By Justin Blyden, Contributor
It is February 2019 and the merging of sustained macroeconomic forces complicate all aspects of the Virgin Islands experience. Climate change and resource scarcity raise questions of self-sufficiency, increased global regulations directly impact the Territory’s economic viability, while demographic and social changes challenge the very definition of a Virgin Islander.
The reliable patterns, habits and systems of the past are filled with cracks and now more than ever, the Territory is at a proverbial crossroad. Quite naturally, when presented with a decision, it is important to pause and consider a few things in order to make the best choice relative to the desired goal.
This process should include gathering information for weighing your options, considering the consequences, and assessing the alternatives. So with that short lesson on economics (of the Virgin Islands) and decision theory, my question is a simple one, where do we want to go? With election season upon us, I suggest that voters carefully consider the four points outlined below, before making the decision on which path to take.
As a preliminary step, I would like to remind voters of the role of a legislator. The legislative, or law-making branch of government, is made up of legislators who work on making changes to existing laws or passing new legislation based on their constituents’ needs. Additional legislator duties include: creating policies, budgets and programs, and participating in debates on proposed legislation. Traditionally, for the most part, political dialogue in the Virgin Islands has revealed this glaring lack of understanding. If voters were acutely clear in this regard, we would be in a much better position to cut through all of the noise filling the air. Voters have to be very careful to hold the aspirations of the political candidates, against the purpose of the office that they seek to fill. Voters should not be enticed by well-intentioned ideas, which would actually be best owned and developed by entrepreneurs and other investors versus government itself.
In as much as some might make it out to be a calling, we can agree that the role of members of the Virgin Islands House of Assembly and all the titles and positions therein are jobs/professions. Even those who are called, have to be equipped and prepared. We must accept, that much like any job, there are qualifications and requirements that should represent the ideal candidate. I recognize that the Virgin Islands Constitution Order 2007 does not provide requirements beyond being “a Virgin Islander of the age of twenty-one years or upwards and otherwise qualified as a voter”, and I query whether or not that is enough. Beyond the limited guidance in the Constitution, voters should independently employ more proactive thought processes to determine what academic training, experience and skills are pertinent for the role, after all, we are electing persons to the highest offices in the land. Consideration should not be about age, gender, friendliness, social status or who provides the most personal enrichment when trying to secure votes.
In the Virgin Islands today, there are several political organizations and I wonder if the average voter can explain the fundamental policy differences between each party, beyond allegiance to an individual party leader. Do fundamental policy differences even exist? The voting public should know, and be able to articulate where each political organization and candidate stand on important hot button topics such as self-determination, the economy, taxation, women’s right, immigration, climate change and the role of the Virgin Islands in the global economy. Being told why you should not vote for the other person is not a policy. Clarity on fundamental policies gives a better idea of the governance that could be expected if a particular group of candidates are elected.
Voters should stop allowing themselves to be swayed by empty and unsound promises, blindly believing in aspiring legislators almost as if they are the human embodiment of the fairy godmothers from childhood fables. It is neither logical nor productive, especially when the promises involve some potential that on its face, is clearly beyond the primary responsibility of government. Substance can easily be determined by asking one of three simple questions in response to promises made, “How”, “When” and/or “Why”. Voters must be willing to engage aspiring legislators at this deeper level.
So now I return to the crossroad, where I paused on this journey, standing between the past and options for the future. Where do you want to go? Serious themes have yet to be explored … are we British, American, Virgin Islanders or something else? Are we a services-based society or an agrarian-based society, can they co-exist? Are immigrants friend or foe? These and several defining matters are not questions for 13 elected officials to answer in four years; they have to be answered by everyone who claims the Virgin Islands as their own on a daily basis, for as long as we live. If you have not done so already, spend time to carefully craft your vision for these beautiful Virgin Islands, and on February 25, elect the persons best suited to carry out your vision. The decision is yours, and if you consider my suggestions, you now have a map to assist.
Justin J Blyden is a Virgin Islander currently employed as a tax manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP (New York, NY). He is an experienced business advisor who leverages a mix of business acumen and relationships to help companies meet strategic goals.
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