British Virgin Islands

Thursday, Apr 15, 2021

The Virgin Islands, post the Commission of Inquiry

The Virgin Islands, post the Commission of Inquiry

An entitled minority must never again be allowed to control Virgin Islands governance, politics, and society, without full citizen and resident participation.
Now, had full citizen participation been the governing culture for decades in the British Virgin Islands the country may have escaped where it is today: sitting at the center of negative narratives of a global media never ‘’in love’’ with offshore finance centers, and a Virgin Islands in the telescopic sights of its enemies and detractors.

Then, one reason the debate on greater autonomy and independence is going nowhere is that discussion of independence is not being fully introduced into the public square, apart from repeated assertions by talk show hosts and politicians, on the need for greater autonomy, even Independence.

Independence can only ever happen when a two thirds majority of VI citizens vote for independence in a Referendum. The Virgin Islands is ‘’light years’’ away from that day. No minority of citizens will decide independence.

No politician has yet to offer a clear vision of the Virgin Islands Post the granting of independence, how the independence process will be managed, and the when and how of an independence referendum. The rest of the Overseas territories are in the same boat.

And it is always a good thing when the mass of a country’s population is involved in the great issues and policy debates of the day.

Citizens must be in the know on what happens behind the closed doors of power at every point in time. Then, before specific matters become troublesome, tricky, and dire, the ones who pull the levers of power are warned in time, through effective public feedback, before these leaders enter the place of no return.

The informed, aware, and proactive citizen is the best friend of good governance. His or her support and input is never to be taken lightly. And when government fears and discourages the views of opinionated citizens it is a set up for failure.

At least In the UK, Brexit was debated before the Brexit Referendum. Hence there is no one to blame for that decision, as the people voted for Brexit even though by a slim margin.

Brexit should never have been decided on a simple majority of those voting in the referendum, but by a two-thirds majority vote as is the norm for referendums. However, the powers that be pushed for the slim majority option. Today, Brexit is viewed as a disaster by most intelligent people.

Clearly, Citizen Participation offers a route out the cul-de-sac, when a government gets into trouble of its own making.

The problem in the BVI is that there is citizen participation at the level of party politics at election time. Then when a party is elected a clique takes over the running of affairs of the country while the rest of the citizens who placed that party in power through their votes and activism get locked out of decision making.

A handful – elected and nonelected persons – are at the center of power. These are the characters that are in the know on matters of a sensitive nature, with no scrutiny. There is a temptation to keep matters hidden from Joe Public. The preceding is never good for governance no matter how secret the issues and affairs of the territory need to be.

Transparency is always a plus in governance for the simple reason transparency fosters trust in government. When public trust disappears in a democracy governing becomes difficult, if not impossible.

Now the recent intervention in matters of state in the British Virgin Islands by UK High Officials showed the efficacy of checks and balances, and public oversight.

An unchecked executive- the Cabinet in the case of the BVI- easily falls into abuse of power. Human beings by nature crave power, and power that is left unchecked corrupts.

The Commission of Inquiry shows that executive oversight is working in the case of the BVI. Checks and balances are good for residents and taxpayers.

Imagine the UK Commission Inquiry was not introduced at this time. Then matters may have gotten out of hand, maybe even worse in the alleged mismanagement of the financial affairs of the Virgin Islands, and down the road.

In the USA, Donald Trump was stopped in his tracks from overthrowing the constitutional, legal, and institutional powers, of Congress, Law Enforcement, and the Supreme Court, through a constitution that was airtight and very difficult to bypass and ignore, even by a rogue president.

The report of the Commission of Inquiry after the Commission ends its investigations and enquiries will be quasi-constitutional. It will be a resilient and powerful document that will lead to better governance by pointing out areas in BVI governance that require better management, greater probity and scrutiny, and greater oversight.

The report will provide a path to the future. It will place in concrete the guidelines and parameters in the management of public resources.

It is unfortunate that matters reached a stage where the intervention of a Commission of Inquiry became necessary.

However, residents of the Virgin Islands must look at this Enquiry as a positive. The Enquiry is an opportunity to get things right in a world that is growing more complex and dangerous, especially for small isolated countries.

The Good news is that the Virgin Islands continue to sit at the top globally, for being a safe, idyllic, and pristine travel destination.

It will indeed be a pity if we allowed alleged corruption and criminality to spoil what is an excellent travel and tourism brand.

Consequently, the Commission of Inquiry is a very good thing at this time.
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