the other hand, Free Association for the territory would effectively mean having a political alliance with the UK that does not come with ‘restrictions’ in how the BVI governs itself.

“Some persons may come to the conclusion that we cannot take a step forward because our leaders are not mature enough and that’s really a misnomer. The only thing that is holding us back exists within our mind. All the blockades and the obstacles exist in our mind for being able to take us a step forward. The arguments that persons bring up when we discuss the topic of more autonomy really has to do with things that are mixed and things that people need to be educated better on,” Dr Wheatley argued.

Leaders have done well

He said, contrary to what is perceived, the leaders of the territory have done well.

“First of all, our leaders have done a hell of a job for the last 70 years. By and large, I think it is amazing from a community of fishermen and farmers, no electricity, you would say for one of the least developed group of islands in the Caribbean just a few decades ago,” the minister stated.

He said, not too long ago, residents of these islands were in a few thousand and struggling to survive. Since then, the BVI has created what he described as world-class financial services. It has also established itself as a tourism destination and generates a per capita income that is higher than many developed countries.

“Persons have great jobs, nice homes — comfortable. You can live on the beach. I mean a wonderful place to live and to work and a lot of that reflect on our leadership,” Dr Wheatley said, adding that this has been achieved without the help of the UK.

He also pointed to the coronavirus and how the territory has handled it so far. He said this is anothe example of good leadership.

Economic standpoint

Meanwhile, Minister Wheatley said persons also hold another false perception.

“There’s this other concept that ‘we need the UK from an economic standpoint’ because if things go belly-up in our economy, the UK will be there to help us.

And, that has proven to be false! There are many countries that can attest to it. The UK is not the best partner when it comes to supporting them and their economy,” Dr Wheatley stated.

“I heard the late great Ralph O’Neal speak about this — how difficult it is for them to even spend some pennies. For you to justify an expense with the British is really difficult,” he added.

The BVI is currently in the process of reviewing its constitution. This could see the territory becoming more autonomous.

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