By Kevin Malone, Contributor
If the last few months are any indication of what to expect this election season, then buckle up.
As a BVIslander living abroad, I feel the endless barrage of dramatic events that have hijacked the recent headlines have drowned out the critical issues that should matter to all of us.
In the heat of battle, original purpose often gets replaced with the desire to win. So at this critical moment in BVI history, the question is less about who to vote for, but why to vote for them.
Vote for the candidate/party who understands that a strategy for reducing crime is more than just an increase in police presence and security cameras. It is an understanding that it must be dealt with from the standpoint of economic, social and education policy. History and statistics have shown that increases in crime often coincide with decreased economic opportunity. This has ramifications that play out via crime, unemployment, government assistance and subsidization.
Vote for the candidate/party who understands that education leads to positive youth outcomes. To create a new generation of human capital with the education, knowledge and skills to lead the BVI requires access to high-quality early-childhood education, promotion of social-emotional skill development, and a secondary school curriculum responsive to the needs of the global economy. By empowering our youth, we can help head off the path of crime before it starts.
Vote for the candidate/party who knows that understanding issues that matter to our youth are necessary to craft policies that address existing problems. Engaging directly with at-risk youth and having meaningful dialogue will help us better understand their needs and discover their untapped strengths and potential.
Additionally, we need to recognize that a desire for independence, and often rebellion, is a natural part of adolescence. We must support youth in making the right choices and help them use their voices to promote social good. To give up on the youth is to give up on the future, and thus your country.
Vote for the candidate/party who speaks honestly about the country’s challenges and understands shared sacrifice is needed to solve them. The BVI is going to experience a period of increased debt due to the financial turmoil caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria, coupled with previous outstanding financial liabilities and decreased financial services revenue caused by stringent international policies.
This issue should not be minimized and the subsequent discussion cannot be ignored. It must be a part of any political platform so as to bring awareness to the people about the difficult decision that will have to be made.
Solving this issue will mean serious discussions will be needed regarding the government increasing taxes in certain areas and decreasing spending in other areas The debate, which will not be popular, should include an engaged electorate and should be centred around which areas to target and the length of time for which to do so.
Vote for the candidate/party who recognizes that the BVI’s greatest asset has been, and always will be, its people. As the BVI has progressed, locals have moved abroad to advance amazing careers and gain priceless experience in critical areas. Like myself, we all love the BVI and want to see our country overcome its challenges.
So, what can we do? Are there services and specific expertise that us BVIslanders abroad can provide in critical areas? While there are many specialists globally, only BVIslanders living abroad have a vested interest and, frankly, the personal desire to help this country in a sincere way. With government likely to face limited resources and a need for spending reductions for the foreseeable future, this may be a way for the government to find deeply discounted, or even pro bono services from loyal BVIslanders living abroad who are in a position to do so.
Vote for the candidate/party who understands that perception matters. The very public and outright ugly battles being waged right now in the BVI may well be fodder to those whose goals don’t align with ours. The BVI is clearly going through a transitional period right now, and the checks and balances that have governed the country are no longer adequate.
Thus, the discussion should be around specific policy solutions to make all government activity fully transparent and accessible to the public. The interests of the people should be what leads policy and, to our benefit, the BVI cares about public expenditures more than most societies.
Instead of publicly lobbying very serious and permanently damaging accusations, let’s show outside spectators that we can handle our business in a clear and professional way. Let’s show that we welcome serious challenges with groundbreaking solutions.
For versus against
Vote for the person/party who presents a vision for you to vote for, as opposed to an enemy to vote against. While observation is important, it requires no risk and provides a comfortable place to pass hypothetical judgement. Mistakes are no doubt being made right now in BVI and they must be called out. But then what? Pointing out problems without providing solutions amounts to just complaining. This sets the wrong precedent for those who look to both current and aspiring representatives for leadership.
Define BVI tourism
Vote for the person/party who presents a long-term tourism plan that is bold in vision and clearly communicated. One-off ideas for a specific hotel or a golf course doesn’t amount to a strategy. Anyone project can be done, but without a larger vision and plan, citizens don’t understand why projects are or are not needed.
The BVI needs to decide whether it wants to be a tourism destination that values quality or quantity and provide a long-term plan for either. Ideas such as developing the outer islands as individually themed destinations and focusing on unique activities for certain types of visitors are low hanging fruit areas that have the potential to separate BVI from competing destinations. It also provides a framework for which projects can be discussed within, resulting in the public having a better understanding of the money government spends on large scale projects.
Vote for the person/party who realizes the historical methods the govt has used to communicate with the public are no longer adequate. The technology era we live in means that information travels instantly and is known by the population within minutes. Lack of a consistent government communication mechanism has resulted in not being able to control the narrative of official government business as well as rumours.
Though the BVI is small, the ruling party should consider holding press conferences 2-3 times a week that shed light into what the government is working on, provide official statements on events affecting the territory and give the people a sense that they are constantly in tune with the government that represents them.
Consistency. What’s changed?
The BVI has elected 4 different governments in the last 5 different election cycles. The ramifications of this have been that there’s been no consistency in terms of vision and strategy. If every 4 years we switch leadership, the subsequent leader will then spend their terms undoing the policies of their predecessors, leaving us almost exactly where we started. Vote for the person/party that who forgoes short-term fixes and focuses on long-term goals. For those candidates who previously lost power and are seeking to regain it, vote for the person/party that acknowledges their past shortcomings and articulates what is different this time.
Last but not least, vote for the person/party that inspires you. The BVI is one of the most beautiful places in the world and holds an important place on the world stage that has been earned though decades of unity. All current leaders and aspiring ones have the BVI’s best interest at heart, and it’s important for everyone to believe that in order to elevate the level of the present conversation.
Politicians have an initial goal of uniting the country, but the nature of political battle makes it almost impossible to do so. Thus, it is up to us BVIslanders both local and abroad to change the conversation to one that addresses the future and forces candidates to provide specific policy visions which address that future. I hope this article is a step towards doing this.
Kevin Malone is a BVIslander residing in the United States. He is a Director, Business Development for a macroeconomic research and data provider that works with Investors and Asset Managers globally.
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