Beautiful Virgin Islands

Sunday, Jul 03, 2022

LETTER: BVI needs a Fiscal Control Board, one person can’t be all-powerful

LETTER: BVI needs a Fiscal Control Board, one person can’t be all-powerful

Dear Editor, Many years ago, the Apostle Paul wrote to his young friend in 1 Timothy 6:10, “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows,” (KJV).

There is a lot of truth to Paul’s statement, especially when the love of money is combined with greed, plus a certain amount of pride and the necessary decision-making power and control to determine unilaterally how the money is spent.

Regarding the ambition for and the abuse of power, there is also a lot of truth to the popular saying “absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

Add to those truths the feelings of entitlement engendered from the pride of having been born and remaining resident in the beautiful BVI, despite the hardships. Then consider having laboured with much sacrifice for 20 years or more for a particular cause — such as toward the betterment of the country and its people for a meagre and unsatisfying salary — and you have the perfect setting for losing faith and yielding to temptations that could lead to corruption and the consequential sorrows that Paul is referring to.

Under similar circumstances, the same outcome that has recently occurred at the governmental level could occur in the case of unilateral management of the assets of an institution, a ministry, a department, an agency, a business enterprise and even a church, or any other corporate body. The propensity for wrongdoing in such cases increases over an extended period of time.

Sometimes the feelings of self-sacrifice, entitlement, frustration and the perceived ungratefulness of the beneficiaries of the service rendered are so great (and the anxiety for a supposedly well-earned payback is so urgent) that the said individual Assets Manager could become blind to wrongdoing to the point of considering himself or herself completely innocent under any circumstance.

If there are other complications or commitments involved, the said person may even be willing to take risks to satisfy his/her immediate needs, which may or may not result in getting caught in illegal action.

So what are the lessons to be learnt from the foregoing truths and possible scenarios?

One person shouldn’t have unilateral control of public assets

1) Based on the mismanagement of public funds in the past, the management of public assets in general (especially liquid assets) should never be placed in the hands of a particular individual with absolute decision-making power and control. This is to safeguard against that individual falling into the temptation of wrongdoing or corruption. Those duties and responsibilities should perhaps be handled separately and be subjected to strict bilateral control and oversight. That principle would advise against having the Premier exercise or assume the dual function of Premier and Financial Secretary.

2) No individual manager of public assets or of assets owned in common by a particular group of persons should be allowed to have absolute power and control over the management of the said assets for an extended period of time without frequent and effective oversight by a higher fiscal body. Implementation of that principle could minimise the tendency to gradually develop naturally occurring feelings of entitlement that could surreptitiously lead to a lack of transparency, mismanagement and/or corruption.

Had such common-sense principles been put in place in the past, trillions of dollars that have become available to different administrations for public use in the last two decades alone would have been invested in providing the BVI with the first-class infrastructure that we should have had by now. Instead, investments for improvements to our roadways, water system, electric power system, sanitary sewer system, communications system (including the internet) etc., have all been sacrificed in exchange for satisfying other less important needs; for wasteful spending on vote-getting projects and on unnecessary travel expenses and legal fees, as well as for some unknown causes.

Despite the findings of the COI report, let us assume that some type of local government established through the election process would eventually prevail over the COI-recommended direct UK rule. Under that assumption, it is very likely that stringent corrective actions would still be required by the UK government, possibly consisting of oversight measures that would be both necessary and advisable. Such constraints and probable power-sharing efforts designed to improve governance while avoiding pitfalls of the past would also seek to minimise local governmental corruption.

An alternative to UK direct rule; a Fiscal Control Board

And since financial management has been the main catalyst for poor governance and wasteful spending in the past — involving perhaps a few designated Financial Secretaries with varying degrees of decision-making power and control — most likely, the focus would be on providing tangible improvements in that area. By way of corrective action, an alternative to UK direct rule could be to establish a Local Fiscal Control Board that would have responsibility for the management of our multi-million dollar yearly budget, with UK government oversight. The members of the said Board would be appointed by the local and UK governments.

Although this alternative fiscal management measure might not be a panacea for the assurance of good governance and in particular for completely avoiding local governmental corruption, it could be helpful for controlling it to a certain degree. The truth is that in places where this fiscal control mechanism has been used in an admittedly beneficial manner to the served population, corruption at a lower level has still occurred. Additionally, some amount of occasional friction has occurred between the Board and the local government due to differences of opinion on procedural and budgetary matters.

However, as an alternative to direct UK rule, which would be a lot worse in terms of the lasting hurt it would cause especially to image of the BVI, as well as to the short and long-term negative effects it would have on the local economy, it may be worth the while to give that fiscal control mechanism a try.

In the final analysis, a shared government would be much better for the country than having a partially suspended constitution and no local self-government at all. This could happen if the UK government becomes adamant about imposing its sovereign will by direct rule over the will of the majority of the people of the BVI in fulfilment of the recommendation of the COI Report.

Should the will of the majority of the people of the BVI — as expressed in new and fair elections — favour the continuation of the status quo, then shared government for a period to be mutually agreed upon could represent a win-win situation for both sides; hopefully completely discarding even the idea of direct UK rule.

Yours sincerely,

A Concerned Citizen


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