The issue of whether the BVI should move forward with seeking independence from the United Kingdom (UK) has been met with mixed responses from lawmakers seeking to become the next Premier once the dust settles after the general elections. Polling date is slated for April 24, which is a little more than a week away.
In a debate held at the the H Lavity Stoutt Community College (HLSCC) last evening, National Democratic Party (NDP) Chairman, Marlon Penn, said he felt many of the systems that support institutions in the BVI should be fixed before the territory can move towards independence.
“We have to particularly look at our institutions and ensure that they’re fit for purpose — our court systems, the judiciary, the House of Assembly,” Penn argued.
He continued: “We saw in the COI
(Commission of Inquiry
) where many of our institutions were challenged … in terms of the ones that are responsible for holding accountability, good governance, and making sure that persons in the political class, in other classes are held accountable and the good governance structures that are necessary.”
“As it pertains to self-determination, we have to ensure, as I said earlier, to build those institutions, to make sure those institutions continue to be strong and robust as we move forward,” Penn said.
Penn stressed that he believed the education process is critical before any determination is made and commended the Constitutional review efforts led by Lisa Penn-Lettsome. However, he urged that there needs to be more conversation about what independence means for the territory and expressed concern over the BVI moving too speedily along the path of self-determination.
Don’t be afraid to fight
Meanwhile, Penn’s opponent in the Virgin Islands
Party (VIP), Premier Dr Natalio Wheatley, struck a much more forceful posture in how he felt the BVI should approach independence. Dr Wheatley argued, among other things, that the BVI should not be afraid to fight for its political advancement and reminded persons that the United Nations had already declared more than fifty years ago that colonialism should be eradicated.
Dr Wheatley’s position was largely shared by Progressives United (PU) leader, Julian Fraser, who is widely viewed as a shoo-in for a seventh successive term as Third District Representative.
“This is the first thing that persons have to be educated about; that the world has come together and the status that we presently have is a status that cannot continue indefinitely. The world has said we must eradicate it,” Premier Wheatley argued.
The people will decide
He emphasised that the wish of the people is what will ultimately determine which of the options are available to the BVI — whether it is self-determination, independence or free association with another country. However, Dr Wheatley stressed that the territory has the ability to govern itself, as demonstrated by other independent countries like The Bahamas.
The Premier further argued that the BVI has been doing its part in reporting progress to the UN’s decolonisation committee, and has affirmed its right to self-determination. He also mentioned that the BVI has friends around the world, including in CARICOM, the OECS, and other overseas territories, where he said the territory has garnered support for its political advancement.
“You cannot go at it alone, whether you call yourself independent or not, you need partners in this world, and of course you have to be able to speak to partners, including the United Kingdom,” the premier said.
Dr Wheatley emphasised that partnerships with other countries are necessary and suggested that the BVI should put forward an arrangement with the United Kingdom that favours both parties, such as a mutually beneficial relationship or free association, and said if the UK does not accept, the BVI can seek partnerships with other countries, such as Canada or the United States, for instance.