Melvin ‘Mitch’ Turnbull, who is a first-term member of the House of Assembly, yesterday blasted Governor John Duncan for using constitutional powers to force Government to allocate an additional $800,000 to the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force (RVIPF).
The government back-bencher emphasized that the people of the territory did not elected Governor Duncan to manage their affairs.
He added that he is prepared to be a ‘soldier in battle’ to defend Premier Dr D Orlando Smith, who has been far more diplomatic in his response to Governor Duncan’s constitutional action.
Turnbull told the House: “I just want to also join with my other colleagues and let the honourable premier know that I am a soldier in battle with him. And I will uphold his arms when he gets tired. We will not sit idly by to allow this country’s progress to be turned back from whence we came.”
“I understand that not in the history of this territory has any past governor exercised the constitutional privilege in the manner in which the [current] governor did. I understand that we are in a time when everybody wants to be popular, everybody wants to be seen like they are involved in running this country,” Turnbull continued.
“I stand here [in the House] not recollecting any time that the people of the Virgin Islands elected the governor to represent us. I want to let the premier know that he has my full and unwavering support to ensuring that we do the things necessary to continue to follow the progress that we have been making…”
Turnbull, who represents the Second Electoral District, cautioned persons not to attempt scoring political points from Governor Duncan’s action against the government.
“I would not take it lightly for anyone using what was done [by the governor] for political points, because it’s far more reaching than the local politics. It is far-reaching to the point that it is seeming to pave the way for a host of things that we cannot afford.”
“And, as long as I sit and stand for the people of these Virgin Islands, I will not stay quiet. This is our land; this territory of the Virgin Islands belongs to us, and we must do everything in our power to ensure we fight, ensure that we grind our teeth, ensure that we put our heads together and forget the silliness of trying to be popular – of trying to make a stand in the eyes of the people when the move that was made [by the governor] is to cripple the very people and set us back,” added Turnbull.
Murders happening before Duncan
Governor Duncan had told journalists that he made the tough decision to force Government’s hand after he made numerous failed attempts to get additional funding to address the longstanding issue of inadequate resources in the RVIPF.
The governor also noted that he was particularly concerned about the police being unable to respond to a spike in crime in the territory, which unusually recorded three murders since the start of the year.
But, in the House of Assembly yesterday, Turnbull questioned those reasons the governor had given.
The lawmaker said murders have been happening in the territory long before the current governor arrived.
“The other members [of the House] spoke about the recent crime activities that have been happening, and I know that that was one of the things that was mentioned for the reason why the decision was taken [by the governor]. I want to remind us that there is still a host of unsolved murders and crimes in this territory that has existed dating back as far as people like Kendoy Penn [who was murdered in September 2005], my uncle Ashley Turnbull.”
“So when we are going to use the law and the constitution to justify a move, we must ensure that it is contextual. We must ensure that we are doing it in the best interest of the people of this territory, and I don’t believe that that was done in this instance,” Turnbull further said in relation to Governor Duncan’s action.
Duncan higher than constitution
Another lawmaker who has been caustic in his criticism of the governor, Julian Fraser, yesterday claimed that the governor is currently above the Virgin Islands Constitution.
He urged Premier Smith to have that addressed in the constitutional review that Government said it will soon seek from the United Kingdom.
Fraser threatened to withhold support for the review if Premier Smith does not seek to specifically cut the power that the governor wields under the constitution.
“People think that when we talk about advancement in the constitution we are talking about independence. But the distance we have to go from where we are in this constitution – this constitution doesn’t apply to the governor, he is above it. I can say that, he is [above it]. And that’s something that needs to be addressed. And I will not go anywhere with the premier unless that’s where he is heading.”
“Pussyfooting with this issue about advancement of our constitution; I don’t think so; not in times like this… I am very very angry and upset about this [action Governor Duncan has taken]. I don’t think that any self-respecting premier of this country would watch the police force of this territory in ‘need’ of resources and not make it available to them,” Fraser further told the House.
He reiterated that he is not a supporter of the present government, but is taking a principled position.
“I would be the last person to say I have any admiration for the government of the day; I would be the last person. If they want to accuse me of that, they could very well be wrong. But it’s not about the government. This is about our territory and our own self-esteem as a people… Never in our history has something like this [action taken by Governor Duncan] being done, and this I am afraid is going to be a precedence,” added Fraser who, up to recently, also criticized the government for not providing the RVIPF with adequate resources.
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